two in Chinese

Two: 二 er and 两 liang in Mandarin Chinese

In this article, we are going to talk about “two in Chinese.” This topic may seem odd to talk about at first sight. Why do we need a post that only talks about 2 in Chinese? If you are a total beginner to learning Chinese, this is why. We have two words, one is “二 èr”, and another one is “两 liǎng.” But how do we use 二 èr and 两 liǎng appropriately? That is what we are going to learn in the next few minutes.

There are a few different words that mean “two” in Mandarin Chinese. We list the most common four below:

  • 二 / 二 èr

We use this word when counting numbers, giving a phone number, and when saying “the second one.”

  • 两 / 兩 liǎng

We use this word when saying “two of something” or “both.”

  • 贰 / 貳 èr

We use this word when writing in an official document, like a contract, and a check. This is 二 èr in the complex form. The mean reason we use this word instead of 二 èr in an official document is people may forge a number by adding a few lines and it becomes a different number.

  • 双 / 雙 shuāng

We use this word when saying “a pair of something.” 

For instance, 

a pair of socks, 一双袜子 yīshuāng wàzi; 

a pair of chopsticks, 一双筷子 yīshuāng kuàizi; 

a pair of shoes, 一双鞋 yīshuāng xié.

When to use 二 or 两?

As we mentioned briefly above, when to use 二 èr and when to use 两 liǎng. Now we are going to get into the details.

You should read “2” as “二 èr” when:

  • Giving a phone number

For instance, If your number is 432-722-1272, we read as 四三二  七二二 一二七二 Sì sān èr qī èr èr yī èr qī èr.

  • Talking about “second”

Second one, we read as 第二个 Dì èr ge

这是我今天吃的第二个苹果。

Zhè shì wǒ jīntiān chī de dì èr gè píngguǒ.

This is the second apple I have had today.

Second time, we read as 第二次 Dì èr cì

这是我第二次做这个蛋糕。

Zhè shì wǒ dì èr cì zuò zhège dàngāo.

This is my second time making this cake.

Second floor, we read as 二楼 Èr lóu

他家住在这栋楼的二楼。

Tā jiā zhù zài zhè dòng lóu de èr lóu.

His family lives on the second floor of the building.

February (Second month of the year), we read as 二月 Èr yuè

他的生日是二月五日。

Tā de shēngrì shì èr yuè wǔ rì.

His birthday is February 5th.

You should read “2” as “两 liǎng” when:

  • Talking about “two of something” or “both”

The structure will be “两” + measured word

Two cups of tea, we say 两杯茶 Liǎng bēi chá

Two years, we say 两年 Liǎng nián

Two dollars, we say 两块钱 Liǎng kuài qián

I like both of them, we say 我两个都喜欢 Wǒ liǎng gè dōu xǐhuān

2 in Large Numbers

OK! So far so good. But here comes the tricky part. When counting numbers, we start with the easy ones. 2 in Chinese we read as 二. 22 in Chinese we read as 二十二 èr shí èr. How about 222, 2222, and bigger numbers? Are all the 2’s read as 二? The answer is NO! Let’s check out when to use which.

Let’s use this extreme example below, once you get the pattern how to read this number, you pretty much know how to say most of the numbers that contain a 2 in any place.

How do we read this number: 2222222222222

First, if you are not familiar with the large number categories, you can study this big number in the Chinese post and infographic. Let’s take a quick review. In Chinese, we separate numbers every four digits instead of three. Bear that in mind, every 4 digits is a category. Starting with the small to the big (right to left), this is how we name them,

Small numbers category

万  Wàn Category

亿  Yì Category

兆  Zhào Category

See the picture below.

2 in large numbers

Tip 1: We always read “2” as “二” when it is in the “ones” place of the small numbers category. 

Tip 2: Every “2” in the “tens” place of “兆”, “亿”, “万” or “small numbers”  categories, we always read as “二”. Which you can see in red. (So ALL THE RED ONES read as 二)

Tip 3: Every “2” in the “thousands” and “hundreds” place of “兆”, “亿”, “万” and “small numbers” categories, we always read as “两.” Which you can see in blue.

Tip 4: If the “2” stands alone in a category, we read it as “两.” Let’s take a look at a couple of examples here.

2,3782: the highlighted “2” stands alone in its own category, so we read the highlight 2 as “两.” The other is in the ones place of small numbers category, so we read as “二.” According to tip 1. So this number is read as “两万三千七百八十二 Liǎng wàn sān qiān qī  bǎi bāshí èr.”

2,8503,9278: the highlight “2” stands alone in its own category, so we read the highlight 2 as “两.” Another “2” is in the hundreds place. According to tip 3, we read it as “两.” So this number is read as “两亿八千五百零三万九千兩百七十八 Liǎng yì bā qiān wǔ bǎi líng sān wàn jiǔ qiān liǎng bǎi qī shí bā”

Tip 5: If the “2” is in the “ones” place of “兆”, “亿”, “万” categories, but has other number(s) before it, then we read it as “二.” Here are a couple of examples:

32, 6282, 2 in the “万” category with 3, so we read 2 as “二.” According to tip 3, 2 is read as “两.” And based on tip 1, we read 2 as “二.” So we say this number as “三十二万六千兩百八十二 Sān shí èr wàn liù qiān liǎng bǎi bā shí èr.”

2 in large numbers

**Just remember the number in the picture on the left, 

2 in the reds place say “二”,

in blues say “两”, 

in highlights stand alone in category, say “两”, otherwise say “二.”  

Nailed it? Here are a couple of numbers for you to practice on. Leave a reply to tell me your answers!

How do you say…

22,3981

2520

What are your answers!?

Two in Chinese Simplified Chinese Infographic

Two in Chinese infographic

Two in Chinese infographic Traditional Chinese Infographic

Two in Chinese infographic Traditional Chinese Infographic​

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