Chinese Numbers: The Complete Tutorial on Numbers in Mandarin

Chinese numbers

Chinese numbers are an incredibly important part of our daily lives.

Admit it, whether you want to haggle at a wet market or give the taxi driver your address, you can’t do without knowing how to express numbers in Chinese.

The good news?

Even though Mandarin Chinese is a complex language, learning its number system is remarkably easy. I’ll show you how with this simple, thorough tutorial.

This article is not just another number chart. This is a look at the logic behind the Chinese numbers and how you can use them in real-life situations.

Not only am I going to teach you how to count, write, and pronounce Chinese numbers up to billions and even trillions, but we’ll also look at how to say your age, phone number, dates, time, price, and almost any number-related topic you can think of!

I’ll walk you through some trickier aspects of Chinese numbers like counters, answer some common questions. And if you’re still interested in a little bonus, I’ll teach you some cool Chinese number slang that’ll make you sound like a native from day one!

The goal of this article is to teach you everything you need to know about Chinese numbers, and it’ll do it with no nonsense, no fluff.

So no ifs, ands, or buts! Let’s dive right in!

Table of Contents

Chinese Numbers & How to Count in Chinese – An Overview

numbers in Chinese

Before learning the art of counting in Chinese, there are a couple of things you need to know.

First of all, numbers in Chinese are represented by Hanzi (Chinese characters) – the writing script of the language that dates back over 3000 years. Pronunciation for these number characters uses the official romanization scheme in China called “Pinyin”.

Second of all, people in China and other Chinese speaking countries don’t always use Chinese numbers. Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3…) are widely used for the same reason other cultures adopted their use – they are easier to write and understand.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the Chinese number system. In many contexts such as traditional ceremonials, media, commerce, finance, and law, the numbers are often written in native Chinese characters.

The last thing to note is a bit tricky. When you count things in Chinese, you have to put a word called counter between the number and the noun. I’ll talk more about counters in a moment, but what you need to know now is that counters specify what kind of things you are counting in Chinese. There can be people, animals, long objects, flat objects, abstract ideas, etc.

That being said, you are now ready to learn the Chinese numbers!

Basic Chinese Numbers: 1 to 10

Like the rest of the world, the Chinese numbers are strictly based on the decimal system. And the key to learning Chinese numbers is all about mastering the numbers 0 to 10 – they are the building blocks to all larger numbers.

So let’s start with the basics. Here are the cardinal numbers in Chinese from 1 to 10, plus 0:

Number Character Pinyin
1
2 èr
3 sān
4
5
6 liù
7
8 bā 
9 jiǔ
10 shí
0 líng

And this is how you count to 10 in Chinese using Chinese characters and Pinyin. Each number is represented by one unique character and pronounced one syllable.  

That wasn’t hard, was it?

Look how simple the characters are for the numbers 1, 2, 3! One horizontal stroke 一  stands for 1, two horizontal strokes 二 stands for 2, and three horizontal strokes 三 stands for 3!

Then, of course, you can’t keep writing horizontal strokes forever! The numbers from 4 to 10 don’t follow the rule, and you just have to learn them – though I’ll share some simple tricks to help you memorize them later in this article.

Now, if you’ve learned to count to 10, counting to 100 will become a piece of cake! It’s easier than you’d expect! Just wait and see.

Zero in Chinese

For zero in Chinese, the standard, formal character is 零, but a simple, big circle 〇 resembling the Arabic numeral 0 is sometimes used as well.

The zero in Chinese can be used to link two number units, similar to the way we use “and” in English. For example, instead of saying “one year and three days”, the Chinese people say 一年三天 (yì nián líng sān tiān), literally “one year zero three days”. (More on that later).

How to Pronounce Chinese Numbers

So how do you say the Chinese numbers? If you have trouble pronouncing these words, then take a look at this video:

Just remember, Chinese is a tonal language. If you change the tone of a word, the meaning will likely change too! For instance,  “一 (yī)” means “one,” but “亿 (yì)” means “hundred million.” They are just one tone apart. So pay close attention to the tones when you read the numbers out loud.

If you want to learn perfect Chinese pronunciation, I suggest you start with the Pinyin system. Its an incredibly useful tool for foreigners to learn the sound of Chinese using the Roman alphabet. Weve written a detailed guide to help you get started. Read it here.

But if you’re not a stickler for perfect pronunciation, here are a few quick tips to help you get by:

  • 零 (líng): sounds like the “lin” in “link” (rising tone)
  • 一 (yī): sounds like the “ee” in ”bee” (flat tone)
  • 二 (èr): sounds like a yawn but need to roll back the tongue (falling tone)
  • 三 (sān): sounds like the “san” in “sand” (flat tone)
  • 四 (sì): sounds like the “s” in “smart” (falling tone)
  • 五 (wǔ): sounds like the “oo” in “oops” (dipping tone)
  • 六 (liù): sounds like the “lieu” in “lieutenant” (falling tone)
  • 七 (qī): sounds like the “chee” in “cheese” (flat tone)
  • 八 (bā): sounds like the “ba” in “bar” (flat tone)
  • 九 (jiǔ): sounds like “Joe” (dipping tone)
  • 十 (shí): sounds like the “shi” in “shirt” (rising tone)

Lucky and Unlucky Chinese Numbers

Now, an extra note on the basic numbers 1 to 10 in Chinese.

As people in the West consider the number 13 to bring bad luck, Chinese people consider the number 4 to be unlucky because its pronunciation “sì” is very similar to the word for “death” – 死 (sǐ). Thus, Chinese people avoid this number as much as possible.

If you ever travel to China, you’ll notice the number 4 is missing in many places. There might not be a 4th floor or 14th floor in a building, or a room 104 between 103 and 105.

lucky and unlucky Chinese numbers

On the other hand, 8 is considered an extremely lucky number in China because its pronunciation “bā” rhymes with 发 (fā), the word for “get rich” or “prosper”. Some people will go to great lengths to incorporate 8 wherever possible. For example, a license plate with a string of 8 in it can easily cost more than a car, yet people bid for it because it’s perceived as a symbol of wealth and power.

Besides 8, 6 and 9 are also lucky numbers in Chinese. 6 is associated with “smooth going” for its similar sound to 流 (liú) – which means “flow”, and the number 9, being the highest single-digit number, is a symbol of “longevity” and “eternity”.

Counting to 10 with One Hand: Chinese Number Gestures  

You don’t want to miss this next part: Chinese number gestures.

Do you know how easy your voice can be drowned out by the crowd amid the noisy hustle and bustle of a Chinese tourist attraction, market, or restaurant? If you don’t want to yell out the numbers all the time, you can use your hand.

Chinese number gestures are said to have been made as a way for ancient business people to communicate discreetly in public places or to avoid misunderstandings caused by dialects. Now, these special expressions through hand are used everywhere in China for commercial and day to day communication. Many Chinese locals are convinced they are universal across cultures!  

So, it’s not only useful but also necessary to learn the gestures if you plan to visit China.

And the best part is…  

You can signify the numbers one through ten using just one hand!

So here’s a quick guide on how to do that.

  • 一 (one): extend your index finger.
  • 二 (two): extend your index and middle fingers.
  • 三 (three): close your index finger and thumb, and extend the other three fingers like an “ok”. 
  • 四 (four): hold your thumb in your palm and extend the four fingers.
  • 五 (five): extend all five digits.
  • 六 (six): extend your thumb and little finger.
  • 七 (seven): touch your thumb with index and middle fingers.
  • 八 (eight): extend your thumb and index finger like a gun.
  • 九 (nine): make a hook with your index finger.
  • 十 (ten): show your fist. (You can also signify ten by crossing both index fingers to form a “十”).

Here’s a picture showing you all the Chinese number gestures.

Chinese number gestures

Chinese Numbers 1 to 20

With the basics settled, it’s time to start learning the Chinese numbers 11 to 20. Just so you know, once you get past number 10, Chinese numbers start to follow a clear pattern.

Take a look at the below chart for the numbers 11 to 20. You’ll see how easy it is to say them in Chinese.

Number Character Pinyin
11 十一 shí yī
12 十二 shí èr
13 十三 shí sān
14 十四 shí sì
15 十五 shí wǔ
16 十六 shí liù
17 十七 shí qī
18 十八 shí bā 
19 十九 shí jiǔ
20 二十 èr shí

Unlike English, you don’t have to learn unique words like “eleven”, “twelve”, “thirteen” and so on. There are no new characters to introduce here either, as all the numbers are represented by the same characters for 1-10. And the pattern is simple – it’s all about compounding and adding the basic numbers:

From 11 to 19, it’s ten (十 s) plus the other number.

So, 11 in Chinese is literally ten-one, 12 is ten-two, 13 is ten-three, and so on up to 19.

For the number 20, you need to count the tens rather than doing the adding. So instead of saying “ten-ten (10+10)” for 20, you say “two ten (2 x 10)” – 二十 (èr shí), similar to the way how 200 is said in English: “two hundred (2 x 100)”.

