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Numbers and Counting

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Numbers and Counting

It’s time for Lesson 4! In any language it’s important to know numbers and how to use them. After this lesson you’ll be confident with:

  • Using measure words
  • Numbers 1-5
  • How to say you have or don’t have a certain number of something
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Complete Lesson (PDF)
Printable PDF version of this lesson
Chinese Phrase Search Puzzle
Have a bit of fun looking for the new phrases you've learned.

Numbers and Counting

Be sure to spend time studying the roots of the character, it’s composition, and making associations so you can easily remember it.

一 ( yī ): one
Radical: 一 (one)
Component: 一 (one)
The character 一 is easy to recognize and pronounce. Most of the time it’s pronounced in the first tone; however, there are exceptions. Here are a few simple rules to help you determine which tone to use. If 一 is by itself or follows other characters, say yī. If it precedes a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd tone, say yì (3rd tone). If it precedes a 4th tone, say yí (2nd tone). But for now don't worry too much about the tone rules. It's helpful to be aware of them, and they will come naturally through time, with practice.
Memorization Hint: A single line for the number one – pretty easy?

个 ( gè ): general measure word
Radical: 丨(line)
Component: 丨(line) and 人 (person)
When referring to a specific item or stating how many of something you must precede it with a measure word. There are many measure words, each used for a different set of nouns. Let’s start with 个, which can be used for people, and in general when you’re not sure which measure word to use. Here’s an example: 一个人 means one person/a person and is pronounced yí gè rén. Notice that 一 is 2nd tone in this case because it follows a 4th tone. While we don’t often use measure words in English, you can think about it like "a loaf of bread" or "a flock of geese" or "a pair of pants".
Memorization Hint: 个 is used as a measure word for people – this is hinted to by the 人 component of the character.

二 ( èr ): two
Radical: 一 (one)
Component: 一 (one) and 一 (one)
The character for the number 2 is also easy to remember in Chinese since the character is represented by 2 horizontal lines. There are two versions for the number 2 in Chinese. 二 is mainly used for counting or listing a set of numbers, like a telephone number.
Memorization Hint: Two strokes for the number two.

两 ( liǎng ): two
Radical: 一 (one)
Component: 一 (one), 冂 (display case), 人 (person) and 人 (person)
The character 两 also represents the number 2. Underneath the radical 一, there are two 人 (people), meaning 2. This version of the number 2 is generally used when specifying that you have 2 of something or telling time. You can also think of it as meaning pair, both, and couple.
Memorization Hint: Because there are a pair of 人 (persons) in the 冂 (display case), remember to use this character when you, a person, have two of something.

三 ( sān ): three
Radical: 一 (one)
Component: 一 (one), 一 (one) and 一 (one)
The radical 一 (one) is combined with the radical 二 (two) to make 三 (three).
Memorization Hint: Three strokes for the number three.

四 ( sì ): four
Radical: 囗 (enclosure)
Component: 囗 (enclosure) and 儿 (legs)
The 囗 radical with two lines inside represents the number four. Four is unlucky in Chinese numerology because it has the same pronunciation as the word for death - it's best to get the tone right for this one!
Memorization Hint: 四 is the only number character to use the enclosure (box) radical, which has four sides. This should help you remember this is number four.

五 ( wǔ ): five
Radical: 二 (two)
Component: 五 (five)
This character represents the number five.
Memorization Hint: This character is made of five line segments.

有 ( yǒu ): to have, to own, has
Radical: 月 (moon)
Component: 月 (moon)
Use the character 有 to show that you have something. For example: 我有朋友 (I have a friend/friends).
Memorization Hint: In the character 有 it seems like the moon is being gently reached to and pulled down, indicating something in possession. Perhaps a boy has the moon to give to his girlfriend.

没 ( méi ): not, have not
Radical: 氵(water)
Component: 氵 (water) and 殳 (weapon)
When you place 没 before 有, the meaning becomes not have: 没有. You should always use 没 to negate possession, but remember to always use 不 before 是.
Memorization Hint: You can visualize this as water (氵) flowing off a table(几) giving meaning to not (you no longer have the water to drink). Also, 没有 sounds just like mayo!

朋友 ( péng yǒu ): friend
Radicals: 月 (moon) and 又 (again)
Sub-Word : 朋 - friend
友 - friend
Phonetic: 又 (you)
Components for 1st Character: 月 (moon) and 月 (moon)
Components for 2nd Character: 又 (again)
朋 is made up of two moons and means friend or acquaintance. 友 itself also means friend or companion. Together, these mean friend.
Memorization Hint: Think of the two moons as two friends. The moon never disappears and friends are always there for one another. You’ll very rarely find 朋 without 友.


In Lesson 3, we briefly introduced the grammar pattern 'verb 不 verb' as a way to ask a question. We learned a new way to ask "Is he American?" by saying 他是不是美国人, or literally "Is he or isn't he American?". Remember that when you ask a question this way, there's no need for a question word—in fact it's wrong if you put 吗 at the end.

So, let's try to make the question "Do you have friends?" with our new verb, 有 (have). One way is to make a statement and put 吗 at the end like this: 你有朋友吗?Okay, now you try to create the same question using the "verb 不 verb" pattern...

你有没有朋友? Great!

