Dates in Chinese (Years, Months, Days): A Comprehensive Guide
Whether you want to organize meetings, make holiday reservations, or plan social activities, you most likely won’t be able to accomplish that without knowing how to say dates in Chinese.
Dates in Mandarin Chinese work quite differently than in English. To start with, they follow a different word order. But don’t worry, Chinese can be easier since there’s only one way to say the date – not multiple ways as there are in English. And there’s a simple formula to follow. Once you get the pattern down, you’ll be able to say the date in Chinese in no time.
This guide will give you a complete insight into all the different elements of the date in Chinese – year, month, day. You’ll learn how to say the date in the complete form and shortened form, and write the date in Chinese like a local.
Let’s have a look!
How to Say Dates in Mandarin Chinese – An Overview
In Chinese, dates are called “日期 (rìqī)”. To say the date in Chinese, you have to not only know your numbers but also be able to pronounce the years, months, and days correctly. Then there are some important differences between how dates are said in Chinese and other languages such as English and Spanish.
Before we delve into the details, let’s look at a few things you need to be aware of when learning this aspect of the Chinese language.
Key Vocabulary for Dates in Chinese
First of all, to say and write dates in Chinese, you’ll need to know three keywords.
These words are the building blocks of the date expression in Chinese. You’ll use them for every date.
Numbers for Dates in Chinese
In English, ordinal numbers (such as “first” or “second”) are used to say the date. In Chinese, however, you always use cardinal numbers. To say the date and month in Chinese, you’ll need to know the words for all the numbers from one to thirty-one.
If you have a bit of a knack for Chinese numbers, the dates should pose no particular problem for you. We’ve written a complete tutorial on numbers in Chinese to help you get started.
If you are not comfortable with the Chinese number system yet, try practicing it with random strings of numbers rather than counting in order. This proves to be a far more effective way to remember numbers in Chinese. You can also post notes around your house with the Arabic numeral and the Chinese word for that number. Soon you’ll get used to associating the two.
Formula for Saying the Date in Chinese
When you say the date in Chinese, you’ll use a different form than you may have learned in English. One of the most important things to note is that in Chinese, the year comes first, followed by the month and then the day.
For saying the date in its entity, you use a simple formula:
年 (nián) + 月 (yuè) + 日 (rì)
When you announce a date of the current year, you’d commonly leave out announcing the year.
- 月 (yuè) + 日 (rì)
That being said, you are now ready to learn how to say the date in Chinese!
Years in Chinese
The first step to saying the date in Chinese is to say the year.
Unlike in many languages where you express the year by saying the whole number (e.g. 2021 in Spanish – dos mil veintiuno), to say the year in Chinese, you read out each digit of the number, and then add the word 年 (nián) – “year” to it.
èr líng èr yī nián
Literally, “two zero two one year”
èr líng líng wǔ nián
Literally, “two zero zero five year”
èr líng líng líng nián
Literally, “two zero zero zero year”
yī jiǔ jiǔ qī nián
Literally: “one nine nine seven year”
A common mistake people make when saying the year in Chinese would be splitting the number the English way (e.g. 2020 – twenty twenty).
- Don’t say: 二十二十年 (èr shí èr shí nián), 十九九十八年 (shí jiǔ jiǔ shí bā nián), etc
- Do say: 二零二零年 (èr líng èr líng nián), 一九九八年 (yī jiǔ jiǔ bā nián)
If you’re talking about a recent year, you can also use a shortened way of expressing years by just reading out the last two digits of the number, like
èr líng nián
the year 2020
Literally, “two zero year”
bā bā nián
the year 1988
Literally, “eight eight year”
Theoretically, the two digits can refer to all those “20”s and “88”s in different centuries, but as long as the context is clear, people won’t be confused by the shortened version. For instance, if you say you were born in the year 88 – 八八年 (bā bā nián), people will surely know you are talking about 1988, not 1888 or 1788. (unless you’re a vampire!)