Chinese Numbers 1 to 100

If 20 is “two ten”, you can pretty much guess how the other numbers for the multiples of 10 are said in Chinese.

So 30 is 三十 sān shí (three ten), 40 is 四十 sì shí (four ten), and so on all the way up to 90 – 九十 jiǔ shí (nine ten). Here is a chart with all of the 2-digit numbers ending with zero.

Number Character Pinyin
10 shí
20 二十 èr shí 
30 三十 sān shí
40 四十 sì shí
50 五十 wǔ shí
60 六十 liù shí
70 七十 qī shí
80 八十 bā shí
90 九十 jiǔ shí

You will sometimes see the Pinyin version written out as one word instead of two, like èrshí instead of èr shí for 20, and sānshí instead of sān shí for 30, as Chinese likes to squish certain Pinyin together to make them look more like one word.

The other numbers under 100 follow the same logical pattern. All you need to do is count the tens first (two ten, three ten, four ten, and so on), and then add the next number one through nine.

For instance,

  • 21 is 二十一 èr shí yī (two ten – one)
  • 32 is 三十二 sān shí èr (three ten – two)
  • 99 is 九十九 jiǔ shí jiǔ (nine ten – nine)

You can guess the rest.

Then hundred comes with a new character: 百 bǎi. To say 100 in Chinese, you say 一百  bǎi (one hundred).

Here is a rundown of the numbers 21-100 in Chinese that includes both characters and Pinyin.

Number Character Pinyin
21 二十一 èr shí yī
22 二十二 èr shí èr
23 二十三 èr shí sān
24 二十四 èr shí sì
25 二十五 èr shí wǔ
26 二十六 èr shí liù
27 二十七 èr shí qī
28 二十八 èr shí bā 
29 二十九 èr shí jiǔ
30 三十 sān shí
31 三十一 sān shí yī
32 三十二 sān shí èr
33 三十三 sān shí sān
34 三十四 sān shí sì
35 三十五 sān shí wǔ
36 三十六 sān shí liù
37 三十七 sān shí qī
38 三十八 sān shí bā 
39 三十九 sān shí jiǔ
40 四十 sì shí
41 四十一 sì shí yī
42 四十二 sì shí èr
43 四十三 sì shí sān
44 四十四 sì shí sì
45 四十五 sì shí wǔ
46 四十六 sì shí liù
47 四十七 sì shí qī
48 四十八 sì shí bā 
49 四十九 sì shí jiǔ
50 五十 wǔ shí
51 五十一 wǔ shí yī
52 五十二 wǔ shí èr
53 五十三 wǔ shí sān
54 五十四 wǔ shí sì
55 五十五 wǔ shí wǔ
56 五十六 wǔ shí liù
57 五十七 wǔ shí qī
58 五十八 wǔ shí bā 
59 五十九 wǔ shí jiǔ
60 六十 liù shí
61 六十一 liù shí yī
62 六十二 liù shí èr
63 六十三 liù shí sān
64 六十四 liù shí sì
65 六十五 liù shí wǔ
66 六十六 liù shí liù
67 六十七 liù shí qī
68 六十八 liù shí bā 
69 六十九 liù shí jiǔ
70 七十 qī shí
71 七十一 qī shí yī
72 七十二 qī shí èr
73 七十三 qī shí sān
74 七十四 qī shí sì
75 七十五 qī shí wǔ
76 七十六 qī shí liù
77 七十七 qī shí qī
78 七十八 qī shí bā 
79 七十九 qī shí jiǔ
80 八十 bā shí
81 八十一 bā shí yī
82 八十二 bā shí èr
83 八十三 bā shí sān
84 八十四 bā shí sì
85 八十五 bā shí wǔ
86 八十六 bā shí liù
87 八十七 bā shí qī
88 八十八 bā shí bā 
89 八十九 bā shí jiǔ
90 九十 jiǔ shí
91 九十一 jiǔ shí yī
92 九十二 jiǔ shí èr
93 九十三 jiǔ shí sān
94 九十四 jiǔ shí sì
95 九十五 jiǔ shí wǔ
96 九十六 jiǔ shí liù
97 九十七 jiǔ shí qī
98 九十八 jiǔ shí bā 
99 九十九 jiǔ shí jiǔ
100 一百 yì bǎi

Chinese Numbers 1 to 1000

The rule for saying numbers in the hundreds in Chinese is the same as in English. You begin with the number one through nine and add the word 百 bǎi (hundred) to the end of it. And when you get to 1000, 百 bǎi becomes qiān (thousand).

Here’s a chart to show you what I mean:

Number Character Pinyin
100 一百 yì bǎi
200 二百 èr bǎi
300 三百 sān bǎi
400 四百 sì bǎi
500 五百 wǔ bǎi
600 六百 liù bǎi
700 七百 qī bǎi
800 八百 bā bǎi
900 九百 jiǔ bǎi
1000 一千 yì qiān

Filling the gaps between the numbers 100 and 1000 is simple too – you just need to stack the numbers together.

For example,

  • 150 is 一百五十 yì bǎi wǔ shí (one hundred – five ten)
  • 268 is 二百六十八 èr bǎi liù shí bā (two hundred – six ten – eight)
  • 973 is 九百七十三 jiǔ bǎi qī shí sān (nine hundred – seven ten – three)

There’s only one thing you need to keep in mind:

If the number contains a zero in the middle, the zero has to be read out loud.

For example:

  • 101: 一百一 yī bǎi líng yī (one hundred zero one)
  • 305: 三百五 sān bǎi líng wǔ (three hundred zero five)
  • 806: 八百六 bā bǎi líng liù (eight hundred zero six)

You see, whereas in English (at least British English) we’d use “and” as the connecting word in “one hundred and one”, “three hundred and five”, etc, in Chinese you would have to use “zero” to connect the digits (which are not zero).

And if you drop the “zero” there, the number will change to a different one, causing confusion. (You will see more examples of this in the next section)

Big Chinese Numbers: to 10000 and Beyond

how to say big Chinese numbers

Now that you understood the magic rule of always adding and adding and adding to get new numbers, let’s look at the bigger leagues of Chinese numbers. How do you continue after 1000? 

Number Character Pinyin
1000 一千 yì qiān
1001 一千零一 yì qiān líng yī
1010 一千零十 yì qiān líng shí
1100 一千一百 yì qiān yì bǎi
1101 一千一百零一 yì qiān yì bǎi líng yī
1985 一千九百八十五 yì qiān jiǔ bǎi bā shí wǔ
2000 二千 èr qiān
3000 三千 sān qiān
4059 四千零五十九 sì qiān líng wǔ shí jiǔ
6700 六千七百 liù qiān qī bǎi
8502 八千五百零二 bā qiān wǔ bǎi líng èr
9999 九千九百九十九 jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ
10000 一万 yí wàn

As you can see from the above chart, the rule of repeated adding and compounding is still valid for counting after 1000: you begin with numbers one through nine followed by 千 (qiān) and finish by saying the last three digits.

To make sure you understand how the bigger numbers are formed in Chinese, let’s take a closer look at one of the complex examples: 9999.

In Chinese, 9999 is 九千九百九十九 (jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ), literally nine thousand (9 x 1000), nine hundred (9 x 100), nine ten (9 x 10), nine (9). I would say the format is very similar if not the same when compared to English!

One thing worth pointing out:

Remember for the number 101, you need to read aloud the zero? Same concept here. Whenever a Chinese number has a zero or a string of zeros in between other digits (that are not zero), it must be said with a zero (just once!). 

I know it sounds like a tongue twister, but it shouldn’t be hard to comprehend. A simple trick is to think of the 0 or 0s in the middle as the “and” in British English numbers (we only say it once, right?)

Examples:

  • 1001
    一千
    yì qiān líng yī
    one thousand and one
    Literally, “one thousand zero one” 
    (You only need to read out one zero)
  • 1010
    一千
    yì qiān líng shí
    one thousand and ten
    Literally, “one thousand zero ten” 
    (You only need to read out the zero in the middle)

You see my point, right?

Ten Thousand in Chinese

Now, if you are an English speaker, things can get slightly trickier when you get to 10000 – there is this specific word or number unit in Chinese that you have to get used to: 万 (wàn), which means “ten thousand”.

Unlike English where the zeros are packed up by thousands in big numbers, Chinese pack the zeros into 万 (wàn) – ten-thousands.

For instance:

  • 10000
    →10,000 (English split)
    →1,0000 (Chinese split)

So, instead of “ten thousand” for “10,000”, it’s “one wan” for “1,0000”, and instead of “two hundred thousand” for “200,000”, it’s “twenty wan” for “20,0000” in Chinese.

You can use 万 (wàn) to count up to 99,999,999 (or by Chinese split: 9999,9999): simply say a number up to 9999 followed by 万 (wàn) and then finish by reading the thousands when applicable.