Now, to ask "Do you have one/a friend?" you should say 你有一个朋友吗? or 你有没有一个朋友? Remember to use a measure word when mentioning a specific item or stating how many of something.

Okay, here's your last task for Lesson 4. Pick a noun. Go on... anything! Take a walk around the block and repeat this phrase over and over until you get home, and you’ll have it in no time: "我有(#)个 ___". (Choose a number 1-5 from this lesson and just say the noun in English.)


Measure Words, Part I

  • Chinese has 2 kinds of measure words: nominal classifiers, and verbal classifiers. 个 is a nominal classifier, which means it classifies a noun.
  • You must use a measure word to quantify a noun.

Attributive Pronouns

  • 那 is pronounced nèi when followed by a classifier like 个. 那 (nà) means that while 那个(nèi gè) means that one.
  • 这 is pronounced zhèi when followed by a classifier like 个. 这 (zhè) means this while 这个 (zhèi gè) means this one.
Vocabulary Review:
  1. 一 yī one
  2. 个 gè general measure word
  3. 二 èr two
  4. 两 liǎng two
  5. 三 sān three
  6. 四 sì four
  7. 五 wǔ five
  8. 有 yǒu to have, to own, has
  9. 没 méi not, have not
  10. 朋友 péng yǒu friend
At the next table, two students are practicing Chinese. Pierce, from London, is in Guangzhou on a study abroad program. His friend, Wen Xiao Yuan, is from Shanghai and is visiting Guangzhou over the weekend. The conversation has turned to their various friendships.
 Nĭ yǒu méi yǒu měi guó péng yǒu?
 Do you have American friends?
Xiao Yuan: 
 有, 我有一个美国朋友.她叫 Sara.你呢?
 Yǒu, wŏ yǒu yí gè měi guó péng yǒu. Tā jiào Sara. Nĭ ne?
 Yes, I have one American friend. She’s called Sara. How about you?
 我也有, 我有两个美国朋友.一个是男人, 一个女人.
 Wŏ yě yǒu, wŏ yǒu liǎng gè měi guó péng yǒu. Yí gè shì nán rén, yí gè shì nǚ rén.
 I do also, I have two American friends. One is a man, and one is a woman.
Xiao Yuan: 
 Nĭ yǒu zhōng guó péng yǒu ma?
 Do you have Chinese friends?
 Nĭ shì wŏ de zhōng guó péng yǒu.
 You are my Chinese friend.
Xiao Yuan: 
 (blushes) 你有女朋友吗?
 (blushes) Nĭ yǒu nǚ péng yǒu ma?
 Do you have a girlfriend?
 Méi yǒu! Nĭ ne? Nĭ yǒu méi yǒu nán péng yǒu?
 No! How about you? Do you have a boyfriend?
Xiao Yuan: 
 Wŏ méi yǒu nán péng yǒu.
 I don’t have a boyfriend.
They look at each other, embarrassed. The food arrives. Pierce begins to count dishes to make sure they have everything they ordered.
 一, 二, 三...
 Yī, èr, sān…
 1, 2, 3...
Xiao Yuan: 
 四, 五.
 Sì, wǔ.
 4, 5.
Fill in the Blank:

你们有____孩子吗? (2 + measure word)
Nĭ mén yŏu ____ hái zi ma?
Do you (plural) have 2 children?

一 __ 三四五... (2)
Yī __ sān sì wǔ...
1 2 3 4 5...

____ 也是我的. (that one)
____ yě shì wŏ de.
That one is also mine.

那______他的? (is or isn’t)
Nà shì bú shì tā de?
Is that his?

__ 是你的吗? (this)
__ shì nĭ de ma?
Is this yours?

__不是我的. (that)
__ bú shì wŏ de.
That isn’t mine.

你的朋友是 ______ 吗? (British)
Nĭ de péng yŏu shì ______ ma?
Is your friend British?

你是中国人__? (question particle)
Nĭ shì zhōng guó rén __?
Are you Chinese?

他 ____ 朋友. (doesn't have)
Tā ____ péng yŏu.
He doesn't have friends.

他有____. (friends)
Tā yŏu ____.
She has friends.

我有____ 孩子. (3 + measure word)
Wŏ yŏu ____ hái zi.
I have 3 children.

他有 ____孩子! (5 + measure word)
Tā yŏu ____hái zi!
He has 5 children!

我有五 __ 朋友. (measure word)
Wŏ yŏu wǔ __ péng yŏu.
I have 5 friends.

他们有____ 孩子. (1 + measure word)
Tā mén yŏu ____ hái zi.
They have 1 child.

你有 __ 有五个朋友? (negative for 'have')
Nĭ yŏu __ yŏu wǔ gè péng yŏu?
Do you have 5 friends?

你们 ______ 朋友? (are or aren't)
Nĭ mén ______ péng yŏu?
Are you friends?

她是你的 __ 朋友吗? (female)
Tā shì nĭ de __ péng yŏu ma?
Is she your girlfriend?

他是不是她的 __ 朋友?
Tā shì bú shì tā de__ péng yŏu? (male)
Is he her boyfriend?

我们有____朋友. (4 + measure word)
Wŏ mén yŏu ____ péng yŏu.
We have 4 friends.

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