Last but not least, don’t get the two-digit shortened version mixed up with the way of saying whole numbers in Chinese. If you pronounced the year (19)88 as 八十八年 (bā shí bā nián), it would instead mean “eighty-eight years”. So, always read out each digit!
In most instances, you probably won’t need to state the year along with the date if you’re just speaking conversationally. But if you do, make sure to say the year at the very beginning rather than at the end.
Months in Chinese
After saying the year, you’ll then say the month of the year.
Here are twelve months in Chinese with the pronunciation.
|November||十一月||shí yī yuè|
|December||十二月||shí èr yuè|
The names for the months in Chinese are based on the word 月 (yuè), meaning “month” and a simple numerical sequence. To say January through December, start with the number that corresponds to the month and then follow it up 月 (yuè).
January is thus 一月 (yī yuè) – the first month, February is 二月 (èr yuè) – the second month, and so on all the way up to December 十二月 (shí èr yuè) – the twelfth month.
Once you’ve learned how to count to 12 in Chinese, saying the month should just be intuitive. If you still have a problem associating the numbers with the month names, buy a Chinese calendar so you’re looking at them regularly.
Days of the Month in Chinese
Finally, you’ll say the day of the month to round out the date.
Here’s how you say the 31 days of the month in Chinese.
|11th||十一号||shí yī hào|
|12th||十二号||shí èr hào|
|13th||十三号||shí sān hào|
|14th||十四号||shí sì hào|
|15th||十五号||shí wǔ hào|
|16th||十六号||shí liù hào|
|17th||十七号||shí qī hào|
|18th||十八号||shí bā hào|
|19th||十九号||shí jiǔ hào|
|20th||二十号||èr shí hào|
|21st||二十一号||èr shí yī hào|
|22nd||二十二号||èr shí èr hào|
|23rd||二十三号||èr shí sān hào|
|24th||二十四号||èr shí sì hào|
|25th||二十五号||èr shí wǔ hào|
|26th||二十六号||èr shí liù hào|
|27th||二十七号||èr shí qī hào|
|28th||二十八号||èr shí bā hào|
|29th||二十九号||èr shí jiǔ hào|
|30th||三十号||sān shí hào|
|31st||三十一号||sān shí yī hào|
Dates in Chinese follow the same pattern of months: you’ll say the number of the day first, then follow it up with the word 号 (hào), meaning “date”.
As with months, you use cardinal numbers (one, two, three, etc) instead of ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc) for dates in Chinese, e.g. 三号 (sān hào), not 第三号 (dì sān hào).
Dates in Chinese – The Complete Form
Now that you know the years, months, and days in Chinese, we can put all the pieces together to say the entire date using the “年 (nián) + 月 (yuè) + 日 (rì)” formula.
Here are some examples:
- December 25, 2021
èr líng èr yī nián shí èr yuè èr shí wǔ hào
Literally, “two zero two one year, twelve month, twenty-five date”
- February 14, 1986
yī jiǔ bā liù nián èr yuè shí sì hào
Literally, “one nine eight six year, two month, fourteen date”
- July 4, 1776
yī qī qī liù nián qī yuè sì hào
Literally, “one seven seven six year, seven month, four date”
You can also say the year in the two-digit shortened way if it is recent and the context is clear.
Wǒ chūshēng zài bā liù nián èr yuè shí sì hào.
I was born on February 14, (19)86.
Easy, isn’t it?
Just one note: there is a slightly more formal way of expressing the date of the month by using 日 (rì) instead of 号 (hào).
- December 25, 2021
èr líng èr yī nián shí èr yuè èr shí wǔ rì
- February 14, 1986
yī jiǔ bā liù nián èr yuè shí sì rì
- July 4, 1776
yī qī qī liù nián qī yuè sì rì
The word 日 (rì) means “day”. It works the same way as 号 (hào) when constituting the date in Chinese (you add it after the number of the day) – but it’s less common in daily use (you’ll encounter this word mainly in formal contexts such as documents and news reports).