Here’s a chart to illustrate my point.

Number Chinese Split Characters Pinyin
10,000 1,0000 一万 yí wàn
20,001 2,0001 二万零一 èr wàn líng yī
35,080 3,5080 三万五千零八十 sān wàn wǔ qiān líng bā shí
250,000 25,0000 二十五万 èr shí wǔ wàn
7,850,000 785,0000 七百八十五万 qī bǎi bā shí wǔ wàn
99,999,999 9999,9999 九千九百九十九万九千九百九十九 jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ

Million, Billion, and Trillion in Chinese

In English, we use a new word to describe each new 1000 package. If you think about it, a million is essentially a thousand thousand, a billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion.

In Chinese however, the zeros are packed up by ten-thousands rather than thousands, so there’s no need to create a unique character for million. A million is simply 一百万 yì bǎi wàn (one hundred wan).

You can keep saying numbers in the “wan”s for larger numbers, for example, ten million – 一千万 yì qiān wàn (one thousand wan), fifty million – 五千万 wǔ qiān wàn (five thousand wan).

When you reach a hundred million (or “one wan wan”), you’ll need to use a new character – 亿 (yì). To say 100 million in Chinese, you say 一亿 (yí yì).

Once you go beyond 100 million (一亿 yí yì), the pattern starts to repeat itself all over again – it’s just more adding and compounding.

So for billion, which is essentially “ten 100 million”, it’s 十亿 (shí yì) in Chinese. And for 10 billion (a hundred 100 million), it’s 一百亿 (yì bǎi yì).

Try to test yourself with this table.

Number Chinese Split Characters Pinyin
100,000,001 1,0000,0001 一亿零一 yí yì líng yī
2,600,000,000 26,0000,0000 二十六亿 èr shí liù yì
35,087,000,000 350,8700,0000 三百五十亿零八千七百万 sān bǎi wǔ shí yì líng bā qiān qī bǎi wàn
999,999,999,999 9999,9999,9999 九千九百九十九亿九千九百九十九万九千九百九十九 jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ yì jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ

I know it’s a bit heavy in math, but you can see 亿 (yì) works the same way as 万 (wàn) does, only it’s another 4 places to the left of the comma. 

And finally, when another 1000 package starts, a new character 兆 (zhào) kicks in. You can use it to say a trillion – 一兆 (yí zhào) and even larger numbers in a similar manner to 亿 (yì) and 万 (wàn).

For example:

9,999,999,999,999,999 (9999,9999,9999,9999)

九千九百九十九兆九千九百九十九亿九千九百九十九万九千九百九十九
jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ zhào jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ yì jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ

Of course, new numeric words continue at every four zeros, but after 兆 (zhào), they become rarer and rarer. So we are not going to dig any deeper.

How to Remember Chinese Numbers

how to remember Chinese numbers

And now, you’re looking at all of these numbers and thinking, “How on earth am I ever going to remember all of this?” 

But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! These tips and tricks will help Chinese numbers stick in your head.

How to Remember the Sounds?

People new to Mandarin Chinese often find it hard to memorize the pronunciations of new vocabulary words, because they sound nothing like their English counterparts.

If you are struggling to remember the Chinese number sounds, try accompanying the sounds with some visual cues. The Chinese number gestures I’ve shown you can be a powerful tool, for example, it’s easy to associate the hand gesture for 5 with the “wǔ” sound (think slap someone and say: wu—oops, sorry).

mnemonics

Be creative with mnemonics. It can be a funny sentence, a play on the word, or anything that helps you to remember.

For instance, if you know some basic Chinese words, you’ll notice the numbers 7-9-8 sound a lot like 去酒吧 (qù jiǔ bā), which means “go to the pub” – a good way to remember both the numbers and the phrase!

Once you get 1 through 10 under your belt, practice the number system with random strings of numbers, rather than counting in order from 1 to 100. This proves to be an excellent way to develop your listening and speaking skills, since going through numbers 1 to 100 will cover all the Chinese tone combinations!

How to Learn the Number Characters

If you are serious about learning Chinese numbers, you should learn their corresponding characters as well.

The good news here is that they are really not many number characters (only 16 different characters are used up to a trillion), and they are all just simple characters with basic stroke combinations. So if you’re starting out to learn Chinese characters, the numbers are actually a great place for you to start to get used to the shape and strokes of the characters.

Also, characters will help you memorize the numbers faster than using Arabic numerals, which you’ve already associated heavily with their English pronunciations.

There is a useful app called Skritter that you can utilize to learn these number characters and practice writing them on your mobile devices. All of the characters are presented in a spaced repetition system complete with Pinyin and English explanations. There is also a variety of practice activities, making it easy for you to memorize the new number words.  

How to Learn the Big Numbers

Let me guess, you find it practicable to juggle with small numbers in Chinese. But when you get past 10000, the amount of zeros there just start to get out of control.

Lucky for you, I’ve got a few simple tricks to help you master this aspect of Chinese numbers.

Trick 1: Use Chinese Split

The easiest way to say big numbers in Chinese is to rearrange the numbers into chunks of 4 digits with commas, and then replace the commas from right to left with “万 (wàn), “亿 (yì) ” and “兆 (zhào).

Take the number 135,478,096 for example,

Here’s how you solve this:

Step 1: split the number the Chinese way

135,478,096
→ 1,3547,8096

Step 2: replace the right comma with 万 (wàn), and the left comma with 亿 (yì)

1,3547, 8096
→ 1亿3547万8096

Step 3: read out each group of the number

1亿3547万8096
→  亿三千五百四十七八千零九十六
 yì sān qiān wǔ bǎi sì shí qī wàn bā qiān líng jiǔ shí liù

There you go!

Easier now, isn’t it?

Trick 2: Use Cheat Sheet

Alternatively, you can use our cheat sheet to remember the different number names in the Chinese numeric scale in sequence (e.g. unit-ten-hundred-thousand-ten thousand). You’ll notice these numbers all get their own names:

Number English Numeric Name Chinese Numeric Name Pinyin
0-9 unit
10 ten shí
100 hundred bǎi
1000 thousand qiān
10000 ten thousand wàn
100000 hundred thousand 十万 shí wàn
1000000 million 百万 bǎi wàn
10000000 ten million 千万 qiān wàn
100000000 hundred million 亿
1000000000 billion 十亿 shí yì
10000000000 ten billion 百亿 bǎi yì
100000000000 hundred billion 千亿 qiān yì
1000000000000 trillion zhào

Let’s try it out on the number 6548912789000.

This reads, 六兆五千四百八十九亿一千二百七十八万九千 (liù zhào wǔ qiān sì bǎi bā shí jiǔ yì yì qiān èr bǎi qī shí bā wàn jiǔ qiān)

big Chinese number

Trick 3: Memorize Meaningful Numbers

One more simple way to make large numbers stick is to pick a few numbers that have special meaning to you, memorize them, and use them as the basis for working out other numbers.

For example, one million is 一百万 (yībǎi wàn). If you can just memorize that, then going to 五百万 (yì bǎi wàn) – five million, and 一千万 (yì qiān wàn) – ten million will be a lot easier and quicker, since you don’t have to go through the process of counting the zeros and splitting the number every time you stumble across a large figure.

Here are some examples that might work well for you.

  • 两万七千三百七十五
    liǎng wàn qī qiān sān bǎi qī shí wǔ
    27,375 (days the average person lives in the U.S)
  • 四十万
    sì shí wàn
    400,000 (U.S death toll from the coronavirus when Trump left office)
  • 三亿三千万
    sān yì sān qiān wàn
    330 million (U.S population at 2019 Census)
  • 七十八亿
    qī shí bā yì
    7.8 billion (world population as of 2020)
  • 一千九百四十八亿
    yì qiān jiǔ bǎi sì shí bā yì
    $198.4 billion (Elon Musk’s wealth as of 2021)

“Big Writing” Form of Chinese Numbers

chinese numbers complex form

The Chinese numbers weren’t that hard, were they?

I would say they are pretty beginner-friendly as the characters representing them are some of the easiest to recognize and write in the language.

But there is just one problem:

The Chinese numbers are so simplistic in writing that forgery has become very easy. Imagine you wrote 三十 (30) on a contract or a cheque. The other party can easily alter it to 五千 (5,000) by adding two strokes to 三 (3) and one stroke to 千 (thousand).

To eliminate the risk factor for financial transactions, people in China have come up with a more complex set of characters to represent the numbers in the contexts of banking, accounting and law. This complex, formal version of Chinese numbers is referred to as “大写 (dà xiě)”, literally “big writing”, as opposed to the normal, everyday writing you’ve just learned. (Don’t get it mixed up with the traditional Chinese).

So, here is the chart showing you how Chinese numbers are converted from regular to “big writing” form.

Number Character (regular) Character (big writing) Pinyin
0 líng
1
2 èr
3 sān
4
5
6 liù
7
8 bā 
9 jiǔ
10 shí
100 bǎi
1000 qiān

Now going back to 30 and 5000, you can see the difference between the “big writing” characters – 叁拾 (30) and 伍仟 (5000) – is so obvious that forgery is completely impossible.

