Chinese Children’s Song: Ten Little Friends

We will sing a song in Mandarin Chinese: ten little friends (十个小朋友)(shi2 ge4 xiao3 peng2 you3).

If you don’t know how to count numbers in Mandarin-Chinese, you have to learn number song first, then come back to learn this song.

Some readers might notice, there are a measure word “个” between “十” and”小朋友”.

In Mandarin-Chinese, measure words work as classifiers to indicate the type of an object. Usually, one measure word is usually fixed for a specific object.

For example, on the song two tigers, measure word “只”(zhi1) is usually used for the animals or one of a pair.

For example, 一只老虎(yi4 zhi1 lao3 hu3)(one tiger), 一只老鼠(yi4 zhi1 lao2 shu3)(one mouse), 一只袜子(yi4 zhi1 wa4 zi3)(one sock).

Measure word “个”(ge4) is usually used for the people or something related with ideas or geographic objects.

For example, 一个想法(yi2 ge4 xiang2 fa3)(one idea), 一个国家(yi2 ge4 guo2 jia1)(one country), 一个学生(yi2 ge4 xue2 sheng1)(one student).

For more information, take a look at List of Chinese Classifiers.

To Mandarin-Chinese learners, the best way to learn measure word is memorizing them.

Usually, there are some basic rules for the measure word if you know a bunch of them.

As I mentioned, “只” is usually right for animals, however it might sound funny for the people.

If you use “只” for people, we will laugh at it. For people, you have to use measure word “个” or “口”(kou3) (mouth) in spoken Chinese.

For flowers, use measure word “朵”(duo3).For electronic items like computer, fan, TV, use measure word”台”(tai2). For construction buildings, use measure word “栋”(dong4) etc.

If you really feel confused, then use “个” most of time, but try to use “只” for animals. When you know better of Mandarin-Chinese, then try to use measure words more accurately.

Now we mentioned friend (朋友) (peng2 you3) in this post, so how Chinese people think about friendship?

ten friends

In English, there is a saying: A friend in need is a friend indeed.

In Mandarin-Chinese, we have a similar saying: 患难之交见真情 (huan4 nan4 zhi1 jiao1 jian4 zhen1 qing2).

Chinese people very appreciate 患难之交, the friend that is made during hard time.

We also have a saying to describe how we appreciate people who helped us during the hard time: 滴水之恩, 当涌泉相报 (di1 shui3 zhi1 en1, dang1 yong3 quan2 xiang1 bao4).

It means: The favor of a drop of water should be appreciated with a flow of spring. In another word, if people helped us, we should reward them greatly for their help.

You might watch a lot of Kung-Fu movies, do you know, the idea of Chinese friendship is also influenced greatly by the kung fu culture?

In Chinese culture, if someone takes you as a true friend, when you need him do something for you, he might say something like this: 愿为朋友两肋插刀(yuan4 wei4 peng2 you3 liang2 lei4 cha1 dao1).

It says: I am willing to get stabbed with knives on two side of chest ribs. It means he is willing to do anything for you at any risk.

See, from this saying, you get a clue of Kung Fu culture in Chinese language.

Of course, if you make friends by just hanging out with them all the time for entertainment, people will think your friends are just some 酒肉朋友(jiu3 rou4 peng2 you3).

酒肉朋友 means your friends just come for meat and wine, not a real friend as 患难之交.

If you make some friends that only knows how to play and do nothing meaningful, there is a word to describe this type of friend: 狐朋狗友(hu2 peng2 gou2 you3).

狐朋狗友 means these friends are just like foxes and dogs, they don’t deserve the title of friend(朋友)(peng2 you3).

Now you get a better idea about how Chinese people think about friendship and friends.

Look around friends around you, take some time to think about who are 患难之交, who are 酒肉朋友, who are狐朋狗友, then you will make a better choice next time when you make a new friend.

Note: In Mandarin-Chinese, there are two words have the same meaning of “two”. These two words are “二” and” 两”. So when to use “二”, when to use “两”?

Usually, if the number is used just for the mathematic counting purpose and without measure words involved or the number is used for the position like the second place, we use “二”.

For example, 一, 二, 三, 二十二,2015年(er4 ling2 yi1 wu3 nian2)(year of two thousand fifteen), 第二名(di4 er4 ming2)(second place).

If the number is used coming with a measure word, we usually use “两”.

For example, 两个小朋友(liang2 ge4 xiao3 peng2 you3) (two little friends), 两点钟 (liang2 dian3 zhong1)(two oclock).

Sometimes, these two words can be interchangeable.

For example, you can say 两百美元 (liang2 bai3 mei3 yuan2) (two hundred dollars) or 二百美元(er4 bai3 mei3 yuan2)(two hundred dollar), 两吨(liang3 dun4) (two tons) or 二吨(er4 dun4)(two tons).

However, “二” is more formal. When it comes to write a contract, usually we use “二” rather than the more spoken usage of “两”.


1, How many good friends do you have? Write down the answer in Mandarin-Chinese.

2, Which measure word is used to categorize people?

3, What is the difference between 二 and 两?

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