Days of the Week in Chinese: The Ultimate Guide
Knowing how to talk about days of the week is crucial in any language. After all, how else would you have been able to set up meetings with other people?
And if you want a simple, thorough guide on how to say days of the week in Chinese, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the various ways of naming days in Chinese, explore the logic and formula behind them, show you how to use them in a sentence in different situations, and we’ll also look at how to ask the day of the week.
Let’s get started.
How to Say Days of the Week in Chinese – An Overview
Before learning how to say days of the week in Chinese, there is one thing you need to know.
Learning the names of the days in Chinese will require a bit more attention than learning their names in most other languages. This is because unlike in most other languages where there’s only one way to say the days, Chinese has three sets of names for the seven days of the week, and they are all used commonly in daily conversation.
When learning Chinese, you do have to learn all three sets of names, as they can be randomly heard when you converse with native speakers, at times alternating in the speech of the same person.
The good news?
All three systems follow the same simple pattern and are super easy to remember! All you need to know is the words for “week” and some basic numbers in Chinese.
All right, with this in mind, let’s talk about how to actually say the days.
How to Say Week in Chinese
To say days of the week, you must first learn the three different words for “week” in Chinese: 星期 (xīngqī), 周 (zhōu), and 礼拜 (lǐbài) – they are the building blocks to all three sets of names.
Let’s look at them one by one.
1. 星期 (xīngqī) – The Standard Word for Week in Chinese
The standard word for week in Chinese is 星期 (xīngqī).
星期 (xīngqī) originally means “star period”, referring to the seven-day planetary cycle in ancient times. It was later revived to mean “week” in modern Chinese.
星期 (xīngqī) is the officially favored word for week in China among the three and is usually the “default one” taught to foreign learners of Chinese.
2. 周 (zhōu) – The Formal Word for Week in Chinese
A slightly more formal way of saying week in Chinese is 周 (zhōu).
周 (zhōu) derived from the Japanese Kanji 週 (shu) meaning “cycle” at the beginning of the 20th century (around 1901-1903). The word has now completely fit into Chinese, and people are barely aware of its Japanese roots.
周 (zhōu) is the preferred word for week among the educated city people in China, particularly in formal situations. It sounds more concise and sophisticated than 星期 (xīngqī) due to the fact it consists of only one syllable.
3. 礼拜 (lǐbài) – The Colloquial Word for Week in Chinese
Last but not least, the colloquial way of saying week in Chinese: 礼拜 (lǐbài).
The history of the word 礼拜 (lǐbài) dated back to the 19th century when missionaries and traders started to flock to China. It originally meant “worship”, referring to the Christian or Islamic rituals performed regularly by these people, then extended to represent the 7-day cycle when local Chinese noticed that the westerners worshipped every seven days. (China used a 10-day cycle known as 旬 xún before it adopted the Western-style week).
Owing to its Western imperialistic and religious pedigree, 礼拜 (lǐbài) is not the officially encouraged word for week in China, and probably won’t get mentioned in your Chinese 101 textbooks. But surprisingly, it’s in widespread use across China. In fact, this is the word you’re most likely to hear in everyday conversation!
Here’s a chart that summarizes this information:
|周||zhōu||week (more formal)|
|礼拜||lǐbài||week (more colloquial)|
And this is how you say week in Chinese.
It wasn’t hard, was it?
Chinese Numbers in Days of the Week
The second step to learning days of the week in Chinese is to familiarize yourself with the basic numbers.
If you’re interested, we’ve written a thorough guide to help you to get started on Chinese numbers (read here). But for now, we can get by with just numbers 1 through 6.
So here’s a quick rundown.
With the six numbers, we can express six days of the week. (You will learn how the seventh day is said in the next section, so no rush!)
3 Different Ways of Saying Days of the Week in Chinese You Must Know
The names for the days of the week in Chinese are based on the word “week” and a simple numerical sequence.
Now that we’ve learned all the necessary vocabulary, saying the days are easy-peasy Chinesey!
Just make sure to learn all three sets of names instead of just one or two, because you never know which one Chinese speakers will use with you!
1. Days of the Week in Chinese with 星期 (xīngqī)
Let’s start with the standard way of saying days of the week using 星期 (xīngqī).
|Sunday||星期日 or 星期天 (more casual)||xīngqīrì or xīngqītiān|
Notice the pattern here? Let me break this down for you.
