Choosing a cookie at Subway or “How to select items from a grid”

The following is a guest post by reader Dave Vallance, ‘Software QM by day, Chinese student, amateur musician and closet Baileys drinker by night.

As good as the food in Asia can be, there are just those times when you fancy a taste of the west. Those of you who live in the east but have choose to eat in the west (so to speak) may appreciate how easy it is to be a lazy learner and slip into English when you are in a restaurant and confronted with something new.

For me, this came in the form of the cookie stand at Subway. If I am eating a Subway, a cookie is almost a rite of passage, a given….However, unlike ordering the sub where you can name the ingredients you want individually, the problem with the cookie stand is that they are all, to state the obvious, just cookies! 餅乾(饼干 bing3 gan1)

Subway Cookies

Creative Commons image care of Giovanni Spina

So the challenge begins….How do I let them know which cookie I want?

Naturally, there are various ways of doing this. Depending on your level you can go from pointing and saying 那個(那个 na4ge)”That one”, to providing precise coordinates.

As you look at it, the cookie stand might look a little like this;

Option A – The corners

If your cookie of choice happens to be in one of the four corners, then you can try this sentence pattern;


左 – zuo3 – Left
右 – you4 – Right
上 – shang4 – Top
下 – xia4 – Bottom
角 – Jiao3 – Corner
的 – de – connects a description to a noun (name word)

Grammar (for non linguists)

The side -> The level -> The word for “Corner” -> 的

The 的 used here at the end of the sentence links the description to the cookie. You can choose to drop the word cookie or include it.


左下角的(zuo3 xia4 jiao3 de)
bottom left corner (lit Left bottom corner)

右上角的(you4 shang4 jiao3 de)
top right corner

Option B – Rows

So what if your cookie is in the middle? The word 中間 zhong1jian1 “middle/centre” by itself will not suffice. Which row is it in the middle of?


第 – di4 – Ordinal marker for numbers (Makes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc possible instead of 1,2,3,4)
排 – pai2 – Row
邊(边) – bian1 – Side (e.g. left side, right side)


which row -> where -> 的

This is just two simple statements. Just like saying “3rd row, centre one” in English


第三排,中間的(第三排,中间的 di4 san1 pai2, zhong1jian1 de)
The 3rd row, middle one.

第二排,右邊的(第二排,右边的 di4 er4 pai2, you4bian1 de)
The 2nd row, the one on the right side

Taking it a little further…

So now the basics have been mastered we can expand on these patterns to describe things when there are 4 or mores items. (i.e, there is either no item in centre or there are items between the centre and edges). The way to describe these in relation to each other is to start counting. literally…


從(从) – cong2 – From
數(数) – shu3 – to count
到(到) – dao4 – to arrive


The word “from” -> which side/level -> the words “count to” -> where/which direction -> number to count


My explanation above might be a bit wordy, so perhaps the below picture will help? Just replace the blacks bit to make any combination you like. The green section can be replaced depending on what is being counted, rows, strips, animals etc

從左數到右第四個(从左数到右第四个 cong2 zuo3 shu3 dao4 you4 di4 si4 ge)
The 4th one from left to right

從上數到下第五排(从上数到下第五排 cong2 shang4 dao4 xia4 di4 wu3 pai2)
The 5th row from the top.

2 responses to “Choosing a cookie at Subway or “How to select items from a grid”

  1. Love this post! It reminds me that we can try to take the most mundane interactions and turn them into learning opportunities (which are actually very challenging)! Thanks!

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