chinese-numbers

Chinese Numbers: The Definitive Guide to Counting from 1 to 1,000 and Beyond

If you recently started learning Chinese, odds are learning to count is one of your first goals.

Numbers are an language milestones for beginners. Chinese numbers are used for slang, listing quantities, talking about money and so much more.

But for some of us, math in our native language is enough of a challenge! Luckily, Chinese numbers follow a pattern that’s easy to learn and makes logical sense.

This is your all-in-one guide to everything you need to know about Chinese numbers from zero to one billion, as well as how to use them in everyday sentences.

Contents


 
 

Chinese Numbers 0-10

The best part about these numbers is that they’ll help you remember every number after them. Think of these numbers as building blocks for numbers 11 and beyond.

(líng) — 0

(yī) — 1

(èr) — 2

(liǎng) — 2

(sān) — 3

(sì) — 4

(wǔ) — 5

(liù) — 6

(qī) — 7

(bā) — 8

(jiǔ) — 9

(shí) — 10

Why are there two ways to say the number two?

Here’s what you need to remember: When counting, use (èr) and when listing quantities, use (liǎng).

For example, 两个人 (liǎng ge rén) is the correct way to say “two people.” But, if you were counting “one, two, three…” you’d say 一,二,三 (yī, èr, sān).

Chinese Numbers 11-20

Remember how I said that numbers one through 10 are building blocks? Well, you’re about to see that in action.

What makes Chinese numbers easy to learn is that when you count beyond 10, you continue to use numbers one through 10 along with basic addition. For example, the number 11 is 十一 (shí yī). The literal translation of this number is “10 plus one.”

Let’s take a look.

十一 (shí yī) — 11

十二 (shí èr) — 12

十三 (shí sān) — 13

十四 (shí sì) —14

十五 (shí wǔ) — 15

十六 (shí liù) — 16

十七 (shí qī) — 17

十八 (shí bā) — 18

十九 (shí jiǔ) — 19

二十 (èr shí) — 20

Notice that the number 20 literally means “two and 10.”

Easy, right? The good news is that every other number from 30-90 follows this pattern.

Chinese Numbers 21-99

Let’s start with counting by tens.

三十 (sān shí) — 30

四十 (sì shí) — 40

五十 (wǔ shí) — 50

六十 (liù shí) — 60

七十 (qī shí) — 70

八十 (bā shí) — 80

九十 (jiǔ shí) — 90

Counting by tens is one of the easiest things to do in Chinese. To form the number, just think of it as a multiplication problem. For example, the number 50 is the numbers five and 10 combined, as if to say “five times 10.” The number 80 is the numbers eight and 10 combined, such as “eight times 10.”

But what about forming numbers like 22, 57, 68 or 99?

Take a look at numbers 21 to 29.

二十一 (èr shí yī) — 21

二十二 (èr shí èr) — 22

二十三 (èr shí sān) — 23

二十四 (èr shí sì) — 24

二十五 (èr shí wǔ) — 25

二十六 (èr shí liù) — 26

二十七 (èr shí qī) — 27

二十八 (èr shí bā) — 28

二十九 (èr shí jiǔ) — 29

Notice the pattern? The equation is simple: first number + ten + second number.

Chinese Numbers 100-999

Counting from 100 to 999 is about as easy as counting from 21-99. Let’s take a look at the pattern:

一百 (yī bǎi) — 100

二百 (èr bǎi) — 200

两百 (liǎng bǎi) — 200

三百 (sān bǎi) — 300

四百 (sì bǎi) — 400

五百 (wǔ bǎi) — 500

六百 (liù bǎi) — 600

七百 (qī bǎi) — 700

八百 (bā bǎi) — 800

九百 (jiǔ bǎi) — 900

Pretty simple, right? The formula is as follows: the number one through nine plus (bǎi).

Now, let’s take a look at how to form numbers such as 101, 129, 146 and so on.