1. To say Monday through Saturday, add the number one through six after 星期 (xīngqī) to indicate the day. Monday is literally “week one”, Tuesday is “week two”, Wednesday is “week three”, and so on all the way up to Saturday – “week six”. (The first day of the week in China is not Sunday, but Monday, as the name indicates)
2. Sunday is the exception. Instead of “week seven”, it’s “week day” – 星期日 (xīngqīrì) or 星期天 (xīngqītiān). Both 日 (rì) and 天 (tiān) mean “day” in Chinese – you have two options, although 星期天 (xīngqītiān) sounds slightly more casual.
MON – SAT: 星期 (xīngqī) + number 1-6
SUN: 星期 (xīngqī) + 日 (rì)/天 (tiān)
Let’s take a look at how they are used in a sentence.
Today is Wednesday.
Tomorrow is Thursday.
Xīngqī’èr shàngwǔ wǒ hěn máng.
I am very busy on Tuesday morning.
Wǒ xīngqīwǔ wǎnshàng yào gōngzuò.
I need to work on Friday evening.
Before we move on to the next set of names, here are the two things you need to be careful with when saying days of the week in a sentence. (These rules apply to all three systems)
1. “on Monday”, “on Saturday afternoon” etc in Chinese can’t be translated verbatim – for example, “I’ll go on Monday” translates to “星期一我会去 (xīngqīyī wǒ huì qù)” or “我星期一会去 (wǒ xīngqīyī huì qù). Although you could be tempted to say “on” – “在 (zài)” before the day, don’t do it. The only correct way to talk about something happening on a specific day in Chinese is by saying the day on its own. Also, pay attention to the word order – time words can be used before or after the subject, but never at the end of a sentence.
2. Chinese nouns don’t have plural forms. This means 星期一 (xīngqīyī) will remain 星期一 (xīngqīyī) for all the Mondays. To state clearly that you’re talking about a specific Monday rather than Mondays in general, you need to add a word like “this”, “last” or “next” before the day. You will see examples of this later in this article.
In case you haven’t noticed, we used the classic “topic-comment structure” to express “Today is…”, e.g, 今天星期三 (Jīntiān xīngqīsān). While it’s absolutely correct to say 今天是星期三 (Jīntiān shì xīngqīsān), the verb 是 (shì) is totally optional and often omitted in spoken Chinese.
2. Days of the Week in Chinese with 周 (zhōu)
Now let’s get on with the second, which is the more formal way of saying days of the week by replacing 星期 (xīngqī) with 周 (zhōu).
Do you see how easy this is?
Days of the week with 周 (zhōu) follows the same pattern as 星期 (xīngqī): 周一 (zhōuyī) – “week one”, 周二 (zhōu’èr) – “week two”, 周三 (zhōusān) – “week three, etc.
There is just one catch: when it comes to Sunday, you can only say 周日 (zhōurì), never “周天 (zhōutiān)”.
Essentially, 周 (zhōu) makes the tone sound more serious, and 天 (tiān) makes it more casual. You can’t sound serious and casual at the same time, can you?
MON – SAT 周 (zhōu) + number 1-6
SUN 周 (zhōu) + 日 (rì)
Let’s use this set of words in a sentence.
Today is Thursday.
Nǐ zhōusān yǒu kè ma?
Do you have lessons on Wednesday?
Wǒmen zhōuwǔ wǎnshàng jiàn ba!
Let’s meet on Friday night!
Zhōuliù hé zhōurì wǒ bú shàngbān.
I don’t work on Saturday and Sunday.
Occasionally you might also hear people say “周天 (zhōutiān)” in some areas of China, but that’s coming straight from dialects, definitely not standard Mandarin. So, stick with 周日 (zhōurì) for Sunday!
3. Days of the Week in Chinese with 礼拜 (lǐbài)
Finally, days of the week in casual Chinese. They are just as important to know!
To say the days with 礼拜 (lǐbài), you’ll follow the same formula. Start with 礼拜 (lǐbài), followed by the number 1-6 that corresponds to the day for Monday through Saturday, or the word 日 (rì)/天 (tiān) for Sunday (the latter is even more casual).
|Sunday||礼拜日 or 礼拜天 (more casual)||lǐbàirì or lǐbàitiān|
Now that we know the original meaning of 礼拜 (lǐbài) is worship, it all adds up!
