The difference between 半 (bàn), 一半 (yí bàn) and 一个半 (yí ge bàn) in Chinese grammar

Most people learning Mandarin Chinese get a bit confused with the words 半 (bàn), 一半 (yí bàn) and 一个半 (yí ge bàn). They’re all used for talking about halves in one way or another, but the difference between them can be tricky at first.

None of the words we’re explaining here are actually very hard to use. The problem is that they’re similar, and you get interference. In other words, you get them mixed up. To try and help you avoid that with these words, we’ve put together the super-clear guide below.

半 (bàn): half of

To talk about *half of *something, the structure is:

半 + [measure word] + [noun]

It’s as simple as that. Most often the measure word is the generic 个 (ge), but any measure word can and should be used in that slot. Let’s have a look at some examples for this structure:

半个小时

bàn ge xiǎoshí

half an hour

半个三明治

bàn ge sānmíngzhì

half a sandwhich

半碗饭

bàn wǎn fàn

half a bowl of rice

半条鱼

bàn tiáo yú

half a fish

Notice how in English you could say “half of” in all those situations, but usually you just drop the word “of”. However, it might be helpful to try and remember the Chinese 半个 as meaning “half of”.

Now let’s have a look at some full example sentences for this structure:

我吃了半个苹果。

Wǒ chīle bàn ge píngguǒ.

I ate half an apple.

我只要半张纸。

Wǒ zhǐyào bàn zhāng zhǐ.

I only want half a sheet of paper.

我们花了半个小时做作业。

Wǒmen huāle bàn ge xiǎoshí zuò zuo yè.

We spent half an hour doing the homework.

Notice the 半 + measure word structure in each of the sentences above. If a measure word comes after 半, then it means “half of” or “half a”. That makes it different to the other two words described below.

一半 (yí bàn): a half

一半 is used without a measure word at all. Always remember that you can’t put a measure word before or after 一半. There isn’t a general structure for using 一半, because it’s more of a standalone word meaning “a half” or “one half”. Let’s have a look at some example sentences for 一半:

我们已经喝了一半了。

Wǒmen yǐjīng hēle yībànle.

We've already drunk half of it.

我吃饭吃了一半就不想吃了。

Wǒ chīfàn chīle yībàn jiù bùxiǎng chīle.

I'd eaten half the meal, and then I just didn't want any more.

他总是把薪水的一半存入银行。

Tā zǒngshì bǎ xīnshuǐ de yībàn cún rù yínháng.

He always puts one half of his salary in the bank.

Hopefully you can see that it’s easier to think of 一半 as a vocabulary item than a structure. This makes it different to 半 and 一个半, which you might want to think of as being more structural.

一个半 (yí ge bàn): one and a half

Finally, we come to 一个半 which means one and a half. The structure for this is:

一个半 + [noun]

You could think of 一个半 as being like 一个 (one) plus 半 (half), so altogether it makes one and a half. Also notice that it contains a measure word, so you don’t add any more measure words to this structure! The 个 shown here can of course be replaced with any appropriate measure word.

Let’s have a look at some example sentences for 一个半 (plus the same structure with other measure words):

这个产品很受欢迎 - 我们已经卖了一盒半了!

Zhège chǎnpǐn hěn shòu huānyíng- wǒmen yǐjīng màile yī hé bànle!

This product is very popular - we've already sold a box and a half!

我拿了一张半纸。

Wǒ nále yī zhāng bàn zhǐ.

I got one and a half sheets of paper.

我们花了一个半钟头才做完。

Wǒmen huāle yīgè bàn zhōngtóu cái zuò wán.

We spent an hour and a half getting it done.

最大的鹰的翅膀展开长达一米半。

Zuìdà de yīng de chìbǎng zhǎnkāi zhǎng dá yī mǐ bàn.

The largest eagles have a wingspan of one and a half meters.

Hopefully you can see the 一 + measure word + 半 structure in each of the sentences above.

The difference between the three

Now it’s time for a quick summary of the difference between 半, 一半 and 一个半 in Chinese grammar.

    • “half of” or “half a”
    • 半 + [measure word] + [noun]
  • 一半
    • “a half” or “one half”
    • a standalone word
  • 一个半
    • “one and a half”
    • 一 + [measure word] + 半

If you have any questions or suggestions, please share them in the comments at the end of the page.

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