一百零一 (yī bǎi líng yī) — 101

一百零二 (yī bǎi líng èr) — 102

一百二十九 (yī bǎi èr shí jiǔ) — 129

一百四十六 (yī bǎi sì shí liù) — 146

四百五十八 (sì bǎi wǔ shí bā) — 458

九百九十九 (jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ) — 999

Notice the pattern: a number one through nine plus (bǎi), then a number zero through nine plus (shí) and then a final number zero through nine.

However, keep in mind that to count from numbers 101 to 109, you must add a (líng) — zero. For example:

一百零一 (yī bǎi líng yī) — 101

一百零二 (yī bǎi líng èr) — 102

一百零九 (yī bǎi líng jiǔ) — 109

When counting from 110 to 119, it’s a little different:

一百一十 (yī bǎi yī shí) — 110

一百一十三 (yī bǎi yī shí sān) — 113

一百一十五 (yī bǎi yī shí wǔ) — 115

一百一十八 (yī bǎi yī shí bā) — 118

一百一十九 (yī bǎi yī shí jiǔ) — 119

The pattern is as follows: the number zero through nine plus (bǎi) plus (yī) plus the number 10-19.

Chinese Numbers 1,000 and Beyond

So far, the patterns of Chinese numbers have been pretty easy to understand. The number system has followed a logical order, and odds are you feel comfortable forming your own numbers from zero to 999.

But above 999, Chinese numbers can get a bit tricky.

In English, we continue putting the word “thousand” after numbers one through nine to count to one million. But in Chinese, there’s a new word for ten thousand, and after we reach that number, we never use the word for “thousand” again.

Let’s take a look.

(qiān) — thousand

(wàn) — ten thousand

十万 (shí wàn) — hundred thousand

百万 (bǎi wàn) — million

亿 (yì) — hundred million

十亿 (shí yì) — billion

In Chinese, 1,000 to 9,000 is 一千 (yì qiān) to 九千 (jiǔ qiān).

However, 11,000 is not 十一千 (shí yī qiān). The correct way to say 11,000 is 一万一千 (yī wàn yī qiān), which is literally “10,000 plus 1,000.” Similarly, the number 17,000 is 一万七千 (yī wàn qī qiān), which is 10,000 plus 7,000.

To get from 10,000 to 90,000, the formula is as follows: the number one through nine plus (wàn).

For example, the number 50,000 is 五万 (wǔ wàn). The number 30,000 is 三万 (sān wàn).

What about 58,000? That would be 五万八千 (wǔ wàn bā qiān).

The same applies to numbers 十万 (shí wàn) — a hundred thousand to 十亿 (shí yì) — billion.

Quantities in Chinese: 10 Must-know Measure Words

In Chinese, you can’t simply say “I want two apples.” You have to insert a measure word in between the number two and the word “apples.”

Leaving out measure words is are one of the few errors in Chinese that many native speakers won’t be able to look past using context alone.

Although you might think leaving out a measure word isn’t a big deal, it could well mean that native speakers simply won’t understand what you’re trying to say.

Let’s dive into the first 10 measure words you should learn.

This measure word can be used to count anything. If you find yourself stuck in a situation where you don’t know which measure word to use, just use (ge/gè).

For example: 两个苹果 (liǎng ge píng guǒ) — two apples

For example: 两只小狗 (liǎng zhī xiǎo gǒu) — two puppies

For example: 三间房 (sān jiān fáng) — three rooms

  • (kē) — used to count plants and trees

For example: 八棵树 (bā kē shù) — eight trees

For example: 一张纸 (yì zhāng zhǐ) — one piece of paper

For example: 一双袜子 (yì shuāng wà zi) — one pair of socks

For example: 三辆车 (sān liàng chē) — three cars

For example: 两本书 (liǎng běn shū) — two books

  • (jiā) — used to count buildings, gatherings and establishments

For example: 一家公司 (yì jiā gōng sī) — one company

For example: 三位老师 (sān wèi lǎo shī) — three teachers

Chinese Numbers in Dates

Days of the Week in Chinese

For Chinese days of the week, you only need to know the numbers one through six, the word (tiān) and the three ways to say “week”:

  • 星期 (xīng qī)
  • (zhōu)
  • 礼拜 (lǐ bài)

After you’ve chosen which form of “week” you’d like to use, simply attach a number one through six at the end. Or if you’re trying to say Sunday, attach 天. In the examples below, I’m using 星期.

