Daily Chinese Proverb: Needs

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Monday, 7 September 2009 0 comments

This saying is one that I think is used as we might use "take only what you need." If you have a better description of how it may be used, please feel free to add it to the comments below.

Each takes what he needs

In English there are set ways that you can say things in pairs, that usually wouldn't necassarily come in twos. For example: two Jeans is wrong, yet a pair of Jeans is correct. Two glasses is wrong, but a pair of glasses is correct. Two shoes is ok, but a pair of shoes is better. The list could go on; headphones, shoelaces, scissors, shorts, gloves... etc.

In Mandarin I got very confused because the classifier for veichles is very similiar to the word for a pair. So when I learnt bicycle I had assumed I was hearing a pair of wheels or similiar because of our sometimes odd rules about pairs.

Pair / Two / Both

Classifier for veichles (辆自行车 liàng​ zì xíng chē)

What I was really hearing is the above sentence telling me it is a bike that you can travel on, maybe an excercise bike would have a different classifier?? (Can anyone confirm that?)

Anyway, so When I was learning the numbers in Mandarin I learnt that 2 is 二 èr.

The Chinese tend to use 两 liǎng​ in a sentence instead of 二 èr (unless counting or reciting a number). Thanks for everyones helpful replies on twitter when I got confused earlier on. But this was put best by my new friend @megoizzy who lives in China.

"We use 二 èr in numeric counting sequence, use 两 liǎng with measure words. We would never say 'èr ge'. but we would use 'èr' in telling our phone number to someone."

两 liǎng is used before classifers (measuring words) such as 天,个,辆. Otherwise 二 èr would be used.

So I think I am right in saying then a pair of bicycles in Mandarin would actually be said:

liǎng​ liàng​ zì xíng chē.

However if you are spelling out a number, like a telephone number, you would say 二 èr not 两 liǎng (Although I wonder if you might use 两 liǎng for double numbers...)
edit: To spell out numbers, you can say 两个二=two 2s

And maybe when replying to "how many sweets have you got left?"
You might reply "Two" 二 èr, so long as you weren't going on to say "I have two sweets left..."
edit: 2 (sweets) = 两颗糖

I wonder if in Chinese then a pair of scissors would mean one or two pairs of scissors when translated back into English as they don't seem to have the same problems with a pair of trousers, shorts etc.
edit: a pair of scissors=一把剪刀,it's the measure unit that changes!

So what I have learnt from this is that the Chinese doesn't have a silly pair rule about bicycles at all. In fact it is the English which makes this harder to grasp. Mandarin speakers just use 两 liǎng as their word for a couple, a pair or both items.

This was an interesting point as I was learning this morning and got a little stuck, but think now in general I am a bit clearer on the matter. Though there are some points I have highlighted that if you can clarify would be most useful.


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