Smart, isn’t it?  

Ordinal Numbers in Chinese

So far, I’ve only talked about cardinal numbers in Chinese – one, two, three, a hundred, etc. You also need to learn the ordinal numbers – first, second, third, a hundredth, etc to express order and sequence.

Lucky for you, the Chinese ordinal numbers are incredibly easy! They can be formed simply by adding the prefix 第 (dì) before the number.

So first is 第一 (dì yī), second is 第二 (dì èr), third is 第三 (dì sān), a hundredth is 第一百 (dì yì bǎi), and so on. No exception!

Just note that while English uses ordinal numbers rather extensively, not all Chinese nouns require 第 (dì) to form ordinals.

For example,

  • 二弟
    èr dì
    the second (youngest) brother
  • 三楼
    sān lóu
    the third floor
  • 五号
    wǔ hào
    the fifth date (of the month)

In these cases, you can just use the cardinal numbers to express sequence or order.  

Chinese Counters & How to Use Them

how to count in Chinese

Now that you know how to say the numbers in Chinese, it’s time to get to the next level and learn more about the Chinese counters!

As I mentioned earlier in the overview, counters, or measure words – as many call them, are specific words you need to add after the number when counting objects in Chinese.

Can’t wrap your head around it?

Well, this concept should be pretty easy to comprehend. There are plenty of times when we use counter words in English too – you just haven’t realized it.

For instance, we say “a cup of tea”, “a slice of bread”, “ a row of seats”, “a piece of news”, etc. The words “cup”, “slice”, “row”, “piece” are all counters used to quantify the nouns.

Now, in Chinese, this system is much more developed and counters must be used every time numbers are used with a noun. Different counters are used for different kinds of objects, taking into account their shape, feature, or the category to which they belong. In total, there are about 150 common counters used in everyday Chinese. Depending on the objects you are counting, you need to choose the counter word accordingly.

I know, it sounds complicated. It doesn’t surprise me that many learners find counters to be one of the most difficult aspects of the Chinese language.

But stick with me for a moment.

There are some simple rules that you can follow to master this aspect of Chinese. And when you don’t know which counter to use, there is always an easy fix.

So, keep reading!

Most Important Chinese Counters to Know

Some Chinese counters are used much more frequently than others. To help you kickstart your basic Chinese interaction, we’ve written a detailed guide to the most common counters you’ll absolutely need at the beginner phase.

And here is a quick rundown of the top 10 counters in Chinese.

1. Generic Counter

个 (gè) is the most common counter in Chinese. It’s used for people and many non-human items, abstract objects.

Besides, 个 (gè) can be used as a generic, all-purpose counter, that is, you can use it as a substitute when you don’t know or forget the proper counter when counting a specific object. It may not be strictly correct (works like 30% of the time), but you can get by for a while.  

Examples:


  • yí  rén
    a person
  • 两个问题
    liǎng  wèntí
    two questions
    (I’ll explain why you have to use 两 liǎng instead of 二 èr here for 2 in a moment)

2. Chinese Counter for People (respectful)

Another people counter 位 (wèi) is frequently used in Mandarin interaction as part of the Chinese courtesy.

Whenever you want to show politeness or respect to the people you’re talking about, switch to 位 (wèi).

  • 三位老师
    sān wèi lǎoshī
    three teachers
  • 客人
    sì wèi kèrén
    four guests

Chinese Counter for Small Animals

Just as 个 (gè) is the generic counter for people and things, 只 (zhī) is the generic counter for animals generally small in size like insects, birds, cats, etc.

Examples:


  • wǔ zhī jī
    five chickens
  • 猴子
    liù zhī hóuzi
    six monkeys

Chinese Counter for Larger Animals

For larger animals like pigs, cows, elephants…, 头 (tóu) is typically the counter you need.

Examples:


  • qī tóu lǘ
    seven donkeys
  • 狮子
    bā tóu shī zi
    eight lions

Chinese Counter for Long, Narrow Things

Long and narrow things like snakes, fish, pants, rivers, or roads have their own Chinese counter: 条 (tiáo).

Examples:

  • 领带
    jiǔ tiáo lǐng dài
    nine ties

  • shí tiáo lóng
    ten dragons

Chinese Counter for Pairs of Things

When counting things that come in pairs, you use the counter 双 (shuāng).

Examples:

  • 十一筷子
    shí yī shuāng kuàizi
    eleven pairs of chopsticks
  • 十二
    shí èr shuāng xié
    twelve pairs of shoes

Chinese Counter for Flat Things

To count flat objects like paper, tickets, tables, beds in Chinese, you have to use the counter 张 (zhāng).

Examples:

  • 十三邮票
    shí sān zhāng yóupiào
    thirteen stamps
  • 十四椅子
    shí sì zhāng yǐzi
    fourteen chairs

Chinese Counter for Bound Things

张 (zhāng) is used for sheets of paper, but to count bound stuff like books, you’ve guessed it, you have to use a different counter – 本 (běn)!

Examples:

  • 十五杂志
    shí wǔ běn zázhì
    fifteen magazines
  • 十六词典
    shí liù běn cídiǎn
    sixteen dictionaries

Chinese Counter for Things with Handles

把 (bǎ) is the go-to counter when you count things with handles or can be easily grasped.

Examples:

  • 十七勺子
    shí qī  sháozi
    seventeen spoons
  • 十八
    shí bā  sǎn
    eighteen umbrellas

Chinese Counter for Vehicles

If your head is not spinning yet, the final counter that cracks the list of top 10 is 辆 (liàng). You use it to count vehicles like bikes, cars, trucks, or carts.

  • 十九大巴
    shí jiǔ liàng dàbā
    nineteen buses
  • 二十摩托
    èr shí liàng mótuō
    twenty motorcycles

When you want to use the Chinese ordinal numbers with nouns to express “the first something”, “the second something”, etc, you still need to add a counter in between them. For example, 第一车 (dì yī liàng chē) – the first car, 第二车 (dì èr liàng chē) – the second car.

I know that’s a lot to take! But don’t despair!

Practice using them in real contexts and they’ll soon sink in. And if you forget which counter to use, you can always fall back on 个 (gè) – people will gently correct you if you’re wrong, but you’ll be understood!

Tone for  (one):  yī, yí or ?

You probably have noticed that the tone mark on the Chinese number 一 (1) often alternates between yī, yí, or yì. When the tone for 一 changes isn’t random – there are specific rules that cause the tone to change.

Essentially, what tone 一 should be pronounced depends on what context it’s in. Here are the quick tone changing rules for 一.

The default pronunciation for 一 on its own is the first tone (flat).

  • , 二, 三
    , èr, sān
    one, two, three

When 一 is followed by a fourth tone, you need to pronounce it as second tone (rising).


  •  wàn
    ten thousand
  • 个人
    yí gè rén
    one person
  • 辆车
     liàng chē
    one vehicle

When 一 is followed by other tones (first, second, or third), it’s pronounced as the fourth tone (falling).


  •  bǎi
    one hundred

  •  qiān
    one thousand
  • 条河
     tiáo hé
    one river

Exceptions to the Rules

When 一 is part of another number (ordinal or cardinal) under 99, the second and third rules will not apply. You still have to read it with the first tone.

  • 第一个人
    dì yī gè rén
    the first person
  • 二十一本书
    èr shí yī běn shū
    twenty-one books

Chinese for “Two”:  二 (èr) or 两 (liǎng)?

Now let’s circle back to the example I gave to you earlier when I was explaining the usage of the counter word 个 (gè):

  • 两个问题
    liǎng  wèntí
    two questions

You see what’s going on here? The number “two” is represented by the character 两 (liǎng) rather than 二 (èr).

Why is that?

Short answer: when “two” is used before a counter, you must read it as 两 (liǎng) instead of 二 (èr).

Let me elaborate.

Chinese has two characters that correspond to “two” – 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng). Though they are translated the same in English, they have different uses.

Essentially, 二 (èr) is the two for numbers. You use it to count, form other numbers, or do math.

For instance,

  • 一, , 三…
    yī, èr, sān…
    one, two, three…
    (counting)

  • èr shí èr
    twenty-two 
    (forming another number)
  • 等于四
    èr jiā èr děng yú sì
    two plus two equals four
    (doing math – more on that later)

两 (liǎng) works differently – its the two for counters. You use it to say two of something.

For instance,

  • 个人
    liǎng gè rén
    two people
  • 只猫
    liǎng zhī māo
    two cats
  • 辆车
    liǎng liàng chē
    two cars

To determine which Chinese number 2 is used in different contexts, the tip is that whenever there’s a “thing” associated, 两 (liǎng) is the go-to one.

Now, I hate to say this, but you’ll find some scenarios where the dividing line between 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng) is rather vague – the two words can be used interchangeably irrespective of the rule.

