The difference between 算 (suàn), 算上 (suànshang) and 算了 (suànle) in Chinese grammar

The Chinese words 算 (suàn), 算上 (suànshang) and 算了 (suànle) can be quite easy to mix up because of their similarity. Getting similar things confused in this way is called interference. The way to deal with this is to learn the differences as clearly as possible.

算 (suàn): to sum

Starting with the simplest of these words, let’s have a look at 算. When used as a verb, 算 means “to sum” or “to calculate”.

Let’s have a look at some example sentences for this meaning of 算:

我用计算器算出我的开支总额。

Wǒ yòng jìsuàn qì suànchū wǒ de kāizhī zǒng'é.

I totalled up my expenses with a calculator.

我要算算我今天一共花了多少钱。

Wǒ yào suàn suàn wǒ jīntiān yīgòng huāle duōshǎo qián.

I'm going to calculate how much money I've spent today.

我算了算,这次旅行要花大概一万块人民币。

Wǒ suànle suàn, zhè cì lǚxíng yào huā dàgài yī wàn kuài rénmínbì.

I've calculated that I'll spend about ten thousand RMB on this trip.

Another meaning of 算 as a verb is “to consider”, “to regard as” or “to count as”. Some examples:

他算得上一个作家。

Tā suàndé shàng yīgè zuòjiā.

He can be considered an author.

在花园走一走算不上锻炼!

Zài huāyuán zǒu yī zǒu suàn bù shàng duànliàn!

Taking a walk in the garden doesn't count as exercise!

那算得上道歉吗?

Nà suàndeshang dàoqiàn ma?

Does that count as an apology?

这算不了什么。

Zhè suànbuliǎo shénme.

This doesn't amount to much.

You could think of the basic, core meaning of 算 as “to calculate to be”. This ties together all of the different uses of 算.

算上 (suànshang): to count in

The next word we’ll look at is 算上. This means “to count in” or “to include”. Again, you could think of this as “to include in your calculations”. Some example sentences for 算上:

把我算上吧!

Bǎ wǒ suàn shàng ba!

Count me in!

连他们算上,我们一共也只有五个人。

Lián tāmen suàn shàng, wǒmen yīgòng yě zhǐyǒu wǔ gèrén.

Even counting them in, there's still only five of us.

算上附近的村子,这个镇子的人口一共有六千多。

Suàn shàng fùjìn de cūnzi, zhège zhènzi de rénkǒu yīgòng yǒu liùqiān duō.

Including nearby villages, the population of this town is over six thousand.

One important thing to note about 算上 is that it is not the same as constructions like 算得上 (suàndeshang) and 算不上 (suànbushang). Those are potential complements used with the verb 算 described above. They mean “can be considered” and “can’t be considered”, respectively.

算了 (suànle): forget it

This is a much more colloquial, idiomatic use of 算. 算了 means “forget it” or “let’s drop the matter”. It’s a bit like saying “consider this dealt with and leave it”. Note that it can be slightly abrupt or rude in some situations.

Some example sentences for 算了:

我们就算了吧,你说呢?

Wǒmen jiù suànle ba, nǐ shuō ne?

Let's just forget it, what do you think?

算了!我受够了。

Suànle! Wǒ shòu gòule.

Stop it! I've had enough.

要是天气不好就算了吧。

Yàoshi tiānqì bù hǎo jiùsuànle ba.

If the weather's not good then let's just forget it.

既然没有牛奶,咱们就喝黑咖啡算了。

Jìrán méiyǒu niúnǎi, zánmen jiù hē hēi kāfēi suànle.

Since there's no milk, let's just drink black coffee.

算了 has a sense of giving up or dropping one’s original intentions. It’s often used as a response to circumstances or people that can’t be dealt with or that the speaker is no longer willing to deal with.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please share them in the comments!

More B2 articles

  1. The difference between 拿 (ná) and 带 (dài) in Chinese grammar B2
  2. Chinese direction complements: Basic verbal directions with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) B2
  3. Three uses of 才 (cái) in Chinese grammar: only, just now / not until, emphasis B2

See all B2 articles

Other articles for

  1. How to use 划算 (huásuàn) in Mandarin Chinese: to be a bargain B1
  2. The difference between 算 (suàn), 算上 (suànshang) and 算了 (suànle) in Chinese grammar B2

Other articles for

  1. How to use 碰 (pèng), 碰见 (pèngjiàn) and 碰上 (pèngshàng) in Chinese grammar B1
  2. Chinese direction complements: Basic verbal directions with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) B2
  3. How to use 拿起来 (náqilai) and 拿上来 (náshanglai) correctly in Chinese grammar B1

Other articles for

  1. Using 了 (le) and 过 (guò) in Chinese grammar A2
  2. 除了…以外 (chúle…yǐwài) in Chinese grammar: apart from, except, in addition A2
  3. The difference between 算 (suàn), 算上 (suànshang) and 算了 (suànle) in Chinese grammar B2