Chinese Numbers: The Complete Guide for Beginner
Like any language, the Chinese system of numbers can be intimidating at first glance. Thankfully though, it's actually much easier to count in Chinese than you would think with its complicated-looking characters.
Here’s everything you’ll learn in this guide:
What are the numbers 1 to 10 in Chinese?
Let's start with the basics numbers before moving on to bigger ones. Numbers from 1 to 3 are simply strokes, you can't get any easier than that!
Although the rest is not as straightforward, they are not difficult to write and recognize.
How do you count up to 100 in Chinese?
Now that you know how to count from 1 to 10, you're going to love the number 11 in Chinese: 十一 (shí yī)
That's right, it's literally "ten one". This simple pattern is the same from 11 to 19.
Remember when I told you numbers in Chinese are logical? 🙂
The next number is 二十 (èr shí) which is literally "two ten". This second pattern works for all the tens.
How about 21?
It's as easy as combining the two patterns like this: 二十一 (èr shí yī)
To recap, here's the numbers from 11 to 100:
How do you count over 100 in Chinese?
Beyond the number 99, you need to use measure words (characters) that represent hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and so on. It is very elementary to understand, but if you consider these characters as numeral measure words, learning Chinese numbers over hundreds and thousands gets a way easier!
|Ten thousand (10,000)||万||wàn|
|Hundred million (100,000,000)||亿||yì|
The big numbers are grouped differently than English, so one million would be written as 一百万 (yì bǎi wàn), which is literally "one hundred ten thousand."
Here's an example from a thousand to a billion:
That's a lot to process! Hold tight, there is still one more concept I want to show you: how to deal with zeros.
The 3 rules of zeros
Zero in Chinese is a bit tricky as you'll see. Let's take the number 101, can you guess how to write it? You probably answered 一百一 (yì bǎi yī), but it's wrong.
As you can see, you have to put a zero 零 (líng). When should you add it? Simply follow these 3 rules, and zeros in Chinese will have no secret for you.
1. Don't put the numeral measure word when it corresponds to 0
In other words, when you have a zero in the place of a measure word like 十 or 百, you replace it with 零. For example, the number 708 is 七百零八 instead of 七百十八.
2. Omit the zero when it's at the end of a number
For example, 360 is written 三百六十 (sān bǎi liù shí). You don't have to put in an extra zero because it's already part of the measure word.
3. Keep only one zero if you have more than one in a row
For example, 3008 is written 三千零八 (sān qiān líng bā) instead of 三千零零八.
The pattern looks like this: 零零 => 零
When to use 两 instead of 二 ?
In Chinese, there are two words for "two": 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng). It's easy to be confused by which one to use, so let's find out when to use them.
Use 二 when:
- Counting without measure words.
- Giving a phone number.
- Talking about "second" (ordinal number).
Use 两 when:
- Talking about "two of something" or "both".
- Counting measure word numbers.
How do Chinese count on hand?
In China, hand gestures are often used to represent numbers.
If you find yourself ordering food in Chinese, knowing them can be quite handy! The picture below will teach you the gestures from number 1 to 10.
How do you say phone numbers in Chinese?
This guide would not be complete without mentioning how to say phone numbers in Chinese. When giving a phone number, you just read the digits from 0 to 9. It's that simple! All individual numbers are spoken, making it easy to remember.
Special case: number 1 in phone numbers
One important thing to note is the use of the number one in Chinese phone numbers. When referring to phone numbers, the "number one" is not spoken as 一 (yī), but instead, 幺 (yāo) is used.
The reason is that 一 (yī) and 七 (qī) sound very similar when spoken quickly, hence the introduction of 幺 (yāo) to avoid any confusion.
Chinese numbers aren't that complicated, they are quite logical. In this guide, you have learned how to count from 0 to a billion, pretty impressive!
Just remember the few rules and understand the numeral measure words and you will be able to use numbers in daily life with ease.
Any questions? Let me know on Twitter.