For example, native speakers use both versions of “2” to talk about “200”, “2000” or “2 o’clock”. (You’ll find some articles on the internet bizarrely claiming that you can only use one of the versions, but they’re wrong!)

We’ve written a detailed guide here explaining the difference use of 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng) in Chinese, read it through and you’ll become the “2” master!

How to Use Chinese Numbers

how to use Chinese numbers

You’ve learned the Chinese numbers (great!), but how do you use them? After all, there are many instances where we use numbers in our day-to-day life. Things like time, the date, our age, price, etc.

So here are some examples to help you get started:

To Give Your Phone Number

If you know the numbers 0-9, saying your phone number in Chinese couldn’t be easier, all you have to do is read out each digit one by one.

Let’s give it a shot.

87360294

This is how you would say this number in Chinese: bā qī sān liù líng èr jiǔ sì.

Now, in English, when numbers appear consecutively, we normally say double or triple.

For instance,

  • 53782229
    five three seven eight, triple two nine

In Chinese, however, you always read out each number: wǔ sān qī bā èr èr èr jiǔ.

All clear?

Just one thing to note:

When there is a one (1) in the phone number, native speakers often pronounce it “yāo” instead of “yī” to make the sound more distinguishable.

Doubt so? Try saying a few 1 in a row (e.g. 111, 1111, 11111) fast with the “yī” pronunciation, then test it out with “yāo”, and you’ll agree with me!  

Besides, in a noisy environment or over the phone, yī (1) can easily get mixed up with another number qī (7) due to their same vowel ending – another reason why you might want to switch to “yāo”!

Let’s give it a try!

  • 83146110
    bā sān yāo sì liù yāo yāo líng

Now, to ask for someone’s phone number in Chinese, you can say

  • 你的电话号码是多少?
    Nǐ de diànhuà hàomǎ shì duōshǎo?
    What’s your phone number?
    Literally, “Your phone numbers are what numbers?”

And to give your phone number, you can start with

  • 我的电话号码是…
    Wǒ de diànhuà hàomǎ shì…
    My phone number is…

Keywords

Character Pinyin English
电话 diànhuà phone
号码 hàomǎ number
多少 duōshǎo question word for number

To Talk About Your Age

Once you know the numbers, talking about age in Chinese will be a piece of cake.

You only need to learn two more words here.

Keywords

Character Pinyin English
suì years of age
question word for small number

To tell people your age, simply add a 岁 (suì) behind the number.  

For example,

  • 我三十岁。
    Wǒ sān shí suì.
    I am thirty years old.  
    Literally, “I, thirty years old.”

See? You don’t even need a verb here.

To ask someone how old he or she is, you can say

  • 你多少岁?
    Nǐ duōshǎo suì?
    How old are you?
    Literally, “You, what number years old?”

And if you’re asking a kid:

  • 你几岁?
    Nǐ jǐ suì?
    How old are you?
    Literally, “You, what number years old?”

You can use both questions words – 几 (jǐ) and 多少 (duōshǎo) to ask a specific number. But when you expect the number in the answer to be big, it’s more proper to use 多少 (duōshǎo).

You can follow our complete guide here to learn the various ways of telling and asking age in Chinese.

To Say Dates

With all the different names of months and days to remember, dates are something many people struggle with when learning languages. But Mandarin Chinese can be easy – once you know the basic numbers, you can pretty much say any time element in Chinese.

Before learning about dates in Chinese, here’s some key vocab:

Character Pinyin English
nián year
yuè month
date (formal)
hào date (colloquial)

Now, let’s learn how to say the dates in Chinese:

1. Start with the number of the year

When saying the date in English, you start with the month (U.S.) or the day (U.K). In Chinese, however, the elements of the date must be named in ascending order: year + month + day, that is, 年 (nián) + 月 (yuè) + 日 (rì).

The Chinese numeral dates are always written like this: YYYY/MM/DD.

For example:

  • 2021/12/31

To express the year correctly, you need to read out each digit of the number corresponding to the year, just like the way you say your phone number, and then add 年 (nián) to it.

  • 2021
    二零二一年
    èr líng èr yī nián
    year 2021
    Literally, “two zero two one year”

If you are not yet comfortable with saying a string of numbers in Chinese, you can just say the last two digits instead of the whole number, like:

  • 二一年
    èr yī nián
    year 2021 
    Literally, “two one year”

Obviously, the two digits 21 can refer to 1921 or 1821 as well, but as long as the context is clear, people would have no problem understanding the shortened version. (Don’t get it mixed up with 二十一年 èr shí yī nián which means “twenty-one years”!)

2. Say the month

After saying the year, you’ll then say the month of the year. The best part is that you don’t need to learn a new set of words for the months. In Chinese, they are expressed by a simple combination of the numbers 1-12 and the word 月 (yuè) – month.

Thus, January is 一月 (yī yuè) – the first month, February is 二月 (èr yuè) – the second month, and December is, you guessed it, 十二月 (shí èr yuè) – the twelfth month!

3. Say the date

Finally, you need to conclude it with a specific date of the month. Just as when you say the months in Chinese, when you say the date in Chinese, you also use the cardinal numbers (such as “one” or “two”) instead of ordinals (such as “first” or “second”).

The pattern is the same. After you say the number, add the word 日 (rì) – date.

For example,

  • 31st (of the month)
    三十一日
    Literally, “31 date”

Now, let’s go back to the date 2021/12/31 and see if you can work it all out in Chinese.

Answer:

  • 二零二一年十二月三十一日
    èr líng èr yī nián shí èr yuè sān shí yī rì
    Literally: “two zero two one year, December (twelfth month), thirty-first date”

Or if you prefer the short version:

  • 二一年十二月三十一日
    èr yī nián shí èr yuè sān shí yī rì
    Literally: “two one year, December (twelfth month), thirty-first date”.

Easy, isn’t it?

Just one note: in casual conversations, many people use 号 (hào), a more colloquial version of 日 (rì) to express the date of the month. It works the same way.

  • 二一年十二月三十一
    èr yī nián shí èr yuè sān shí yī hào
    Literally: “two one year, December (twelfth month), thirty-first date”.

When someone asks you the date in Chinese, you can start by saying 今天是 (jīntiān shì) – meaning “today is” before the date.

For example, when someone asked you “今天几号 (jīntiān jǐ hào) – what’s the date today?”, you could say,

  • 今天是六月十八日(号)。
    Jīntiān shì liù yuè shí bā rì (hào).
    Today is June the 18th.

In most contexts, it’s acceptable to simply say the date.

You can also combine Chinese numbers with the word “week” to talk about the days of the week in Chinese. If you don’t know how, read our detailed guide here to learn the vocabulary related to days and weeks in Chinese.

To Tell the Time

how to tell time in Chinese

Telling the time in Chinese is a lot like in English, you say the number that corresponds to the hour first, then the minute.

The key difference here is that in Chinese, you must use an additional word 点 (diǎn), meaning “o’clock” in the middle to separate the hour and the minute.

For example,

  • 9:40
    四十
    jiǔ diǎn sì shí
    Literally, “nine o’clock forty”

And when the minute is under 10, you have to read out the zero (you can think of it as the “o” in English”)

  • 9:05
    九点
    jiǔ diǎn líng wǔ
    Literally, “nine o’clock o five”

In English, we often leave out the word “o’clock” for time on the hour. In Chinese, however, you need to keep it around the clock.

Take 9:00 for example,

  • (jiǔ diǎn)
    Literally, “nine o’clock”

    × 九 (jiǔ)
    numeral “9” (having nothing to do with time)

Note that China, like America, uses the 12-hour-system. 19:00 is thus 7:00 clock (p.m). That’s why additional words like 上午 (shàngwǔ) – morning, 下午 (xiàwǔ) – afternoon, and 晚上 (wǎnshang) – evening are used in situations where it is necessary to point out the specific periods of the day.

Unlike the a.m. and p.m. in English, however, you must say these Chinese time words before the time following the “broad to specific” rule.

Examples:

  • 3:00 pm
    下午三点
    xiàwǔ sān diǎn
    Literally: “afternoon three o’clock” 
  • 9:30 pm
    晚上九点三十
    wǎnshàng jiǔ diǎn sān shí
    Literally: “evening nine o’clock thirty” 

Because there is neither verb conjugation nor tense in Chinese, native speakers often include a time word like “now”, “today” at the beginning of a sentence to make the context clearer. When they ask you the time in Chinese, they would say “Now, what time?” – 现在几点 (xiànzài jǐ diǎn)?

To answer that question, follow the same pattern: start with 现在 (xiànzài), which means now, and then follow it up with the time, like:

  • 现在七点二十八。
    Xiànzài qī diǎn èr shí bā.
    Now (it’s) 7:28.

To Say Prices in Shopping

how to say prices in Chinese

Now, let’s learn how to say the Chinese numbers in prices.

