The Ultimate Guide for Numbers in Chinese
Learning to say numbers is a very important aspect of any foreign language, and it can be quite easy.
Chinese numbers are one of the easiest things to learn because the number system is rational, without many exceptions and variations to the general rules.
With just a few characters, you’ll be able to say any number you want.
Counting in Chinese is less complicated than you might think; you only need to follow simple rules and learn a few characters.
Numbers in Chinese: 1 to 10
While the Chinese writing system is complicated, the Chinese number system is very simple.
If you know the numbers from 1–10 in Chinese, you can count up to 99. Convenient, right?
The table below shows the numbers from 1–10, along with their pronunciation.
Chinese numbers: 11–19
Numbers from 11–19 are formed by adding numbers 1–9 after the number ten. For example, eleven is ten plus one, twelve is ten plus two, and so on.
Here’s a more visual explanation:
|11: 十 + 一 = 十一|
|12: 十 + 二 = 十二|
|13: 十 + 三 = 十三|
|14: 十 + 四 = 十四|
|15: 十 + 五 = 十五|
|16: 十 + 六 = 十六|
|17: 十 + 七 = 十七|
|18: 十 + 八 = 十八|
|19: 十 + 九 = 十九|
of higher numbers in Chinese
Pretty easy, right? Let’s move on to numbers 20–99.
Chinese numbers from 20 to 99
From the number twenty, numbers in Chinese start to be more complex but still very intuitive.
To say any Chinese numbers above twenty, you must multiply numbers 2–9 by ten.
Here is a visual representation:
|20 = 二 times 十 = 二十|
the two in front of ten
Then you will then need to add the units to the right, for example:
|25 = 2 times 10 + 5 = 二十五|
|57 = 5 times 10 + 7 = 五十七|
20–99 in Chinese
And so on for all other numbers up to 99.
Look at the table below:
Chinese numbers above 100
Numbers from 100–10,000 follow the same rules; you just need to know a few more characters.
- 百 100 hundred (bǎi)
- 千 1,000 thousand (qiān)
- 万 10,000 ten thousand (wàn)
- 亿 100,000,000 hundred million (yì)
As you can see, there’s a word for a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, and a hundred million.
However, there is no word for one million or one billion, so you need to use some math.
It can be tricky, but it’s not complicated to understand, so you’ll need a little practice becoming fluent in Chinese numbers.
You can find some examples below.
|30,000 三万 (it’s like you are saying “three tens of thousands”)|
A trick you can use is to look at the digits in groups of four instead of three: after the first four digits, there is a 万, and after the other four, you have a 亿.
You can also look at this table for reference:
|100||One hundred||一百||yī bǎi|
|1,000||One thousand||一千||yī qiān|
|10,000||Ten thousand||一万||yī wàn|
|100,000||A hundred thousand||十万||shí wàn|
|1,000,000||One million||一百万||yī bǎi wàn|
|10,000,000||Ten millon||一千万||yī qiān wàn|
|100,000,000||A hundred million||一亿||yī yì|
|1,000,000,000||One billion||十亿||shí yì|
On Youtube you can find useful videos explaining the subject:
To better grasp these numbers, try to write them or listen to them while writing them down. The most difficult thing, especially with particularly big numbers, is to be able to think about how to say a number on the spot.
You probably won’t need to do this in everyday life. However, if you plan to work with Chinese, there might be some situations where you might be acquainted with using big numbers.
Chinese numbers from 101–109
When you count from 101–109, there’s a little rule you need to remember.
In Chinese, you must say “one hundred zero and one.”
Take a look:
- 一百零一 or 一百〇一 (yìbǎi líng yī): one hundred and one (101)
- 一百零二 or 一百〇二 (yìbǎi líng èr): one hundred and two (102)
Why? Because for numbers ending with a zero, like 110, 120, 130, etc., you can omit the 十. So you can say 130, you can say一百三十 or 一百三.
That’s why numbers 101–109 have to be said with a zero. If you leave out the zero, you might be saying 110-190.
Even if there are two consecutive zeros in one number, you can pronounce one of them.
- 3,005 三千零五 (sānqiān líng wǔ)
Remember not to pronounce 0 (or a group of 0) when it is at the end of a number
- 8,000 八千 (bāqiān)
- 8,400 八千四百 (bāqiān sìbǎi)
Now, you can put all we have learned together to form bigger and more complex numbers, for example:
|256 = 2 times 100 + 5 times 10 + 6 = 二百 +五十 + 六 = 二百五十六|
|6031 = 6 times 1000 + 0 + 3 times 10 + 6 = 六千 + 零 + 三十 + 一 =六千零三十一|
Counter words: remember to use them!
Remember that any time you are counting things, you need to use a number before the counter word (with just a few exceptions), meaning the counter word is between the number and the noun.
There are many different measure words, and you have to choose them according to the noun they will be followed by.