  • 星期一 (xīng qī yī) — Monday
  • 星期二 (xīng qī èr) — Tuesday
  • 星期三 (xīng qī sān) — Wednesday
  • 星期四 (xīng qī sì) — Thursday
  • 星期五 (xīng qī wǔ) — Friday
  • 星期六 (xīng qī liù) — Saturday
  • 星期天 (xīng qī tiān) — Sunday
  • 星期日 (xīng qī rì) — Sunday

Months in Chinese

Got a grip on days of the week? You’ll be happy to hear that the months in Chinese follow a very similar pattern. Instead of attaching a number to the end of the word “month”—which is (yuè)—the number comes at the beginning.

For instance, January is literally “one month,” February is “two month” and November is “eleven month.”

  • 一月 (yī yuè) — January
  • 二月 (èr yuè) — February
  • 三月 (sān yuè) — March
  • 四月 (sì yuè) — April
  • 五月 (wǔ yuè) — May
  • 六月 (liù yuè) — June
  • 七月 (qī yuè) — July
  • 八月 (bā yuè) — August
  • 九月 (jiǔ yuè) — September
  • 十月 (shí yuè) — October
  • 十一月 (shí yī yuè) — November
  • 十二月 (shí èr yuè) — December

Years in Chinese

We’ve covered days and months, so now it’s time to move on to years! But before we get into how to form years in Chinese, here are a few time terms you’ll need to know first:

  • (nián) — year
  • 今年 (jīn nián) — this year
  • 去年 (qù nián) — last year
  • 明年 (míng nián) — next year

Now, to the fun stuff.

When talking about a specific year in Chinese, all you do is read out each digit and attach the word 年 to the end of it. For example:

  • 二零零一年 (èr líng líng yī nián) = 2001
  • 二零二一年 (èr líng èr yī nián) = 2021
  • 一九七三年 (yī jiǔ qī sān nián) = 1973

Unlike in English though, you can’t split up the year in two parts. So while we say 2020 as “twenty twenty,” in Chinese, it’s always 二零二零年 (èr líng èr líng nián).

But if that’s too much of a mouthful, don’t worry—there is one way you can shorten it, so long as the year is recent. For example, instead of saying 1973 (一九七三年), you can just say ’73 (七三年 — qī sān nián).

Here’s a tricky one: try saying the year 2000 in Chinese.

What’d you get?

Well, there are two answers:

二零零零年 (èr líng líng líng nián)

两千年 (liǎng qiān nián)

The second option is shorter but it also means “2,000 years,” not just “the year 2000.” So be sure the context is clear before using it.

Dates in Chinese

Days, weeks, months, years—you’ve collected all the pieces to the puzzle, but how do you actually assemble them?

Forming specific dates in Chinese is just as simple as learning the months and weeks. Let’s check out the formula now:

Year Number 年 + Month Number 月 + Date Number 号 (hào)

For example:

  • 2001年 8月 11号 (èr líng líng yī nián bā yuè shí yī hào) = August 11, 2001
  • 1801年 2月 16号 (yī bā líng yī nián èr yuè shí liù hào) = February 16, 1801
  • 1989年 6月 9号 (yī jiǔ bā jiǔ nián liù yuè jiǔ hào) = June 9, 1989

Say something happened on a specific date, but in the current year. In English, you’d simply leave out the year and say it happened on X month, X date (i.e. April 20). In Chinese, it’s the same!

Let’s say I got married on September 15, 2021, but the year is still 2021. When my friend asks, “When did you get married?”, I’d simply say, “September 15.”

In Chinese, that would be 九月十五号 (jiǔ yuè shí wǔ hào).

Before moving on, you might’ve noticed that you only pronounce individual digits in the year, not the days.

We already learned that to say 2016, you can’t say 二十十六年 (èr shí shí liù nián). Instead, you have to say 二零一六年 (èr líng yī liù nián).

But when it comes to days of the month, you certainly can (and should) say the whole number (for example, August 16 is 八月十六bā yuè shí liù hào).

