From Zero to Billion: Chinese Numbers Explained

Bodhi Ramos9 min
Created: Mar 13, 2024Last updated: Mar 29, 2024
Chinese Numbers

Numbers are vital to every culture – you see them on menus, in street addresses, and when buying things. If you plan to travel to China or want to sharpen your second language skills, understanding digits is key. Chinese numbers might seem complex at first. Structure, pronunciation, and representation differ from English. But with our guide, you will grasp this topic much faster. We have consolidated all the necessary details, from basic numbers to larger digits, so that you can converse with ease.

Start with the Basics: Chinese Numbers 1-10

Just like with the Chinese alphabet, understanding numbers begins with the basics. The first step in this journey is grasping the digits one through ten – they form the building blocks for larger ones. Each has a specific character and pronunciation that you need to remember before advancing further. Here, we will look at how to count to ten in Chinese.

NumberChinese CharactersPinyin
1
2二 (两)èr (liǎng)
3sān
4
5
6liù
7
8
9jiǔ
10shí

As for ‘zero,’ the Chinese character commonly seen is 〇 (líng), though 零 (líng) also indicates the same. The difference between their usage is minor, and you might come across both.

The number two can be a bit tricky. The character 二 (èr) is primarily used when counting or stating a phone number. Instead, when specifying quantities – like ‘two books’ – you use 两 (liǎng). Chinese numbers pronunciation is also essential, so take the time to learn this well.

  • 我有一个苹果。 (Wǒ yǒu yīgè píngguǒ.) – I have one apple.
  • 你有两本书吗? (Nǐ yǒu liǎng běn shū ma?) – Do you have two books?
  • 那个孩子三岁。 (Nàgè háizi sān suì.) – That child is three years old.
  • 他昨天买了四朵花。 (Tā zuótiān mǎi le sì duǒ huā.) – He bought four flowers yesterday.

Note that when speaking fast, for ‘one,’ use 幺 (yāo) instead of 一 (yī). The sound of 一 (yī) is close to 七 (qī), seven. Hence, it can be confusing. Also, the number four – 四 (sì) signifies bad luck. It sounds like 死 (sǐ), which means death. Many buildings and hotels skip the fourth floor; giving someone four of anything is not advised.

Chinese Numbers 11-99

Mastering the first ten digits is a milestone. Now, you’re ready to move beyond and explore numbers from eleven to ninety-nine. Learning how to count in Mandarin follows a logical pattern: a blend of known figures forming new ones.

NumberChinese CharactersPinyin
11十一shíyī
12十二shí’èr
13十三shísān
14十四shísì
15十五shíwǔ
16十六shíliù
17十七shíqī
18十八shíbā
19十九shíjiǔ
20二十èrshí
30三十sānshí
40四十sìshí
50五十wǔshí
60六十liùshí
70七十qīshí
80八十bāshí
90九十jiǔshí


The pattern is clear for 11-19. The first part is ten (十 shí), and the second part is a number from 1-9. When you say 20, it’s two (二 èr) with ten (十 shí). The same rule applies to all multiples of ten up to 90. It’s logical, isn’t it?

Numbers from 21 to 99 follow a similar pattern: say the ‘tens’ part, then the ‘units.’ For example, 21 is 二十一 (èrshíyī) – ‘Two ten one.’ Similarly, 35 is 三十五 (sānshíwǔ) – ‘Three ten five.’

  • 我有十一本书。 (Wǒ yǒu shíyī běn shū.) – I have eleven books.
  • 他买了二十个苹果。 (Tā mǎi le èrshí gè píngguǒ.) – He bought twenty apples.
  • 这件衣服值五十元。 (Zhè jiàn yīfu zhí wǔshí yuán.) – This piece of clothing is worth fifty yuan.
  • 请给我七十五支铅笔。 (Qǐng gěi wǒ qīshíwǔ zhī qiānbǐ.) – Please give me seventy-five pencils.
  • 我家在九十街。(Wǒ jiā zài jiǔshí jiē.) – My house is on Ninety Street.

Practice these numbers, just like you did with the first ten. After that, you’ll move on to the hundreds, thousands, and eventually millions. Thus, understanding the basic pattern can help you deal with larger figures.

Counting in Chinese from 100 to 999

Now it’s time to conquer the next tier of digits. The numbers from 100 to 999 follow a repeating pattern system. Just add new characters for 100 (百 bǎi) and 200 (两百 liǎngbǎi) to your vocabulary. It’s a simple process from here on.

NumbersChinese CharactersPinyin
100一百yìbǎi
101一百零一yìbǎi líng yī
102一百零二yìbǎi líng èr
110一百一十yìbǎi yī shí
129一百二十九yìbǎi èr shí jiǔ
145一百四十五yìbǎi sì shí wǔ
175一百七十五yìbǎi qī shí wǔ
188一百八十八yìbǎi bā shí bā
191一百九十一yìbǎi jiǔ shí yī
200二百èr bǎi
250二百五十èr bǎi wǔ shí
300三百sān bǎi
365三百六十五sān bǎi liù shí wǔ
888八百八十八bā bǎi bā shí bā
900九百jiǔ bǎi
999九百九十九jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ


When forming between 100 and 199, use ‘一百’ before adding the number. For numbers between 200 and 999, use the character for the hundreds position followed by 百. To denote numbers in tens and single units, follow the patterns you learned earlier.