Some indicate a portion of something, or the packaging something comes in, while others are based on the object’s shape.
Number one: 一 or 幺?
When giving out a phone number or area code, to avoid confusion, you shall use 幺 (yāo) instead of 一 (yī) to say one. The reason is that the number 1 (yī) sounds similar to 7 (qī) when speaking quickly or over the phone.
Number two: 二 or 两?
The number two is special. When counting objects in Chinese with the number 2 (e.g., two apples, two shoes), we use 两 (liǎng) + measure word instead of 二 (èr).
For example, two people would be 两个人. Remember, if you have to use a measure word (个, 只, 张, and so on) with 两 for the number two.
The 二 character is only used in cases where the number is used individually, such as in telephone numbers, birth dates, and street numbers. It’s also used in counting to form larger numbers that have 2 in it, such as twenty (二十), thirty-two (三十二), and so forth.
However, to say two hundred, two thousand, and twenty thousand, you can use either 两 or 二. For example, 两百 or 二百 would work, 两千 or 二千 would work, and 两万 or 二万 would also work.
Ordinal numbers in Chinese
Are Mandarin Chinese numbers too good to be true? Yeah, Chinese ordinal numbers are simple as well.
You have to add the word 第 (dì) before the number for it to become ordinal. So 第一 (dì yī) would be “first,” 第二 (dì èr) would be “second (2nd),” and so on.
Chinese finger counting
In many cultures, we count with our fingers by simply holding up as many fingers equal to the number we want to communicate.
While 1–5 is OK in China, 6–10 can be inconvenient if the other hand is busy. They found a way to communicate numbers from 1 to 10 with one hand.
This counting gesture is an interesting fact about Chinese culture, and learning to use these gestures in real life will make you look more like a native.
Chinese lucky and unlucky numbers
Chinese people are very superstitious. Similar to many cultures, numbers play an important role in their lives. Some numbers are considered lucky, while others are believed to bring bad luck.
Let’s see them and explore the reasons for these beliefs!
4 四 (sì)—the worst number
Four is considered a very unlucky number. Why?
Mandarin Chinese has a high amount of homophony—meaning many different words have the same pronunciation.
四 (sì) has the same pinyin as 死, which means death.
It’s not just a weird superstition; it’s also very important in everyday life! For example, if you find yourself in an elevator in China, you will notice no fourth floor or floor containing the number four.
Another example is 14, which is considered a very unlucky number as well because you can pronounce it as “幺四,” while on the phone, which is close to “要死” or “going to die.”
8 八 (bā)—the luckiest number
8 is considered the luckiest number in China.
This number is associated with wealth. In Chinese, 八 is pronounced bā, which sounds similar to fā (发, traditional character: 發) as in 发财, “to become rich.”
Chinese people tend to choose ‘8’ as the time or date to hold important events. For example, China held the Olympic Games in 2008. The opening ceremony occurred at the exact time of 8:08:08pm on 08/08/2008.
You can see the lucky number 8 in many other cases, such as for house numbers, phone numbers, car plates, and wedding dates.
9 九 (jiŭ)—another lucky number
Number 9 in Chinese is another lucky number. It has the same pinyin and tone as the character 久, jiŭ, which means “eternity” or “everlasting.”
For that reason, some specific dates containing this number are frequently chosen for weddings in China, and it’s common to gift 99 roses on Valentine’s Day.
Slang phrases with numbers
Numbers are also used to form slang that young people use, especially on the internet or through text messages.
520—I love you
Young people in China often use 520 to express love to each other. That’s because, in Chinese, the pronunciation of 520 (五二零 wŭ èr líng) sounds quite similar to wǒ ài nǐ (我爱你), which means “I love you.”
Here’s another love declaration. This number, when read in Chinese (yī sān yī sì), sounds similar to the chengyu meaning “all one’s life” or “forever”（一生一世 yī shēng yī shì ).
This slang phrase doesn’t originate from the pronunciation of the number; it comes from a Chinese story.
In ancient times, coins were placed together in stacks of 1000. As a way of showing modesty and self-deprecation, Chinese scholars used to call themselves “500,” meaning “half a stack.” So, 250 (二百五 èr bǎi wǔ) is half of half a stack, meaning “very dumb.”
You can find a complete list of slang numbers and use it as a dictionary to decode any mysterious numbers your Chinese friend sends you.
Learning Chinese numbers is pretty easy. While it can be confusing once you get to higher numbers, it’s important to keep practicing and read numbers out loud to get the hang of it.
Elisa Felici has been studying Chinese since 2014. She started her language-learning journey at Italian universities and lived in Beijing while attending Beijing’s Confucius Institute. Elisa passed HSK 4 and 5 and finally, in 2020, HSK 6. She now has a Master’s degree in translation and interpreting and has experience not only as a language learner but also as a Chinese teacher and translator.