Basic Math in Chinese

Addition and Subtraction

You never know when you might need those math basics you learned in grade school, which is why it’s helpful to get comfortable with it again as an adult—but this time, in Chinese!

Here are a few must-know words when it comes to adding and subtracting:

  • 加法 (jiā fǎ) — addition
  • 减法 (jiǎn fǎ) — subtraction
  • 等于 (děng yú) — to equal
  • 偶数 (ǒu shù) — even (number)
  • 奇数 (jī shù) — odd (number)
  • 数字 (shù zì) — number
  • (jiā) — to add
  • (jiǎn) — to subtract, reduce, decrease

Now, let’s try our hand at a few basic math problems in Chinese.

  • 1 加 1 等于 2 (yī jiā yī děng yú èr) — 1 plus 1 equals 2
  • 8 减 5 等于 3 (bā jiǎn wǔ děng yú sān) — 8 minus 5 equals 3
  • 10 加 6 等于 16 (shí jiā liù děng yú shí liù) — 10 plus 6 equals 16
  • 55 减 32 等于 23 (wǔ shí wǔ jiǎn sān shí èr děng yú èr shí sān) — 55 minus 32 equals 23

Simple, right?

Multiplication and Division

Next up we have multiplication and division. The only new terms you need to know here are:

  • 乘以 (chéng yǐ) — times/multiply by
  • 除以 (chú yǐ) — divide by
  • 乘法 (chéng fǎ) — multiplication
  • 除法 (chú fǎ) — division

Ready for a few more math problems?

  • 30 除以 10 等于 3 (sān shí chú yǐ shí děng yú sān) — 30 divided by 10 equals 3
  • 5 乘以 11 等于 55 (wǔ chéng yǐ shí yī děng yú wǔ shí wǔ) — 5 times 11 equals 55

For division, you can either use the first formula or simply use 除 instead of 除以. That would make it:

30 除 10 等于 3 (sān shí chú shí děng yú sān)

Fractions, Decimals and Percentages

To wrap up our section on basic math, let’s dig into fractions, decimals and percentages.

At first thought, learning how to talk about fractions and percentages in Chinese might not seem like it should be a priority yet. But actually, that’s far from the truth.

Every time a cashier rings up your purchase and tells you how much you owe—every time you listen to the GPS spout directions as you drive, telling you how many miles/kilometers until your next turn—you hear one of these tiny numbers.

And since we’re talking about money next, now is the perfect time to get comfortable with number fragments.

  • (diǎn) — point, decimal
  • (chā) — remainder
  • 百分之 (bǎi fēn zhī) — percentage
  • 分数 (fēn shù) — fraction

Let’s start with the most useful: fractions we use on a regular basis.

  • 二分之一 (èr fēn zhī yī) = 1/2
  • 三分之一 (sān fēn zhī yī) = 1/3
  • 四分之一 (sì fēn zhī yī) = 1/4, one quarter
  • 四分之三 (sì fēn zhī sān) = 3/4, three quarters
  • 三分之二 (sān fēn zhī èr) = 2/3

Before moving on, it’s crucial to note that while these fractions are correct, you wouldn’t use them when talking about quantities as we do in English. For example, when trying to say “two and a half hours,” you wouldn’t say 两个二分之一 (liǎng ge èr fēn zhī yī xiǎo shí).

Here are the same numbers, but how you’d use them in conversations and when talking about quantities:

  • (bàn) — half
  • 一刻 (yī kè) — one quarter
  • 三刻 (sān kè) — three quarters

Even time can be expressed with these. For example, 10:15 would be 十点一刻 (shí diǎn yī kè).

Decimals are among the easiest to learn in this section, as they follow the same pattern they do in English: Number + 点 (diǎn) + Number. For example:

  • 一点五 (yī diǎn wǔ) = 1.5
  • 五点六 (wǔ diǎn liù) = 5.6
  • 二点三 (èr diǎn sān) = 2.3

For decimals with multiple numbers behind the point, you’d treat it similar to how we pronounce each digit in a year. For example:

  • 零点二五 (líng diǎn èr wǔ) = 0.25
  • 一点三四 (yī diǎn sān sì) = 1.34

Last but not least, we have percentages. Remember, the word for percentage in Chinese is 百分之 (bǎi fēn zhī), which literally means 100 separate. Unlike in English, the number comes after the word “percentage” (百分之) rather than before.

