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The Major Differences Between 两(liǎng) and 二(èr)

Are you learning Chinese and struggling to differentiate between the two words for “two” – 二 and 两? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many Chinese learners find it difficult to know when to use each of these characters. But fear not – in this article, we’ll clear up the confusion and show you the correct ways to use 二 and 两. So let’s dive in!

The main difference is that you use “二” (èr) when counting or doing math.

However, when you want to say “two of” something, 两(liǎng) is used in front of the measure word instead of 二. This is similar to “a pair” in English and can be used when describing two of almost anything. For example:

  • 两个小时 (liǎng gè xiǎo shí) two hours;
  • 两天 (liǎng tiān) two days;
  • 两个星期 (liǎng gè xīng qī) two weeks;
  • 两个月 (liǎng gè yuè) two months.

One example that might be confusing is the expression for 2 o’clock. Rather than using “二点” (èr diǎn), the correct way to say this is actually “两点” (liǎng diǎn), which literally means “two points on the clock.”

Let’s see some other differences worth exploring:

1) 二 (èr) can be used as an ordinal number, as in 第二(dì èr) for the second in a series, 二楼(èr lóu) for the second floor, and so on.

2) To indicate a numeral, fraction, or decimal in math, “二” should be used instead of “两”.

  • 1/2(èr fēn zhī yī) 二分之一; 1/3(sān fēn zhī èr) 三分之二
  • 0.2(líng diǎn èr) 零点二; 2.4(èr diǎn sì) 二点四

3) Use “二” in the tens and ones place for multi-digit numbers, such as 22 (二十二). For the hundreds place, either “两” or “二” can be used, such as in 200 (二百/两百). In the case of”千” (qiān, thousand), “万” (wàn, ten thousand), or “亿” (yì, hundred million), “两” is more commonly used.

For example:

  • 2000(两千);
  • 22222(两万两千二百二十二);
  • 200000000(两亿)

4) You can usually use either “两” or “二” before “traditional” units for capacity or weight (尺(chǐ) / 亩(mǔ) / 升(shēng)).

For example:

  • 二尺/两尺 (èr chǐ /liǎng chǐ) two Chinese feet (a traditional unit of length equivalent to 1/3 meter);
  • 二亩/两亩 (èr mǔ /liǎng mǔ) two Chinese acres (a traditional unit of land area equivalent to 1/6 hectare);
  • 二升/两升 (èr shēng /liǎng shēng) two liters (a metric unit of liquid volume).

However, “new” units for capacity and weight typically use 两.

For example:

  • 两吨 (liǎng dūn) two metric tons;
  • 两公里 (liǎng gōnglǐ) two kilometers.

Keep in mind that 两 also means 1/20 of a kilogram. To make this distinction clear, two twentieths of a kilogram is written as 二两 (èr liǎng), not 两两 (liǎng liǎng).

5) To approximate a number, use “两” with either “一” or “三” in succession.

For example:

一两天(yī liǎng tiān) One or two days.

这个词我们学了两三次了。 (Zhè ge cí wǒ men xué le liǎng sān cì le.)
We’ve studied this word two or three times.

每个人要花两三百块钱。 (Měi gè rén yào huā liǎng sān bǎi kuài qián.) Every one needs to spend two to three hundred RMB.

6) “两” is also used alone to represent a small quantity, which “二” cannot do.

For example:

怎么就来了这么两个人?(Zěnme jiù lái le zhème liǎng gè rén ?)
How come so few people came?

In northern China, “俩” is commonly used instead of “两个” to mean “the two of something or someone.” For example, “我们俩” means “the two of us.” It can also be used to indicate a small quantity, such as “俩苹果” meaning “two apples.”

It’s worth noting that 贰, also pronounced “èr,” is used to represent the number 2 on items like cheques to prevent forgery.

Understanding the differences between 二 and 两 is an essential part of basic Chinese grammar. While both characters can represent the number “two,” they are used in different contexts and have distinct nuances. Remember that 二 is used for ordinal numbers and math, while 两 is used for approximate quantities and traditional units of measurement. By keeping these differences in mind, you can improve your Chinese language skills and avoid confusion in your conversations.

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Rita Zhang

Rita is a professional Mandarin teacher, has been teaching more than 8 years. She enjoys digging more about Chinese grammar and culture work and helping more learners. Now she is working at the one-on-one online Chinese school TouchChinese.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks lot Rita to publish such a useful article…I’m teaching “zhongwen” in a reputed institute in India…this article shall help me to teach my students. I would like to be in connect with you. Thank you again.

  2. My textbook has a couple dialogues where a man addresses two of his friends as 二位小姐, and I’ve occasionally seen 二 where if expect 两. Any idea why this is?

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