Expressing Age in Chinese with 岁 (suì): A Complete Guide
Age is one of the most common things you can talk about in China (not a taboo topic at all). You can easily use 岁 (suì) to say and ask age in Chinese. It works like “years old” in English in some way, but there are a few differences that beginners in Chinese might overlook. In this article, we’ll explore how to express age with 岁 (suì) properly in Chinese.
Let’s get started!
Saying Age in Chinese
Saying your age couldn’t be easier in Chinese, all you have to do is add the word 岁 (suì), meaning “years of age” after the number.
subject + number + 岁 (suì)
This is like saying “someone is … years old” in English. Let’s look at some examples!
Wǒ sān shí suì.
I am thirty years old.
Nǐ èr shí èr suì.
You are twenty-two years old.
Tā bā suì ma?
Is he eight years old?
Wǒ de qīzi èr shí wǔ suì.
My wife is twenty-five years old.
Wǒmen de érzi liǎng suì.
Our son is two years old.
Tāmen de nǚ’ér yí suì.
Their daughter is one year old.
Wǒ de bàba wǔ shí suì.
My dad is fifty years old.
Wǒ de māma yě wǔ shí suì.
My mom is also fifty years old.
Wǒ de nǎinai jīnnián bā shí èr suì.
My grandma is eight-two years old this year.
Nǐ de yéye jīnnián yě bā shí èr suì ma?
Is your grandpa eighty-two years old this year too?
Don’t forget to switch to 两 (liǎng) from 二 (èr) when you want to express “2 years old”! Read this if you don’t know why.
Keep in mind that 岁 (suì) is the measure word for age by itself, as “the year” of age. You don’t need another measure word before the 岁 (suì).
- × 我二十个岁。
wǒ èr shí gè suì.
Don’t use any measure word!
- √ 我二十岁。
Wǒ èr shí suì.
I am twenty years old.
Alert! NEVER use 是 (shì) or 有 (yǒu) to express age! Rookie Mistake!
In some languages, you need to use the verb 是 (shì) or 有 (yǒu) in the sentence to express age. But that would be wrong in Chinese.
- × 我是二十岁。
Wǒ shì èr shí suì.
This is like saying: I am “Twenty-Two” (yep, that’s my name)
- × 我有二十岁。
Wǒ yǒu èr shí suì.
Not making any sense!
Use 半 (bàn) to Express “and a half” in Age
The word for “half” is 半 (bàn) in Chinese. Simply add 半 (bàn) after 岁 (suì) if you want to say “… and a half years old”.
subject + number + 岁 (suì) + 半 (bàn)
Wǒ de érzi yí suì bàn.
My son is one and a half years old.
Wǒ de nǚ’ér liǎng suì bàn.
My daughter is two and a half years old.
Wǒ de māo sān suì bàn.
My cat is three and a half years old.
Asking Age In Chinese
Now that you know how to say your age in Chinese, you might as well want to find out how to ask other people’s age. In Chinese, there are actually several ways to do it. However, as with many expressions in Chinese, you have to be careful of which one to use depending on the person you’re speaking to.
Now, I’ll explain the three most common ways of saying “How old are you?” in Chinese and when to use them.
Two Formal Ways of Asking “How old are you?” in Chinese
There are two standard ways of saying “How old are you?” in Chinese:
- 你几岁？ Nǐ jǐ suì?
- 你多少岁？ Nǐ duōshǎo suì?
Literally, both expressions mean “You (are) how many years of age?”, but they are used for people of different ages.
1. For Kids: 你几岁？ (Nǐ jǐ suì?)
You can use “你几岁？(Nǐ jǐ suì?)” to ask age when someone is a child or sometimes a teenager. It’s certainly not used between adults.
- √ 你的孩子几岁？
Nǐ de háizi jǐ suì?
Unless your child is a grown-up man…
- × 你的妈妈几岁？
Nǐ de māma jǐ suì?
Your mom can’t be a child…
Why can’t you use 几岁 (jǐ suì) for adults?
If you didn’t know yet, there are two question words for asking “how many” in Chinese: 几 (jǐ) and 多少 (duōshǎo). 几 (jǐ) is used only when you expect the number in the answer is small (generally under 10, sometimes under around 15 or at the most under 20). Therefore, it would be inappropriate to use this expression to ask the age of an adult in Chinese.
2. For Adults: 你多少岁？ (Nǐ duōshǎo suì?)
Now, the other question word 多少 (duōshǎo) can be used to ask about any uncertain number, so if you want to ask an adult’s age in Chinese, you need to say “你多少岁？ (Nǐ duōshǎo suì?)” (it’s not used for kids, as you certainly expect the number in the answer to be small).
But if you are asking a person who is a senior or older than you, it’s more appropriate to use the honorific 您 (nín) in the question to show politeness: 您多少岁？(Nín duōshǎo suì?)
You may also use 您 (nín) to people who are younger than you because you want to be polite.
Nǐ de yéye duōshǎo suì?
How old is your grandpa?
Nín de fùqīn duōshǎo suì?
How old is your (honorific) father?
Dān Ní Ěr jīnnián duōshǎo suì?
How old is Daniel this year?
Casual Way of Asking “How old are you?” in Chinese
If you are still (hopefully not) troubled by 几 (jǐ) and 多少 (duōshǎo), then 你多大？(nǐ duō dà?) is your saver. This casual, friendly way of asking “how old are you?” is commonly used for people of all ages.
For Anyone: 你多大？(nǐ duō dà?)
The literal translation of 你多大？(nǐ duō dà?) is “You, how big?”. Sounds weird? Well, this expression is not used to ask your physical size, but your age. You can use it for adults as well as kids. Just remember to switch to the honorific 您 whenever you want to be polite and maintain a level of respect: 您多大？(nín duō dà?)
- 小朋友, 你多大？
Xiǎo péngyou , nǐ duō dà?
Little buddy, how old are you?
- 老爷爷, 您多大？
Lǎo yéye , nín duō dà?
Old grandpa, how old are you?
Nǐ de fùmǔ jīnnián duō dà?
How old are your parents this year?
Nín de háizi jīnnián duō dà?
How old are your (honorific) kids this year?
Quick Recap: Saying and Asking Age in Chinese
Saying age in Chinese is straightforward. Simply add a 岁 (suì) at the end of the number and you’re all good (don’t forget to drop the verbs in the sentence as well). There are three common ways of asking age in Chinese, to people of different ages.
- 你几岁？(Nǐ jǐ suì?) when you talk to a kid
- 你/您多少岁？(Nǐ/Nín duōshǎo suì?) When you talk to an adult
- 你/您多大？(Nǐ/Nín duō dà?) when age is not a concern
Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together, so don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!