So, stick to 号 (hào) in your daily Chinese interaction – it sounds more normal.
How to Ask the Date in Chinese
There are two main ways to ask about the date in Chinese.
1. 今天几号？(Jīntiān jǐ hào?)
The most common and natural way to ask for the date in Chinese is to use the question 今天几号？(Jīntiān jǐ hào?)
The word 几 (jǐ) is the question word for asking a specific number. So this question literally means “today (is) what number date?”.
And when you are asked the date, you could answer 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)?”, you could say,
Jīntiān shì qī yuè qī hào.
Today is September 7.
And in most contexts, you can reply with just the date (day of the month).
Jīntiān shì qī hào.
Today is the 7th.
The verb “be” – 是 (shì) in 今天是 (jīntiān shì) is optional and often omitted in spoken Chinese. It’s totally okay to say 今天七月七号 (Jīntiān qī yuè qī hào), 今天七号 (Jīntiān qī hào), etc. Learn more about topic-comment structure.
2. 今天几月几号？(Jīntiān jǐ yuè jǐ hào?)
You can also ask 今天几月几号？(Jīntiān jǐ yuè jǐ hào?)
You typically use this question, which is translated as “today what number month what number date” word for word when you want to know what the month is as well as the date. People will then give you the number of both the month and the day, like
Jīntiān sān yuè shí wǔ hào.
Today is March 15.
If you want to know what day of the week it is instead of the specific date, use the phrase 今天星期几? (Jīntiān xīngqī jǐ?). This question means “what day is it today?” and people will respond with a day of the week. There are other ways to ask for the same information. Learn more about days of the week in Chinese.
When you give the date for the current year in an informal style, it’s normal to omit the year.
Jīntiān shì jiǔ yuè shí hào.
Today is September 10.
For the same reason, you wouldn’t normally ask for the year when asking the date. But if you happened to wake up from a coma and were wondering what year it was, you could ask 现在是几几年 (Xiànzài shì jǐ jǐ nián?), which means “what year is it now?”.
Remember to say 几 (jǐ) twice as each 几 (jǐ) corresponds to one digit in the two-digit version of saying the year.
How to Write the Date in Chinese
There are three ways to write the date in Chinese. There is the numerals-only version, the characters-only version, and a mix of numerals and characters. Let’s take a look at how to write the date using each method!
1. Only Numerals
Like the rest of the world, Chinese people use Arabic numerals widely in daily life. It’s possible to write the date in Chinese without resorting to characters.
But be careful!
To write the date using only numerals, you’ll always write the numerals corresponding to the year first, followed by the month and then the day, which reverses the British style of putting the day first. The numerals can be separated by slashes, dashes, or periods.
For example, if you wanted to write the date January 09, 2021, you might write
- 2021/01/09 (most common)
As with many languages, you can omit the “0” when writing one-digit months or days. You can also omit the first two digits of the year when writing the current year.
2. Numerals and Characters
The second way to write the date in Chinese is to use a combination of numerals and characters.
The format is the same when writing the date out (year+month+day). You’ll use numerals to represent the year, month and day, and three Chinese characters: 年 (nián) – year, 月 (yuè) – month, 日 (rì) – day, instead of slashes, dashes, or periods to separate these elements.
Note that in written Chinese, we typically use 日 (rì) instead of 号 (hào) to make it appear formal.
3. Only Characters
The third way, which is the most formal way of writing the date in Chinese is to use characters only. The numbers of the year, month, and day are all represented by Chinese characters, along with the separator words 年 (nián), 月 (yuè) and 日 (rì).
èr líng èr yī nián yī yuè jiǔ rì
In a very formal context, such as legal documents, the “0” in one-digit months or days may also be written out in character.
