A Beginner’s How-To Guide for Chinese Numbers and Counting in Mandarin
Counting in Chinese can be confusing, overwhelming and intimidating. But have no fear - let's break this down together and see how you can easily learn Chinese numbers in 5 minutes!
It doesn't take a scientist to know that Mandarin can be a tricky language to learn. Hence, it's no surprise to learn that counting in Chinese is not exactly like the way we do in English. It can be confusing, overwhelming and intimidating. But have no fear - let's break this down together and see how you can easily learn Chinese numbers in 5 minutes!
Before we get to the actual counting, let's refresh our minds with the term "中文數字" (zhōngwén shùzì). This is the Chinese phrase for the term Chinese numerology/Chinese numbers. The phrase can be shortened to "數字" as a way to describe numbers. For example, if the restaurant cashier wants to ask for the last four digits of your phone number, they might say "您手機號碼最後四個數字是什麼？" (Nín shǒujī hàomǎ zuìhòu sì gè shùzì shì shénme) With that in mind, let's get right into counting in Mandarin.
Level One: Basic Chinese Numbers From 1-100
While the numbers 1-10 seem like basic Chinese numbers to know, they're actually quite important to remember. They set the foundation for all of the numbers in Mandarin.
- 一 （yī）- one (1)
- 二 (èr) - two (2)
- 三 (sān) - three (3)
- 四 (sì) - four (4)
- 五 (wǔ) - five (5)
- 六 (liù) - six (6)
- 七 (qī) - seven (7)
- 八 (bā) - eight (8)
- 九 (jiǔ) - nine (9)
- 十 (shí) - ten (10)
- 零 (líng) - zero (0)
Not too bad, right? Well, when you're learning Chinese numbers, there's a few points to remember.
The number two (二）used in this form is mostly used as the most straightforward form of the word - just the number two. For example, if someone were to ask: What numbers are on the raffle ticket? You may respond "5-8-2-0" or "五-八-二-零".
But, on the otherhand, if there were two apples sitting on the counter, you would use a measure word to signify a quantity or to count, as shown here: "兩顆蘋果" (liǎng kē píngguǒ). The word "兩 (liǎng)" is a very important and useful basic Chinese word to know.
Moving forward, when you're counting numbers in Chinese, it starts to get fun. Let's start with the number eleven. It can be broken down into two parts - 十 (shí) and 一 (yī). From above, you know that 十 is the number 10 and 一 is the number 1. What's 10 + 1? 11! With this logic, that's essentially how you count up to 99. When you reach 100, a new term is introduced. Here's a list with a few important milestone numbers. Try to fill in the number gaps yourself or consult a Speechling teacher for some help!
- 十一 (shíyī) - eleven (11)
- 十二 (shíèr) - twelve (12)
- 十三 (shísān) - thirteen (13)
- 十四 (shísì) - fourteen (14)
- 十五 (shíwǔ) - fifteen (15)
- 十六 (shíliù) - sixteen (16)
- 十七 (shíqī) - seventeen (17)
- 十八 (shíbā) - eighteen (18)
- 十九 (shíjiǔ) - nineteen (19)
- 二十 (èrshí) - twenty (20)
- 三十 (sānshí) - thirty (30)
- 四十 (sìshí) - forty (40)
- 五十 (wǔshí) - fifty (50)
- 六十 (liùshí) - sixty (60)
- 七十 (qīshí) - seventy (70)
- 八十 (bāshí) - eighty (80)
- 九十 (jiǔshí) - ninety (90)
- 一百 (yībǎi）- one hundred (100)
If you need more help with these basic Chinese numbers, you can try using this classic Chinese kids song to learn more.
Level Two: Chinese Numbers 100-999
Here's where we get into the nitty-gritty. The trickiest part is early on, and everything after is smooth sailing. Similar to counting after 10, counting after the number 100 is a little different. Let's take the number 101 to start. There are actually two ways Chinese speakers will count out this number：
- 一百零一 (yībǎilíngyī） OR 一零一 (yīlíngyī) - one hundred one (101)
The first way is the formal way to say the full number. The second is very similar to the way English speakers will say "one-oh-one" instead of "one hundred and one". This is the same for numbers 101-109. When it comes to 110 and beyond, there's another rule to remember.