For example:

  • 百分之二十五 (bǎi fēn zhī èr shí wǔ) = 25%
  • 百分之十 (bǎi fēn zhī shí) = 10%
  • 百分之五十 (bǎi fēn zhī wǔ shí) = 50%
  • 百分之一百 (bǎi fēn zhī yī bǎi) = 100%

How to Talk About Money in Chinese

You already know how to count, but how do you ask for the price of something? What’s the Chinese currency? How do you discuss cents, change and dollars?

Here are a few essential money vocab words you’ll need:

  • 多少钱? (duō shǎo qián?) — How much is it?
  • (yuán) — Yuan (Chinese currency)
  • 人民币 (rén mín bì) — Renminbi/RMB (the official currency of China)
  • (kuài) — Kuai (colloquial version of Yuan)
  • (jiǎo) — Jiao (10 cents)
  • (máo) — informal version of 角 (10 cents)
  • (fēn) — 1 cent

If this sounds complicated, just think of 元 and 块 like “dollars” and 毛 like “dimes,” since that’s exactly how they’re used. While Renminbi and Yuan are mostly the same, you’ll often find that people tend to use Renminbi in their conversations about money instead of Yuan.

By the way, the currency sign of Yuan is ¥.

The structure for giving a price in Chinese is very similar to English:

Number + 块 + Number + 毛 + Number + 分

For example:

  • 三块六毛 (sān kuài liù máo) — ¥3.60
  • 五十块三毛五分 (wǔ shí kuài sān máo wǔ fēn) — ¥50.35
  • 八块 (bā kuài) — ¥8
  • 一毛 (yī máo) — ¥0.10 (a dime)

As you can see, the only thing you’ll need to remember is that 毛 represents 10 cents and 分 one cent. So instead of saying 63 cents, you need to specify “6 dimes, 3 cents.”

Chinese Numbers Practice Quiz

To wrap everything up, let’s review what you’ve just learned with a practice quiz!

Try translating the following into Chinese:

11,378

July 17, 2019

¥16.73

5 1/2 apples

7,822

November 18, 1984

¥8.40

20,000

September 7

January 1, 2000

¥7.00

1 plus 1 equals 2

2 minus 1 equals 1

25%

1.5

Ready for the reveal?

The answers are:

一万一千三百七十八 (yī wàn yī qiān sān bǎi qī shí bā) — 11,378

2019年7月17号 (èr líng yī jiǔ nián qī yuè shí qī hào) — July 17, 2019

十六块七毛三分 (shí liù kuài qī máo sān fēn) — ¥16.73

五个半苹果 (wǔ gè bàn píng guǒ) — 5 1/2 apples

七千八百二十二 (qī qiān bā bǎi èr shí èr) — 7,822

1984年11月18号 (yī jiǔ bā sì nián shí yī yuè shí bā hào) — November 18, 1984

八块四毛 (bā kuài sì máo) — ¥8.40

两万 (liǎng wàn) — 20,000

九月七号 (jiǔ yuè qī hào) — September 7

2000年1月1号 (èr líng líng líng nián yī yuè yī hào) — January 1, 2000

七块 (qī kuài) — ¥7.00

1 加 1 等于 2 (yī jiā yī děng yú èr) — 1 plus 1 equals 2

2减 1 等于 1 (èr jiǎn yī děng yú yī) — 2 minus 1 equals 1

百分之二十五 (bǎi fēn zhī èr shí wǔ) — 25%

一点五 (yī diǎn wǔ) — 1.5

 

And there you have it: the all-in-one guide to Chinese numbers from zero to one billion! If you have trouble falling asleep tonight, you can count sheep in Chinese!

Mastering Chinese numbers will take a bit of time and practice, but by following a few strategic tips and recognizing number patterns, the process will become a whole lot easier.

Happy counting!

 

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