  • 我的电话号码是一百二十三。(Wǒ de diànhuà hàomǎ shì yībǎi èrshísān.) – My phone number is 123.
  • 图书馆有七百五十本书。(Túshūguǎn yǒu qībǎi wǔshí běn shū.) – The library has 750 books.
  • 学校离家六百五公里。(Xuéxiào lí jiā liùbǎi wǔ gōnglǐ.) – The school is 605 kilometers away from home.
  • 这件衣服九百九十九元。(Zhè jiàn yīfu jiǔbǎi jiǔshíjiǔ yuán.) – This dress costs 999 yuan.
  • 那座桥有四百一十年历史。(Nà zuò qiáo yǒu sìbǎi yīshí nián lìshǐ.) – That bridge has a history of 410 years.

As you can see, there’s no need to fret about large numbers. Once you grasp the main principles, the system is clear and easy to master. Keep practicing until you get the hang of it!

1,000 & Above: Learn the Big China Numbers

Moving further, let’s decode large figures in Chinese. It will equip you to talk about money or years in a larger context easily. Understanding numbers 1,000 and above requires an expansion of your vocabulary and mastering the logical blend system already discussed.

NumberChinese CharactersPinyin
1,000一千yīqiān
1,467一千四百六十七yīqiān sìbǎi liùshí qī
2,583二千五百八十三èrqiān wǔbǎi bāshísān
3,901三千九百零一sānqiān jiǔbǎi líng yī
10,000wàn
12,345一万二千三百四十五yī wàn èrqiān sānbǎi sìshíwǔ
54,321五万四千三百二十一wǔ wàn sìqiān sānbǎi èrshíyī
100,000十万shí wàn
146,789十四万六千七百八十九shísì wàn liùqiān qībǎi bāshíjiǔ
1,000,000一百万yìbǎi wàn
10,000,000一千万yīqiān wàn
100,000,000亿
1,000,000,000十亿shí yì

The Chinese word for 1,000 is 千 (qiān). For numbers from 1,001 to 9,999, use the same pattern you learned earlier. 10,000 is unique – it has its character (万 wàn). Instead of using the character for ten and then four zeros to represent this number, the Chinese simplify it. Larger numbers follow a blend of these characters.

  • 这个城市有七千年历史。 (Zhège chéngshì yǒu qī qiān nián lìshǐ.) – This city has a history of 7,000 years.
  • 他的书籍总计卖出了两万本。 (Tā de shūjí zǒngjì màichūle liǎng wàn běn.) – His books sold a total of 20,000 copies.
  • 这间房子的价格是五百万元。(Zhè jiān fángzi de jiàgé shì wǔbǎi wàn yuán.) – The price of this house is 5 million yuan.
  • 那家公司有一千员工。 (Nàjiā gōngsī yǒu yīqiān yuángōng.) – That company has 1,000 employees.

Now, you should be comfortable with Chinese counting. It’s all about combining what you have learned and understanding the patterns. In a very short time, you will be ready to handle any number that comes your way in Chinese.

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Conclusion

Now you know the ins and outs of digits in China. From learning to count to 10 in Chinese to venturing into large figures, you have followed the logical pattern of creating new numbers. This understanding will be your key to unlocking many aspects of the language and culture. Whether counting coins, asking directions, or telling ages, your new skills will prove invaluable. So keep practicing, and soon you will navigate the number labyrinth with ease. As a well-known Chinese saying goes, 熟能生巧 – practice makes perfect.

FAQ

How can I practice Chinese numbers effectively?

Practicing to count in Mandarin with a native speaker is ideal. Additionally, repeatedly listening to and mimicking phrases from Chinese songs or TV shows can improve tonal pronunciation. Try to pay attention to scenes that involve shopping, discussing prices, or mentioning dates and times, as these naturally incorporate much numerical information.

Do the digits hold any special meaning in Chinese culture?

Yes, they do. Some numbers are considered lucky, and others are unlucky based on their pronunciation and the words they resemble. For example, 8 (bā) sounds like 发 (fā), which means ‘to prosper.’ So it’s considered good luck. On the other hand, 4 (sì) is unlucky as it sounds like 死 (sǐ), meaning ‘death.’

What tips exist for converting large Chinese numbers into English?

To convert large Chinese numbers into English, familiarize yourself with the base units (千 for thousand, 万 for ten thousand, and 亿 for hundred million) and practice breaking down numbers into these units. Use online conversion tools or apps as a quick reference while learning.

Where can I find additional resources for learning Chinese?

HSK Academy provides study guides for HSK-level exams, focusing on key areas such as numbers, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. MDBG is a free online English-to-Chinese dictionary that helps you understand the meaning, pinyin, and usage of thousands of characters. Also, Promova’s Chinese language learning app offers interactive lessons, games, and more to make the process fun and easy.

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