Tally Marks in Chinese

Do you know what tally marks are?

They are used when counting with a pencil and paper.

In western societies, a common way to note tally marks is like this:

You mark down a single stroke, each time you’re counting an item. After you have 4 strokes down, on your 5th stroke you cross off the first 4. That way it’s easy to count a group of 5.

In Chinese they use the same concept, but instead of vertical strokes, they try to build the character 正 as follows:

As you can see, each complete 正 character uses 5 strokes. So a series of 正 would each represent 5, just like the English ones above.

So where else can you see 正 tallies?

When you are ordering items from a menu, you can use 正 to indicate the number of dishes you want to order. Start with 一 for one, and work your way up.

So the next time you see the above strokes, you’ll know what its purpose is!

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