I'm aware that basic Chinese grammar tends to lack distinction between the plural and singular forms of many nouns. For example, 我的朋友是中国人 could either mean "my friend is Chinese" (singular) or "my friends are Chinese" (plural).

While there could obviously be cultural reasons why the differences between these two sentences mightn't matter, what if they do? If the number of friends is known, could one simply put 一个, 两个, 三个, etc. in front of 朋友, or is there a better, less kludgy way to do this? What if there's an unknown (but plural) number of friends?

In short, what are some of the best ways to indicate or emphasize the plurality or singularity of nouns in ambiguous cases such as these?

4 Answers 4


You can also use 好 to emphasize many:

我有好几个朋友 Wǒ yǒu hǎojǐ gè péngyǒu - I have lots of friends

好多人来看我 Hǎoduō rén lái kàn wǒ - Many people came to see me

In this case the 好 is strongly emphasized.

好几个 = Lots

好多 = Very many

To suggest some or a few:

我有几个朋友来看我 Wǒ yǒu jǐ gè péngyǒu lái kàn wǒ - I have some friends coming to see me

有一些同学跟我一起去看电影 Yǒu yīxiē tóngxué gēn wǒ yīqǐ qù kàn diànyǐng - Some of my classmates will go with me to watch a movie

几个 = Some

一些 = A few

To emphasize singularity:

我只有一个朋友 Wǒ zhǐyǒu yīgè péngyǒu - I only have one friend

你是唯一来看我的人 Nǐ shì wéi yī lái kàn wǒ de rén - You are the only person to come and see me

只有 = Only have

唯一的 = The only one

  • Great! Are there words used similarly to (within this context) to mean "some" or "a few", as opposed to "many"? Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:16
  • @TimParenti - I've updated my answer with a couple of examples of some or few
    – going
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:23
  • 1
    你是唯一的人来看我 is very unnatural (ungrammatical? I don't know). It should be "你是唯一(一个)来看我的人". "一个" here is optional.
    – fefe
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 11:33
  • @fefe - You are right, I'll change it now.
    – going
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 11:40

You can use (person) noun + 們, 很多 + noun, 幾 + classifier + noun or demonstrative pronoun + 些 + noun

As in:

朋友們 ([some] friends)

很多朋友 ([many] friends)

这些朋友 ([these] friends)

幾個朋友 ([how many/some number of] friends)

多數的 + noun can also be used to signify "the majority/large portion of" the noun.

  • Awesome examples for the plural cases. I'm assuming that, for singular cases, 一个朋友 works, then? Or are there other ways to say this that are more grammatically similar to your plural examples? Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:05
  • Yes. number + classifier + noun works, too.
    – Krazer
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:12

As you know, in Chinese, there is no inflection as in some European languages. In English, you have "s" and in German you have "en"(or other form). You can insert some words into your sentence to emphasize plurality or singularity.

"们(mēn)" is commonly used to indicate the plurality for people, but for a thing, there is not such a word.

In your case, you could say:

我的朋友们是中国人 My friends are Chinese

我有一个朋友是中国人 One of my friends is a Chinese.

我只有一个朋友是中国人 Only one of my friends is a Chinese. (emphasize 'Only one')

我的五个朋友是中国人 Five of my friends are Chiness (emphasize 'the number, quantity')

我的一些(许多,几个)朋友是中国人 Some(Many,few) of my friends are Chinese.

我的朋友都(全)是中国人. All of my friends are Chinese. (emphasize 'all')

  • If can only be used for people, how then could one distinguish for other nouns where you say there is no such easy word? For example, 我的苹果是红色的 meaning "my apple is red" (singular) or "(all of) my apples are red" (plural)? Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:17
  • 1
    Use 所有的+noun in this case for "all of (the noun)."
    – Krazer
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:35
  • 1
    @TimParenti besides "所有的“, you could still use "都","全" to indicate "all" of something(someone), as in my last example sentence.
    – Huang
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 4:44

I think it's pretty straightforward:

For people (as discussed above)

朋友 = friend

朋友们 = friends

For things, you can determine whether the noun is intended as plural based on whether the verb takes "都" in front of it:

那家书店卖的书都是蓝色的 = The books that bookstore sells are all blue.

Context helps here, too. It would be hard to imagine a bookstore selling only one book.

You can also use the same logic in cases where the noun is a verb:

我的朋友都喜欢吃广东菜。 = My friends all like eating Cantonese food.

  • So a sentence like 我的苹果是红色的 ("my apple is red") could be made into the plural case "my apples are red" by adding as in 我的苹果都是红色的? Is this correct usage for all or most nouns? Commented Dec 23, 2011 at 4:40

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