Sunday is thus “worship day”, and the other days of the week were numbered off in sequence after the day of worship: Monday is “worship day plus one”, Tuesday is “worship day plus two”, etc.
You see? That’s the logic behind all the three naming systems!
MON – SAT: 礼拜 (lǐbài) + number 1-6
SUN: 礼拜 (lǐbài) + 日 (rì)/天 (tiān)
Let’s look at some sentence examples with 礼拜 (lǐbài).
Yesterday was Monday.
Lǐbàisān wǒ qù Běijīng.
I’ll go to Beijing on Wednesday.
Lǐbàiwǔ wǎnshàng wǒ kàn le yí bù diànyǐng.
I watched a movie on Friday night.
See you on Sunday!
Using 礼拜 (lǐbài) is just another common way to express the days of the week in spoken Chinese. Most people are not conscious of its origin and there is absolutely no religious connotation for people who use the word!
How to Say Days of a Specific Week in Chinese
As I mentioned earlier, if you want to talk about a specific day of a specific week, it’s better to include a word like “this”, “last” or “next” in the sentence to make it clear.
In Chinese, you can put 这 (zhè), 上 (shàng) or 下 (xià) before the word “week” to specify days of the present week, the previous week or the upcoming week.
|this week||这星期/周/礼拜||zhè xīngqī/zhōu/lǐbài|
|last week||上星期/周/礼拜||shàng xīngqī/zhōu/lǐbài|
|next week||下星期/周/礼拜||xià xīngqī/zhōu/lǐbài|
Zhè xīngqītiān nǐ zuò shénme?
What are you doing this Sunday?
Shàng xīngqīwǔ nǐ qù le nǎr?
Where did you go last Friday?
Xià xīngqīyī wǒ qù bālí.
I will go to Paris next Monday.
Zhè zhōusì wǒ yào chūchāi.
I’ll go on a business trip this Thursday.
Shàng zhōuwǔ wǒ jiàn le wǒ gēge.
I met with my elder brother last Friday.
Xià zhōuèr wǒ bú zài bàngōngshì.
I won’t be at the office next Tuesday.
Zhè lǐbàisān nǐ yǒu méiyǒu kòng?
Do you have time this Wednesday?
Shàng lǐbàisì wǒ xiūjià le.
I was on vacation last Thursday.
Xià lǐbài’èr shì wǒ de shēngrì.
Next Tuesday is my birthday.
How to Ask the Day of the Week in Chinese
Now that you’ve learned all the names of the days, you might be interested in knowing how to ask the day of the week in Chinese as well.
In English, you have to rearrange the word order to form the question. Lucky for you, it’s much easier in Chinese. All you have to do is substitute the actual number marking the day in a statement with the question word 几 (jǐ), meaning “what number”. It works with all three words for “week”.
Let’s look at some examples:
Today is Wednesday.
Jīntiān xīngqī jǐ?
What day is it today?
Tomorrow is Thursday.
Míngtiān zhōu jǐ?
What day is it tomorrow?
Qī yuè sì hào shì lǐbàitiān.
July 4th is Sunday.
Qī yuè sì hào shì lǐbài jǐ?
What day is it on July 4th?
Do you notice the pattern here? The questions always start with the days you want to ask about (e.g, today, tomorrow, July 4th), followed by the word “week”, and then the question word (jǐ) at the end. Always use this formula to ask about the days!
Not sure how to say the dates in Chinese yet? Read our guide here.
Which One Should I Use: 星期 (xīngqī), 周 (zhōu), or 礼拜 (lǐbài)?
You’re probably wondering which word for “week” is used most commonly in Chinese: 星期 (xīngqī), 周 (zhōu), or 礼拜 (lǐbài)? And which set of cognates should you stick to for saying days of the week as a non-native speaker.
Truth is: 星期 (xīngqī), 周 (zhōu), and 礼拜 (lǐbài) are all widely used by native speakers when referring to week. And there is no real difference between the three words except that they come from different origins and are favored by different groups of people:
星期 (xīngqī) is the standard, “officially favored” week that’s taught in Mandarin schools, so you’ll see them all the time on your textbooks. 周 (zhōu) sounds slightly more polished and is preferred by cultivated urban classes (you’ll hear it often in the media, on the news, at your workplace…). And 礼拜 (lǐbài) is very common in informal conversation, even more so in southern China and Taiwan where many dialects, e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien, Shanghainese only use 礼拜 (lǐbài) for week.