With numbers 110-119, you cannot leave out the crucial additional "一" when counting out loud. It provides better pronounciation and rolls off the tongue. For example:
- One hundred ten (110) 一百一十 (yībǎiyī shí)
- One hundred eleven (111) 一百一十一 (yībǎiyī shíyī)
- One hundred twelve (112) 一百一十二 (yībǎiyī shíèr)
NOT One hundred eleven (111) 一百十一 (yībǎishíyī)
The logic behind this remains the same as the above when counting out 11, 20, or 30s. With 30, you have "three (3) tens" so Chinese counting would result in "三十". With 110, you have "one (1) hundred + one (1) ten" thus literally translated to 一百一十. If we were to progress to 120, 121...the formula remains the same!
- One hundred twenty (120) 一百二[十] (yībǎi èrshí)
- One hundred twenty-one (121) 一百二十一 (yībǎi èrshí yī)
- One hundred twenty-two (122) 一百二十二 (yībǎi èrshí èr)
But with numbers that end with a zero (零）, you can actually leave out the extra (十).
- One hundred twenty (120) 一百二[十] (yībǎi èrshí) OR 一百二 (yībǎi èr)
- One hundred thirty (130) 一百三[十] (yībǎi sānshí) OR 一百三 (yībǎi sān)
- One hundred forty (140) 一百四[十] (yībǎi sìshí) OR 一百四 (yībǎi sì)
Still following along? Great! Last point to remember: the number 200 has two different pronounciations - both of which are correct.
- Two hundred (200) 二百 (èrbǎi) OR 两百 (liǎngbǎi)
Here are a few higher Chinese numbers to get you started. If you want more resources for counting in Mandarin, check out this video!
三百 (sānbǎi) – three hundred (300)
四百 (sìbǎi) – four hundred (400)
五百 (wǔbǎi) – five hundred (500)
六百 (liùbǎi) – six hundred (600)
七百 (qībǎi) – seven hundred (700)
八百 (bābǎi) – eight hundred (800)
九百 (jiǔbǎi) – nine hundred (900)
一百九十五 (yìbǎi jiǔshíwǔ) - one hundred ninety five (195)
七百四十五 (qībǎi sìshíwǔ) - seven hundred forty five (745)
九百九十九 (jiǔbǎi jiǔshíjiǔ) - nine hundred ninety nine (999)
Level Three: 1000, 10k, 1M, 1B in Chinese
Any number above 1000 has it's own word. Similar to (十) and (百), 1000 also has its own word. Each word listed below is denoted by the number of zeros it has.
- 一千 (yīqiān) - one thousand (1,000)
- 萬/万 (wàn) - ten thousand (10,000)
- 十 萬/万 (shí wàn) - one hundred thousand (100,000)
- 一百 萬/万 (yìbǎi wàn) - one million (1,000,000)
- 一千 萬/万 (yīqiān wàn) - ten million (10,000,000)
- 億/亿 (yì) - one hundred million (100,000,000)
- 十 億/亿 (shí yì) - one billion (1,000,000,000)
The same technique applies when counting any other number above 1000. Here are a few numbers to get you started. Try making some up on your own!
- 三千七百四十五 (sānqiān qībǎi sìshíwǔ) - 3,745
- 兩萬九千九百九十九 (liǎngwàn jiǔqiān jiǔbǎi jiǔshíjiǔ) - 29,999
- 二十九萬 (èrshí jiǔwàn) - 290,000
Counting in Chinese Can be Tricky
Mandarin numbers can be a bit confusing the higher you go, but once you get the hang of it, you'll see it's actually quite intuitive.
Do you still remember the number two - 二 (èr)? The measure word when counting versus the number itself is important to keep distinguished. For more on Chinese measure words, check out the blog post.
To practice your Chinese counting, utilize the words as often as possible. Count the items around you, or even the apples on display at the grocery store! Anytime you see a number, try translating it into Chinese.
With any language, practice is key. The more often you count in Mandarin, the more comfortable you'll be!