èr líng èr yī nián líng yī yuè líng jiǔ rì
Write the date in Chinese characters if you want to practice your skills. Though you don’t typically need to write out the date in characters, it’s helpful to understand them – in many contexts, the numbers are only written in Chinese. We’ve written an in-depth guide to help you master this aspect of the Chinese language. Read more about Chinese numbers.
Other Words Related to Dates in Chinese
In normal speech, you don’t typically use specific dates all the time to talk about when something happened or is going to happen. Your Chinese will sound more natural if you use relational words such as “yesterday” or “tomorrow.”
So here are some additional words you can use to reference time in Chinese.
|the day before yesterday||前天||qiántiān|
|the day after tomorrow||后天||hòutiān|
As for weeks, you can put 这 (zhè) – this, 上 (shàng) – last or 下 (xià) – next, before the word 星期 (xīngqī) – week, to indicate the present, previous or upcoming week.
|this week||这星期||zhè xīngqī|
|last week||上星期||shàng xīngqī|
|next week||下星期||xià xīngqī|
The format for months is the same.
|this month||这月||zhè yuè|
|last month||上月||shàng yuè|
|next month||下月||xià yuè|
You may also put the measure word 个 (gè) before 星期 (xīngqī) and 月 (yuè), e.g. 这个星期 (zhè gè xīngqī), 下个月 (xià gè yuè). Read more about Chinese measure words.
Year works differently. There are specific words for “this year”, “last year” and “next year” in Chinese, just as the days are named “today”, “yesterday” and “tomorrow” etc, in English.
|this year||今年||jīn nián|
|last year||去年||qù nián|
|next year||明年||míng nián|
Practice Saying the Date in Chinese
Dates are essential for arranging meetings and vacations. Now that you know how to say the date in Chinese and the relevant vocabulary, it’s time to get out there and practice!
The following sentence examples will get you started.
Jīntiān qī yuè sān shí yī hào, míng tiān jǐ yuè jǐ hào?
It’s July 31 today, what’s the date tomorrow?
Wǒ de shēng rì shì sān yuè shí sì hào, yě jiù shì hòutiān.
My birthday is March 14, that’s the day after tomorrow.
Měi nián shí yuè yī hào shì Zhōngguó de Guóqìng rì.
The annual October 1 is China’s National Day.
Wǒmen xuéxiào jiǔ yuè yī hào kāixué.
Our school starts on September 1.
Xià yuè sān hào wǒ yào qù Táiwān chūchāi.
I’ll go to Taiwan on business on the third of next month.
Wǒ yào dìng liǎng wǎn jiǔdiàn, sì hào hé wǔ hào.
I need to book a hotel for two nights, (for) the fourth and the fifth.
Wǒ cóng qùnián shí yuè kāishǐ xué Zhōngwén.
I started learning Chinese last October.
Línkěn chūshēng yú yī bā líng jiǔ nián èr yuè shí èr hào.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.
FAQ about Dates in Chinese
Before I wrap things up, let’s quickly go through a few questions I receive all the time about expressing dates in Chinese.
In Chinese, the month always precedes the day, so say the month first, then the day. Follow the same format when you write the date.
shí èr yuè sān shí hào
There are two main ways of asking the date in Chinese:
1. 今天几号？(Jīntiān jǐ hào?)
– literally “Today (is) what number date?”
2. 今天几月几号？(Jīn tiān jǐ yuè jǐ hào?)
– literally “Today (is) what number month what number date?”
The second way is typically used when you also want to find out what month it is.
“Today is…” in Chinese is 今天是 (jīntiān shì). To say the date today in Chinese, start by saying 今天是 (jīntiān shì) and then follow it up with the date. For example,
Jīntiān shì liù yuè jiǔ hào.
Today is June 9.
It’s also possible to drop the verb 是 (shì) in the sentence and just say 今天 (jīntiān) + date using “topic-comment structure”.
Years in Chinese are expressed by reading out each digit of the number corresponding to the year and adding the word 年 (nián) afterward. To say the year 2021, say 二零二一年 (èr líng èr yī nián). It’s translated as “two zero two one year” literally.