So, it won’t really matter which one you use to converse with people being a non-native speaker. It can totally be your personal preference. Unless you must sound very serious or casual, feel free to use the words interchangeably!
That being said, you might want to steer clear of 礼拜 (lǐbài) in writing when you’re in Mainland China. After all, it’s not officially encouraged due to its Western origin. 星期 (xīngqī) and 周 (zhōu) are the only acceptable forms in normal prose, in official announcements, and in other situations where “standard Chinese” is expected.
In contrast, Taiwan is much less rigid in standardizing 星期 (xīngqī). So you can use 礼拜 (lǐbài) safely in both speaking and writing there. (Case in point: when Harry Potter was translated into Chinese, the Mainland versions stick to 星期 xīngqī whereas the Taiwan versions use both)
So, our piece of advice: familiarize yourself with all three sets of words. Because you have an equal chance of hearing them in real life!
Before we wrap things up, let’s take a look at a few more common questions we receive (ones I didn’t already address above).
The week begins with Monday in China. Sunday is the seventh day of the week.
Week is essentially a time interval for measuring duration, therefore, can be used as the measure word itself when counting weeks in Chinese. For example, one week (s’ time) would be
- 一星期 (yì xīngqī)
- 一周 (yì zhōu)
- 一礼拜 (yì lǐbài)
It’s also okay to put 个 (gè) as the measure word before 星期 (xīngqī) or 礼拜 (lǐbài) if you consider them to be nouns, e.g. 一个星期 (yí gè xīngqī), 一个礼拜 (yí gè lǐ bài), but you can’t do the same with 周 (zhōu). It’s always 一周 (yì zhōu), never “一个周 (yí gèzhōu) ”.
You can add the ordinal prefix 第 (dì) before the number to express the sequence. So the first week is 第一星期 (dì yì xīngqī), 第一周 (dì yì zhōu), or 第一礼拜 (dì yì lǐbài), the second week is 第二星期 (dì èr xīngqī), 第二周 (dì èr zhōu), or 第二礼拜 (dì èr lǐbài), and so on.
Depending on whether you want to make yourself sound neutral, formal or casual, you can say it in one of the three ways:
- 今天星期几？Jīntiān xīngqī jǐ? (standard)
- 今天周几？Jīntiān zhōu jǐ? (more formal)
- 今天礼拜几？Jīntiān lǐbài jǐ? (more casual)
“Weekday” in Chinese is 工作日 (gōngzuò rì), literally “work day”. Don’t do the word-for-word translation here (week-day), otherwise, it will end up like “Sunday” in Chinese.
“Weekend” in Chinese is 周末 (zhōumò). Forget about 星期 (xīngqī) or 礼拜 (lǐbài) for a second – 周末 (zhōumò) is the only correct way to say it.
Chinese people don’t really have the habit of wishing someone a nice weekend (or a day), but if you must say, then say 祝你周末愉快 (zhù nǐ zhōumò yúkuài), literally “wish you weekend happy”.
So, here’s a quick summary of what we covered in this article:
- Chinese has three sets of names for the days of the week, based on three different words for “week”. They follow the same formula.
- 星期 (xīngqī) is the officially favored term. 周 (zhōu) is slightly more formal. 礼拜 (lǐbài) is common in casual conversation.
- For Monday through Saturday, add the number (1-6) after 星期 (xīngqī), 周 (zhōu) or 礼拜 (lǐbài).
- For Sunday, you can say 星期日 (xīngqīrì) or 星期天 (xīngqītiān), 礼拜日 (lǐbàirì) or 礼拜天 (lǐbàitiān), but only 周日 (zhōurì).
- To ask the day of the week, simply replace the number in the statement with 几 (jǐ).
We also recommend you combine what you learn in this article with our other free resources:
- How to Say Chinese Numbers
- How to Say Dates in Chinese
- How to Say the Time in Chinese
- Common Time Words in Chinese
- Basic Chinese Words and Phrases
- Basic Chinese Grammar for Beginners
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