The prices are expressed quite differently in Chinese than in English. To start with, the basic unit or counter of the Chinese currency is Yuan. The official symbol for the Chinese Yuan is ¥. However, in most stores and restaurants in China, you’ll find the symbol represented by the Chinese character 元, which is pronounced yuán.

A Yuan can be further divided into 角 (jiǎo) – 1/10 of a Yuan (like the dime in a dollar), and 分 (fēn) -1/100 of a Yuan (think the cent in a dollar), although the latter is so small a unit that you rarely see it in daily life.

To say the prices in Chinese, you have to indicate the unit of the currency after the number.

For example,

  • ¥1.00
    一元
    yì yuán
    one Yuan
  • ¥0.50
    五角
    wǔ jiǎo
    five Jiao
  • ¥1.50
    一元五角
    yì yuán wǔ jiǎo
    one Yuan, five Jiao

If more than one currency unit is included in a price, then the smallest unit can be omitted in spoken Chinese. For example, to express ¥1.50, you can drop the smallest unit – in this case “Jiao”, and just say 一元五 (yì yuán wǔ) – one Yuan, five.

Let’s try this.

  • ¥19.80
    十九元八(角)
    shí jiǔ yuán bā (jiǎo)
    nineteen Yuan, eight (Jiao)
    Jiao, being the smallest currency unit in this price, can be omitted
  • ¥19.89
    十九元八角九(分)
    shí jiǔ yuán bā jiǎo jiǔ (fēn)
    nineteen Yuan, eight Jiao, nine (Fen)
    Fen, being the smallest currency unit in this price, can be omitted

Did you get it?

Now, when shopping in China, a storekeeper might also express prices in terms of 块 (kuài), which is the colloquial version of 元 (yuán) and is similar to how Americans use “bucks” to mean dollars.

Similarly, another colloquial word 毛 (máo) is widely used in daily life to mean “dime”. Both 毛 (máo) and 角 (jiǎo) refer to the same thing: 1/10 of a Yuan.

Now let’s try saying these prices using the colloquial set.

  • ¥1.00
    一块
    yí kuài
    one Kuai
  • ¥0.50
    五毛
    wǔ máo
    five Mao
  • ¥1.50
    一块五毛
    yí kuài wǔ máo
    one Kuai, five Mao

Or if you prefer the short version:

  • ¥1.50
    一块五
    yí kuài wǔ
    one Kuai, five

To Express “half of…” and …and a half

Like in English, Chinese speakers use the number word 半 (bàn), which means “half” a lot in their daily lives, referring to 50% of something.

How to Say “half of…” in Chinese

Below are a few examples demonstrating how “half of something” is said in Chinese.

  • half a cake
    个蛋糕
    bàn gè dàn gāo
  • half a chicken
    只鸡
    bàn zhī jī
  • half a book
    本书
    bàn běn shū
  • half a day

    bàn tiān
  • half a year

    bàn nián

I hope you can see the pattern here:  

To say “half of something” in Chinese, say the word 半 (bàn) first, then the counter corresponding to that thing. (Words like 天 tiān – day, and 年 nián – year are essentially time dividers, therefore, can be used as counter words on their own)

But why there’s a counter here? You asked.

The answer is simple: 半 (bàn) is usually conceived as a number in Chinese (think 0.5 or 50%). And as long as a number comes along with a noun, you must add a counter in between!

If you simply want to say “a half” with no intention to specify the object, it’s possible – but you’ll need to say 一半 (yíbàn). For example, if someone asked you “你要多少? (nǐ yào duōshǎo) – how many would you like?”, you could answer: 一半 (yíbàn)!

How to Say “… and a half” in Chinese

You can also use the word 半 (bàn) to express “… and a half”. The tip is that you put the 半 (bàn) after the counter.

How does this work? Let’s look at some examples.

  • 一个蛋糕
    yí gè bàn dàngāo
    one and a half cakes (1.5 cakes)
  • 两瓶啤酒
    liǎng píng bàn píjiǔ
    two and a half bottles of beer (2.5 bottles of beer)
  • 三天
    sān tiān bàn
    three and a half days (3.5 days)
  • 四年
    sì nián bàn
    four and a half years (4.5 years)

Note that in English, we sometimes use “and a half” to abbreviate the names of big numbers. For instance, instead of saying “one thousand five hundred, we might say “one and a half thousand”. And instead of “two million five hundred thousand”, we might say “two and a half million”.

However, you can’t do it like this in Chinese. Essentially, 半 (bàn) can only be used to express small decimal numbers (0.5, 1.5, 2.5, etc). You can’t use it to express big numbers with a comma (thousands separator). For those numbers, you’ll need to read out their full names.

  • 1,500
    一千五百
    yì qiān wǔ bǎi
    one thousand, five hundred
  • 2,500,000
    二百五十万
    èr bǎi wǔ shí wàn
    two hundred fifty “wan”

To Do Basic Math

how to do math in Chinese

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that the simplicity and consistency of Chinese number words make calculations a lot easier in this language (and that probably explains why Chinese students are so good at math, right?)

Now you know all the numbers in Chinese, you can do math fast too!

How to Calculate in Chinese

Before learning about calculation, let’s learn the key math vocabulary in Chinese:

Character Pinyin English
jiā …plus…
jiǎn  …minus…
chéng  …times…
除以 chú yǐ  …divided by…
等于 děngyú …equals…

And here’s a list of examples showing you how to use Chinese numbers and calculation words to do basic math.

  • 1+2=3
    一加二等于三
    yī jiā èr děngyú sān
    One plus two equals three.
  • 7-3=4
    七减三等于四
    qī jiǎn sān děngyú sì
    Seven minus three equals five.
  • 5×6=30
    五乘六等于三十
    wǔ chéng liù děngyú sān shí
    Five times six equals thirty.
  • 72÷9=8
    七十二除以九等于八
    qī shí èr chú yǐ jiǔ děngyú bā
    Seventy-two divided by nine equals eight.

A good way to practice your Chinese number skills is to work on the Chinese multiplication table with the rhythmic chant. Read here to learn how.

Decimal Numbers in Chinese

In Chinese, the decimal point is called 点 and pronounced “diǎn”.

When you say a decimal in Chinese, you need to read out each individual number after the 点 (diǎn).

For example:

  • 3.25
    三点二五
    sān diǎn èr wǔ
    Literally, “three point two five”

Don’t get it mixed up with time expressions in Chinese! Though the colon there (:) is also read as 点 (diǎn), the numbers are recited differently in time. For example, if it’s 3:25 now, you wouldn’t say “三点二五 (sān diǎn èr wǔ)”. Instead, you would say “三点二十五 (sān diǎn èr shí wǔ)”.

Fractions in Chinese

In Chinese, fractions are written with the same dividing line just like in English (e.g. 1/4). The difference is that you must read the denominator (bottom number) first, then the dividing line – 分之 (fēnzhī), and last the numerator (top number).

For example:

  • 1/4
    四分之一
    sì fēnzhī yī
  • 2/5
    五分之二
    wǔ fēnzhī èr

Percentages in Chinese

If you can say fractions, you can say percentages in Chinese too!

The Chinese percentage sign is written the same as in English: %. When reading a percentage, you simply say the word 百分之 (bǎi fēnzhī wǔ shí) first and the number after it. So 50% would be read as “百分之五十 (bǎi fēnzhī wǔ shí)”.

If you think about it, the Chinese readings for fractions and percentages follow the same pattern. The reading for 25% is pretty much the same as 25/100. You just have to shorten 一百 (yì bǎi) – the denominator in the fraction to 百 (bǎi) in the percentage.

Bonus: Using Chinese Numbers Like a Native

speak like a native

Wow, that’s a lot of information! (I know!)

I would say the above is more than enough to cover the daily use of numbers in Chinese. I even included some fairly technical math terms for this level, just to keep you on your toes!

But if you’re still in the mood for more advanced content, though, keep reading. The following tutorial will help you use Chinese numbers like a real native speaker, guaranteed!

Zero Omission

Remember when I said how you can leave out the smallest unit of currency when you express a price in Chinese?

Here’s a quick recap.

  • ¥19.80
    十九元八(角)
    shí jiǔ yuán bā (jiǎo)
    nineteen Yuan, eight (Jiao)

The smallest currency unit in the above price is 角 (Jiao) – ten Chinese “cents”. Therefore, it can be omitted.

Now, if you translate the shortened Chinese reading directly into English, it would be “nineteen Yuan, eight” instead of “nineteen Yuan, eighty”, as if the last digit of the number – zero is non-existent.

I like to call this phenomenon the “zero omission”.

And if you observe closely the way native Chinese speakers say numbers, you’ll soon realize this “zero omission” phenomenon is prevalent in casual conversations.

Let’s take the number 250 for example.

The standard, formal way of saying the number (which is also what I taught you in the previous sections) would be 二百五十 (èr bǎi wǔ shí). But in real life, many Chinese people will just read it 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ) – literally “two hundred five”.

