二 èr and 两 liǎng

In Chinese, “two” can be expressed by either “二 èr” or “两 liǎng” depending on the situations. Quite often, students, and some new Chinese teachers, are confused about when to use which. Below is a general guideline on when to use “二 èr”, when to use “两 liǎng”, and when either one will do.

Use “两 liǎng” to express two of something or someone, and only two of something or someone.

For example:

Two o’clock: 两点 liǎng diǎn

Two days: 两天 liǎng tiān

Two years: 两年 liǎng nián

Two years old: 两岁 liǎng suì

Two apples: 两个苹果 liǎng gè píngguǒ

Two cups of water: 两杯水 liǎng bēi shuǐ

Two people: 两个人 liǎng gè rén

Use “二 èr” in pure numerical expressions, or in a string of digits, such as telephone numbers.

For example:

22: 二十二 èr shí èr

2.23: 二点二三 èr diǎn èr sān

(Tel) 2879 2255: 二八七九五五五五 èr bā qī jiǔ èr èr wǔ wǔ

Both “两 liǎng” and “二 èr” can be used for “200, 2000 and 20000”, the digit “2” in the hundreds’ place, the thousands’ place, and the ten thousands’ place (Yes! The ten thousands’ place exists in the Chinese counting method).

For example: 

200: 二百 èr bǎi or 两百 liǎng bǎi

2000: 二千 èr qiān or 两千 liǎng qiān

20000: 二万 èr wàn or 两万 liǎng wàn

22000: 二万二千 èr wàn èr qiān or 两万两千 liǎng wàn liǎng qiān or 两万二千 liǎng wàn èr qiān

Practice makes Perfect

When to use “两 liǎng” or “二 èr” in the following expressions:

My mobile number is 682 288 22.

Right now it is two minutes to two o’clock. 

I am 22 years old.

I stay for two days.

This beer is 20 dollars.

Two friends have dinner together. 

There are 220 people in my school. 

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An additional note, the usage of “两 liǎng” and “二 èr” first appears in Mandarin Express Intro Level A Student’s Book, and also appears in Chinese Reading and Writing 1. 

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