We usually say the year part of date by reading out each digit of the number, for example
èr líng líng yī nián
But for the years from 2001 to 2009, it’s also okay to say the whole number like in English (两千零 liǎng qiān + number).
liǎng qiān líng yī nián
This, however, is less common than the first method.
There are three common ways of asking “when is your birthday” in Chinese:
Nǐ de shēngrì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?
Literally, “Your birthday is what number month what number date?”
Nǐ de shēngrì shì shénme shíhou?
Literally, “Your birthday is when?”
Nǐ de shēngrì shì nǎ yì tiān?
Literally, “Your birthday is which day?”
To answer the questions when you get asked, say 我的生日是 (wǒ de shēngrì shì) then the date. For instance,
Wǒ de shēngrì shì èr yuè èr shí jiǔ hào.
My birthday is February 29.
“Date of birth” in Chinese is 出生日期 (chūshēng rìqī). To say when you were born, you can start by saying 我出生在 (Wǒ chūshēng zài) – meaning “I was born in/on” before your date. For example,
Wǒ chūshēng zài jiǔ wǔ nián shí yuè shí bā hào.
I was born on Oct 18, (19)95.
The Chinese word for “calendar” is 日历 (rìlì), literally “day history”. The measure word for calendars is 本 (běn). To say a calendar in Chinese, you say 一本日历 (yī běn rìlì).
“Lunar calendar” in Chinese is 农历 (nónglì) or 阴历 (yīnlì). To express dates based on the lunar calendar, place the word 农历 (nónglì) or 阴历 (yīnlì) before the date. For example, July 7 on the lunar calendar：
nónglì qī yuè qī hào
yīnlì qī yuè qī hào
The word for “gap year” in Chinese is 间隔年 (jiàngé nián), although the word/concept didn’t really exist in China until very recently and it’s a direct translation of “gap” and “year” from English. You may have to further explain what a 间隔年 (jiàngé nián) is to Chinese as taking a year off before or after college is rarely practiced and considered unorthodox in China.
Here’s a quick summary of what we covered in this guide:
In Chinese, the elements of the date are named in the order “year + month + day”. To say the date in Chinese, use the formula 年 (nián) + 月 (yuè) + 号 ( hào). Say the number corresponding to the year first, then the month of the year, and finally the day of the month. For the years from 2001 to 2009, you can also say the whole number (两千零 liǎng qiān + number) instead of reading out each digit. When giving the date for the current year, the year is often omitted.
To ask the date in Chinese, ask “今天几号？(Jīntiān jǐ hào?)” or “今天几月几号？(Jīn tiān jǐ yuè jǐ hào?)” depending on whether you want to know what month it is as well. For the notation of dates, you can choose between numerals only, Chinese characters, or a mixture of numerals and characters. Always put the year first: the format is YYYY/MM/DD. Remember in written Chinese, 号 ( hào) is usually replaced by 日 (rì).
The day of the week can be just as important as the specific date, especially when planning future events. Now that you’ve learned how to say the date in Chinese, it’s also a good idea to know how to say the days of the week in case you’re asked.
We also recommend you combine what you learn in this article with our other free resources:
- How to Say Chinese Numbers
- How to Tell the Time in Chinese
- Common Time Words in Chinese
- Basic Chinese Words and Phrases
- Basic Chinese Grammar for Beginners
By the way, if you’re just starting out to learn Chinese, we strongly recommend that you take a structured Chinese course online.
To be fair, it’s possible to learn Chinese by yourself. But you’re facing a rather complicated language (which is nothing like English or Spanish). Instead of reading odd bits and pieces and trying to put them together on your own, you should follow the progress of an existing course – it’s far more effective.
We’ve taken the time to try out dozens of Chinese courses online, some are fabulous while others are abysmal. Read our unbiased reviews here and discover our top recommendations!