The verdict on two and two hundred in Chinese 两 vs 二

If you know anything about the Chinese language, you probably learned one is 一, two is 二, three is 三. (Surely you can extrapolate from here!) Have you heard of 两 (liǎng) which also means two?

Learn the difference between 两 (liǎng) and 二 (èr) in Chinese with Peppa Pig!

Peppa’s family has two piglets. Would you say 二只小猪 = èr zhī xiǎo zhū or 两只小猪 = liǎng zhī xiǎo zhū? Quick answer: 两只小猪.

I came across a discussion on the /r/chineselanguage discord channel about the difference between 二 and 两 in Mandarin Chinese. One guy told me Duolingo is using 二 in all cases. That’d be incorrect. But I can’t verify because I’m not using Duolingo to study Chinese (lol), but I thought I’d write a post to clarify their usage and provide some examples. If you don’t know when to use 二 or 两, keep reading!

In Peppa Pig S01E4 Part 3, Granny Pig said 你们两个小家伙可真吵啊. You two little ones are so noisy.

Here, 两个 is used to measure two people, well, I meant pigs, Peppa Pig and George Pig.

In Chinese, whenever you are referring to exactly two of ANYTHING, always use 两 with a measure word.

  • 两个人, two people
  • 两只鹦鹉, two parrots (Learn this word in S01E04 Part 1)
  • 两块巧克力饼干, two chocolate cookies (Learn this word in S01E03 Part 3)
  • 两块巧克力蛋糕, two pieces of chocolate cake (Learn this word in S01E04 Part 3)

Two notes (Optional to read):

  • Sometimes 俩 = lia3 is used to measure people in colloquial Chinese, such as in 俩人儿. I’ll ignore it here though because it doesn’t really have any special meaning, just more colloquial. You’re safe to always use 两个人.
  • 風颭雲 from /r/chineselanguage discord server just pointed out to me that 二两 is a valid usage of 二 with a measure word to indicate exactly two units of an object. 两 in this context is a measure word itself. It is essentially a shot. Similar to in English, it’s used for hard liquor.

If you’re counting any objects, you use 两. Say, you are counting pigs, you’d say 一只小猪,两只小猪,三只小猪. I’m sure people could understand 二只小猪, but it doesn’t sound right at all.

However, if you’re just counting numbers, without also refering to the object being counted, you use 二. Suppose you want to point at two pigs and count them, you may say: “one, two, two pigs”. In Chinese, that’d be “一, 二, 两只小猪”. (Don’t ask me why but it is how it is!!)

If you want to count first and second, 第一, 第二, you’d always use 二, including when combined with a measure word such as 第二个, 第二名.

How do you say twenty, two hundred and two thousand in Chinese? Would you use 二 or 两?

Now, let’s also talk about other numbers involving two, such as twenty, two hundred and two thousand. This is where things get tricky!

First off, twenty is ALWAYS 二十, not 两十. Let’s get that out of the way.

Now let’s move on to two hundred:

Suppose you want to say a book has two hundred pages, you’d say 这本书有两百页 = zhèi běn shū yǒu liǎng bǎi yè. So you use 两百 for two hundred pages as if you’re describing two of one hundred pages. If you want to refer to page 200 or the 200th page, you’d say 第二百页 = dì èrbǎi yè. In general, you would use 两百 with measure words such as 两百只猪, two hundred pigs. I can only think of one exception off the top of my head: money.

When it comes to money BOTH 两百 and 二百 are okay. I personally would use 两百, but 二百 sounds fine to me.

  • two hundred dollars = 两百刀 or 二百刀
  • two hundred RMB/yuan = 两百块 or 二百块, Kuài (you would rarely use 元 = yuán in spoken Chinese)

However, aside from hundreds, all the bigger numbers should only use 两 with a measure word. For the following numbers, 二 wouldn’t sound right with any measure words even in the context of money.

  • 两千 = qiān, two thousand
  • 两万 = wàn, twenty thousand
  • 两百万 = bǎi wàn, two million (二百万 may be okay, but 两百万 sounds better.)
  • 两亿 = yì, two hundred million (Not two billion!!)

The take-away: I’d use 两 with a measure word to describe exactly two, two hundred, two thousand, two million of anything. Twenty is always 二十.

I will periodically cover snippets of language like this as they come up from watching Peppa Pig in Chinese. Let me know if you have a specific request!

Do you still have a question about when to use 两 and 二? Just ask me. 

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