Two more examples: 2,500 and 25,000.

Let’s read them in the standard way first:

  • 2,500
    二千五百
    èr qiān wǔ bǎi
  • 25,000
    二万五千
    èr wàn wǔ qiān

Now let’s hear from native speakers:

  • 2,500
    二千五
    èr qiān wǔ
    literally “two thousand five”
  • 25,000
    二万五
    èr wàn wǔ
    literally “two wan five”

You see what’s going on there? The strings of zeros at the end of these numbers are totally omitted.

Let me lift the veil for you so you won’t be confused.

Essentially, numeric words in the Chinese counting scale (e.g. 十 shí, 百 bǎi, 千 qiān) are considered number units.

  • 十 (shí): unit for 10s
  • 百 (bǎi): unit for 100s
  • 千 (qiān): unit for 1000s

And when you read out a Chinese number that ends with a zero or zeros, the smallest number unit can be left out completely – just like how the smallest currency unit can be dropped in a price.

Let’s look at the numbers in the previous examples again:

  • 250
    二百五(十)
    èr bǎi wǔ (shí)
    Literally, “two hundred five (ten)”
    十 shí (ten), being the smallest unit in this number, can be omitted
  • 2,500
    二千五(百)
    èr qiān wǔ (bǎi)
    Literally, “two thousand five (hundred)”
    百 bǎi (hundred), being the smallest unit in this number, can be omitted
  • 25,000
    二万五(千)
    èr wàn wǔ (qiān)
    Literally, “two wan five (thousand)”
    千 qiān (thousand), being the smallest unit in this number, can be omitted

Look how neat the numbers have become without the zeros! Amazing, isn’t it?

Now, you might still remember that earlier on in this tutorial, I mentioned that if a number contains a zero in the middle, you have to read out the zero.

For example,

  • 205: 二百五 (èr bǎi líng wǔ)

I’m sure you can understand why now – if you drop the zero in 205 and pronounce it 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ), it’d become 250!

The Scale of 1-10

Bizarre as it may sound, when it comes to ordering a steak in China, you’ll need to use numbers.

Unlike in English, the Chinese waiter will usually ask how well you like your steak to be cooked on a scale of 1-10:

  • 几分熟?
    Jǐ fēn shú?
    Literally, “What degree of “cooked-ness?”

Your basic answer options are:

  • 一分熟
    yì fēn shú
    rare
    Literally, “1 degree cooked”
  • 三分熟
    sān fēn shú
    medium rare
    Literally, “3 degree cooked”
  • 五分熟
    wǔ fēn shú
    medium
    Literally, “5 degree cooked”
  • 七分熟
    qī fēn shú
    medium-rare
    Literally, “7 degree cooked”
  • 全熟
    quán shú
    well done
    Literally, “fully cooked” (Don’t say 10 degree cooked in this case)

For medium-rare, you could also say 半熟 (bàn shú) – “half-cooked”. Other numbers (2,4,6,8,9) are generally not used to describe the “cooked-ness”.

You can also use numbers to express the degree of “sweetness” you desire when ordering drinks.

For example, in a bubble tea shop, the staff might ask you how much sugar you’d like in your tea by saying:

  • 几分糖?
    Jǐ fēn táng?
    Literally, “what degree of sugar?”

And your usual options are:  

  • 无糖
    wú táng
    No sugar
  • 三分糖
    sān fēn táng
    30% sugar
    Literally, “3 degree sugar
  • 五分糖
    wǔ fēn táng
    50% sugar
    Literally, “5 degree sugar
    (You can also say: 半糖 bàn táng – half sugar)
  • 七分糖
    qī fēn táng
    70% sugar
    Literally, “7 degree sugar”
  • 全糖
    quán táng
    Full sugar
order drink in Chinese

Chinese Number Idioms

Believe it or not, 成语 (chéng yǔ) – those thousand-year-old idiomatic expressions derived from ancient Chinese history are still a rich part of the modern Chinese language – they are considered the collected wisdom of the Chinese culture, and contain the experiences, moral concepts, and admonishments from previous generations.  

Slip some Chengyu into your daily interaction with locals and you’ll sound smart and polished!  

The best part? Chengyu is not complicated at all – many of them are simply formed by numbers. And those seemingly random number-character combinations can convey profound meanings.

So here are my top 10 Chinese number idioms to get you started!

数一数二 (shǔ yī shǔ èr)

“count one, count two”

This is not a command. The number expression 数一数二 (shǔ yī shǔ èr) means someone or something can be counted as the best or the second-best in their field or is simply among the best.

Example:

  • 他是世界上数一数二的数学家。
    Tā shì shìjiè shàng shǔ yī shǔ èr de shùxuéjiā.
    He is one of the best mathematicians in the world.

一五一十 (yī wǔ yī shí)

“one five, one ten”

The original meaning of this all-number Chengyu is “count in every five and every ten”. Now you can use it to express “include every little detail”.

Example:

  • 一五一十地告诉了我。
    yī wǔ yī shí de gào sù le wǒ.
    He told me the full details.

三心二意 (sān xīn èr yì)

“three hearts, two minds”

Ancient Chinese people considered the heart as the center of reason, thought, and emotion. But having three hearts and two minds in one body certainly wouldn’t make a person more decisive. So this Chengyu can be used to describe the state of being restless and confused in thoughts or action.

Example:

  • 决定好了就不要三心二意
    Juédìng hǎo le jiù bú yào sān xīn èr yì.
    Once you’ve made up your mind, don’t waver.

丢三落四 (diū sān là sì)

“lose three, forget four” 

Do you know anyone who’s always losing this and forgetting that? Well, this is the perfect Chengyu for you to describe your scatterbrained buddy.

Example:

  • 我的弟弟总是丢三落四
    Wǒ de dìdi zǒngshì diū sān là sì.
    My younger brother is such a scatterbrain.

五湖四海 (wǔ hú sì hǎi)

“five lakes, four seas”

Legend has it that China was once surrounded by four seas. So the four seas along with the five inland lakes in China came together to represent all the places in this country or even the world.

Example:

  • 我们的团队成员来自五湖四海
    Wǒmen de tuánduì chéngyuán láizì wǔ hú sì hǎi.
    Our team members are from all over the country/world.

五花八门 (wǔ huā bā mén)

“five flowers, eight gates” 

“Five Flowers” and “Eight Gates” were the names of two shifting military formations in ancient China. Now the Chengyu is used to describe something variable and capricious.

Example:  

  • 他编了五花八门的借口。
    Tā biān le wǔ huā bā mén de jièkǒu.
    He came up with all sorts of excuses.

七嘴八舌 (qī zuǐ bā shé)

“seven mouths, eight tongues” 

Can you imagine how much noise can seven months or eight tongues make? Right, this Chengyu is used to describe a situation where everybody is trying to get a word in.

qi zui ba she

Example:

  • 消息一公布, 大家就七嘴八舌地议论起来。
    Xiāoxi yì gōngbù , dàjiā jiù qī zuǐ bā shé de yìlùn qǐlái.
    The moment the announcement was made, a lively discussion started – everyone was eager to put in a word.

十有八九 (shí yǒu bā jiǔ)

“ten there’s eight nine” 

Literally, “eight or nine (times) out of ten”, this Chengyu is similar to the English phrase “ten to one”. You can use it to express a strong possibility.

Example:

  • 他们十有八九会输。
    Tāmen shí yǒu bā jiǔ huì shū.
    Ten to one they’ll lose.

千方百计 (qiān fāng bǎi jì)

“a thousand methods, a hundred strategies”

This Chengyu means accomplishing the purpose by any means necessary. A similar expression in English would be “by hook or by crook”.

Example:

  • 我会千方百计在这周完成这些工作。
    Wǒ huì qiān fāng bǎi jì zài zhè zhōu wánchéng zhèxiē gōngzuò.
    I will get the work done this week one way or another.

万众一心 (wàn zhòng yì xīn)

“ten thousand people, one heart” 

This Chengyu is quoted by Chinese media all the time to encourage people to unite in one thought and purpose.

Example:

  • 全国各地人民万众一心抗击新冠疫情。
    Quán guó gè dì rénmín wàn zhòng yì xīn kàngjī xīnguān yìqíng.
    People from all over the country united as one body and one faith to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese Number Slang

In English, we often use texting slang like BTW, LOL, and CU when chatting with our friends online.

Chinese people too, have created hundreds of different texting slang, or internet slang, words, and texting abbreviations as a form of shorthand to convey ideas with the least amount of time and effort.

One of the most intriguing forms of Chinese slang is the use of numbers to represent words and phrases with similar sounds.

Now let’s check out some of the most popular Chinese number slang in 2021.  

520 – I Love you

520 in Chinese

520 is the most commonly used number slang in China.

The numbers 5-2-0 (wǔ èr líng), when said out loud in Chinese, sounds similar to the expression 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ), which means “I love you”. This number combination is so popular that the younger Chinese generation has made May 20th (5/20) the new Valentine’s Day in China.

