As our daily life is always closely associated with numbers, learning how to count numbers is very important no matter what language you’re learning. And Chinese is no different. This article will cover the grammar rules and writing numbers in Mandarin Chinese, a Chinese dialect spoken mainly in China, and various other places.
How to count from 1 to 10 in Chinese
Let’s start with the simplest single numbers! The basic numbers in Chinese are extremely simple, and the writing rules for numbers in Chinese characters are straightforward. Here’s a fun fact: if you look closely at the writings for numbers 1, 2, and 3, you’ll notice that number of lines is the same as the number itself.
- The number “zero” in Chinese is commonly expressed by Chinese character 〇 (líng) for “zero (0)”, but you can also use 零 (líng) – “zero (0)”.
- 二 (èr) – “two” is mostly used when counting or sharing a phone number. If you want to refer to a quantity of something, like using measure words and saying “both” or “two of something,” you should say 两 (liǎng) instead.
二十块钱 (èrshí kuài qián) – “twenty dollars”
两本书 (liǎng běn shū) – “two books”
- 一 (yī) – “one” sounds very similar to 七 (qī) – “seven,” so it can get easily confused when speaking fast, especially when sharing a phone number. So, in this case, Chinese people use 幺 (Yāo) instead of 一 (yī) – “one.”
For example, if your phone number is 18436151889, here’s how you pronounce it: “yao, ba, sì, sān, liù, yao, wǔ, yao, ba, ba, jiǔ.”
- You also need to remember that the number 四 (sì) – “four” symbolizes bad luck in Chinese because it sounds similar to 死 (sǐ) – “death.” The number 4 in Chinese culture is like the number 13 in the Western world. Normally, the 4th floor is left out in buildings and hotels, and you should never give Chinese people four of something as a gift, such as flowers or fruits.
See more: 8 Amazing Chinese Business Culture Advices To Know.
How to count from 11 to 100 in Chinese
The Chinese numerals 11-20 are also simple – all you need to know is how to count 1-10 and combine these characters as you go further.
Numbers 11-19 are simply a combination of the number 10 + the following number. So the formula to say these numbers is 10+1 for 11, 10+2 for 12, etc. The numbers 20, 30, and beyond are the same way, but just the other way around: 20 is two tens, 30 is three tens, and so on.
To help you better visualize the formula, we’ve made this handy chart for you:
For numbers in between, such as 25, 33, 96, and others, the pattern of “two tens” continues. You just need to add the last number at the end.
- 二十五 (èr shí wǔ) – “twenty-five (25)”
- 三十三 (sān shí sān) – “thirty-three (33)”
- 九十六 (jiǔ shí liù) – “ninety-six (96)”
As long as you remember Mandarin numbers 1-10, you can master all the numbers.
Big numbers in Chinese
When you get to 100, you’ll need to learn new characters, but they’re still quite straightforward. You’ll notice that these big numbers in Chinese have their own character, such as 万 (wàn) for “ten thousand (10,000)”, and 一百万 (yìbǎi wàn) for “a million (1,000,000).” So all you need to do is remember these particular names and how many zeros they mean.
This table shows the difference between forming the big numbers in English and Chinese.
|100||One hundred||一百||yì bǎi|
|1000||One thousand||一千||yì qiān|
|10,000||Ten thousand||一万||yí wàn|
|100,000||A hundred thousand||十万||shí wàn|
|1,000,000||One million||一百万||yì bǎi wàn|
|10,000,000||Ten million||一千万||yì qiān wàn|
|100,000,000||One hundred million||一亿||yí yì|
|1,000,000,000||One billion||十亿||shí yì|
Ordinal numbers in Chinese
Chinese ordinal numbers are merely a combination of the word 第 (dì) and a basic number.
The same rule goes with the Eleventh 第十一 (dì shíyī), Twelfth 第十二 (dì shí’èr), and so on.
And if you want to express something that happened once, twice, or three times, just add 次 (cì) – “times” after the number:
- 一次 (yī cì) – “once”
- 两次 (liǎng cì) – “twice”
- 三次 (sān cì) – “three times”
How to say your phone number in Chinese
Now you know how to count numbers in Chinese, let’s move to a slightly more challenging part: sharing your phone number in Chinese!
The rules are simple though, all you need to do is remember numbers 0-9, and you’re good to go! Here are some other things you need to keep in mind when sharing your phone number:
- You need to pronounce each number in the sequence that makes up your phone number.
- In Mandarin, each number needs to be pronounced clearly, which is opposed to in English, where we can abbreviate our phone numbers by grouping numbers into tens, hundreds, doubles, and trebles.
- As we have explained above, when sharing phone numbers in Chinese, don’t use 一 (Yī) for “One (1)”, use 幺 (Yāo) instead.
- There are two ways for pausing while saying your phone number aloud. For example, if your phone number is 18436151889, there are two ways you can say that:
Format 1: 1-8-4-3-6-1-5-1-8-8-9 (yao – ba – sì – sān – liù – yao – wǔ – yao – ba – ba – jiǔ)
Format 2: 184 – 3615 – 1889 (yao ba sì – sān liù yao – wǔ yao ba ba jiǔ)
The bottom line
Learning numbers in Chinese is very important, but it’s just that easy. Keep our guide in hand, and you can start counting stars in the sky now!
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