1314 – Forever

If you are serious about professing your love, you can say 520 1314.

1314 sounds a lot like the Chinese idiom (yes, another Chengyu!) 一生一世 (yì shēng yí shì) which literally means “one life, one lifetime”.

So 520 1314 stands for “I Love you forever”!

518 – I’ll be rich

Chinese people love money. Well, who doesn’t?. But they even have a god of Money: 财神 (cáishén) – he is one of the most popular gods to worship in China of all time.

And if you too want to get rich, use the number slang 518 as often as possible like the locals!

Why? 5-1-8 sounds like the expression 我要发 (wǒ yào fā) – meaning “I’ll be rich!” (try pronouncing 一 as ”yāo” here). Well, if you dare to dream it, you can do it!

88 – Bye bye

This should be an easy guess: the Chinese numbers 8-8 sounds like the English “bye-bye”. (it can also be represented by Chinese characters: 拜拜 bái bái )

You can also sign off with 886 – 拜拜喽 (bái bái lou) to convey a more casual, chirpy tone.

818 – Gossip

818 is the homophone of 扒一扒 (bā yi bā), which is a lighthearted way of saying “gossip about someone or something” (not necessarily in a hurtful way though).

For example,

  • 今天我要818我的前同事。
    Jīntiān wǒ yào bā yi bā wǒ de qián tóngshì.
    Today, I’ll tell you the (dumb) stories of my former colleagues.

94 – Right on point

94 sounds quite similar to the expression 就是 (jiù shì), which means “exactly right” or “on point”.

So if you are fully on board with someone, simply text 94.

748 – Go die!

The Chinese numbers 7-4-8 (qī sì bā) represents 去死吧 (qù sǐ ba), which literally means “Go die!” but can also be interpreted as “Go to hell”. 

How do I know this? Well, I got a lot of it from my girlfriend every time she was mad!

250 – Moron

In northern China, people like to describe those simpleminded and reckless people as “250”.

There are different anecdotes associated with the origin of 250. My favorite one is that back in the old days when the Chinese packed money, they would put 500 silver coins in one envelope, which is called 封 (fēng). So if 500 is 一封 (yì fēng) – “one envelope”, then 250 would be respectively 半封 (bàn fēng) – “half an envelope”.

Guess what? It sounds exactly the same as another word 半疯 (bàn fēng), meaning “half crazy”!

666 – Awesome

The Chinese number slang 666 (liù liù liù) which is now widely popular among young netizens in China is used to describe someone or something cool, awesome, or dope.  

666 in Chinese has nothing to do with the Devil but is simply the homonym for 牛牛牛 (niú niú niú), meaning awesome, impressive, or 溜溜溜 (liù liù liù), meaning skilled or smooth. It was first used by Chinese League of Legends gamers to express awe and respect for good gameplay. Now, you can use 666 to wish someone good luck or congratulate them on a job well done.

Example:

  • Your friend: 我要参加HSK考试了!
    Wǒ yào cānjiā HSK kǎoshì le!
    I am going to take the HSK exam!

    You: 666!

Remember the Chinese number gesture for 6? You can also express 666 by waving it around!

666 in Chinese

996 – Crazy Workload

996 is the short name for the so-called “996 office schedule” commonly practiced at China’s big tech companies, that is, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; 6 days a week, plus overtime.

Example:

  • 他在一家996公司上班。
    Tā zài yì jiā jiǔ jiǔ liù gōngsī shàngbān.
    He works in a company with relentless work schedules.

Sounds awful, isn’t it?

But it can be worse. Some people unfortunately have to work around the clock. Hence, another similar number slang – 007 (0:00 to 0:00, 7 days a week)!

U1S1 – In all honesty

U1S1 is one of the newest Chinese internet slang in 2021. It’s the abbreviation of the popular expression 有一说一 (yǒu yī shuō yī), literally, “(if you) have one, say one”.

You can add U1S1 at the beginning to emphasize your sincerity when expressing your opinion (it could be pleasant as well as unpalatable), for instance:

  • U1S1, 他唱得真不错。
    Yǒu yī shuō yī, tā chàng de zhēn búcuò.
    To be honest, he does sing very well.

FAQ about Chinese Numbers

Before I wrap things up, let’s quickly go over some of the most commonly asked questions about Chinese numbers.

This is an ever-expanding list, so if you have a question I haven’t covered, feel free to ask!

Yes. Like the rest of the world, Chinese people use Arabic numerals widely in daily life. But there are many contexts such as traditional ceremonials, media, commerce, finance, law where people still use the Chinese numbers represented by characters.

It’s easy to count to 3 in Chinese. To say “one”, say “一 yī” (like the “ee” in “bee” with a flat tone). To say “two”, say “二 èr” (like yawning with a falling tone but roll back your tongue). To say “three”, say 三 “sān” (like the “san” in “sand” with a flat tone).

You can opt to pronounce the Chinese number 一 as “yāo” when reciting a string of numbers containing 1 that has no mathematical meaning such as a phone number, ID number, address, or zip code to help listeners hear it more clearly. This practice is, however, totally optional.

When the number 2 is followed by a counter, you need to read it as 两 (liǎng). Essentially, 两 (liǎng) is the 2 for counters and you use it to express “two of something”.

If the number is precisely 100, you should use 一百 (yì bǎi). 

For example,

  • 一百人
    yì bǎi rén
    one hundred people
  • 一百块
    yì bǎi kuài
    one hundred Yuan

If the number is between 100 and 200, you should use 一百 (yì bǎi) as well.

  • 一百五十天
    yì bǎi wǔ shí tiān
    one hundred and fifty days
  • 一百九十九本书
    yì bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ běn shū
    one hundred and ninety-nine books

You use 百 (bǎi) as part of a larger number, like 三百 (sān bǎi) for “three hundred”.

The number 101 in Chinese is 一百零一 (yì bǎi líng yī). Note that the zero (零 líng) in 101 must be read out, otherwise, the number will change to 110.

The number 200 can be read as either 二百 (èr bǎi) or 两百 (liǎng bǎi) in Chinese. 两百 (liǎng bǎi) is slightly more colloquial but essentially there is no difference in their use.

Similarly, you can read 2000 as either 二千 (èr qiān) or 两千 (liǎng qiān), and 20000 as either 二万 (èr wàn) or 两万 (liǎng wàn). 20, however, must always be read as 二十 (èr shí).

Both 二点 (èr diǎn) and 两点 (liǎng diǎn) are correct ways of saying “2’o clock” in Chinese, although 两点 (liǎng diǎn) is used more often in colloquial Chinese.

The Chinese word for “half” is 半 (half). To say “half of something”, you need to add a counter word before the object, for example, 半苹果 (bàn  píng guǒ) – half an apple.

To say 0.5 in Chinese, say 零点五 (líng diǎn wǔ), literally “zero point five”.

The Chinese for one hundred percent (100%) is 百分之一百 (bǎi fēnzhī yì bǎi), but you may also say 百分之百 (bǎi fēnzhī bǎi) as the short version.

The word for thousand in Chinese is 千 (qiān). To say one thousand, you say 一千 (yì qiān).

You can say any number from 1001 to 9999 with 千 (qiān) by reading out the first number, then the word 千 (qiān), then the rest of the number. If the number contains zero(s) in the middle, for example, 1005 or 1050, read out a zero (零 líng). When you get to ten thousand, say 一万 (yí wàn).

Large numbers in Chinese are broken down into units of ten-thousand, so million is 百万 bǎi wàn (hundred ten-thousand), billion is 十亿 shí yì (ten hundred-million), and trillion is 兆 zhào.

All natural Chinese numbers up to a trillion can be represented by 16 unique characters. They are:

  • 零 (zero)
  • 一 (one)
  • 二 (two)
  • 三 (three)
  • 四 (four)
  • 五 (five)
  • 六 (six)
  • 七 (seven)
  • 八 (eight)
  • 九 (nine)
  • 十 (ten)
  • 百 (hundred)
  • 千 (thousand)
  • 万 (ten thousand)
  • 亿 (hundred million)
  • 兆 (trillion)

Final Words about Chinese Numbers

Numbers are one of the most important things you’ll need to learn and memorize in your language learning. Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of Chinese numbers, it’s time to get out there and practice!

Never underestimate the value of perfecting your skills to deal with numbers. It takes a lot of repetition of course, but once you get these patterns down, you will become a next-level learner. Guaranteed!

By the way, if you’re just starting out to learn Chinese, I strongly recommend that you take a structured Chinese course online.

To be fair, it’s possible to learn Chinese by yourself. But you’re dealing with a rather complex language here which is nothing like English or Spanish. It would be far more effective to follow the progression of an existing course than to try putting odd bits and pieces together on your own.

We’ve taken the time to try out dozens of Chinese courses online, some are fabulous while others are horrible. Read our unbiased reviews here and discover our top recommendations!