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A Simple Guide to Chinese Numbers 

 January 12, 2020

By  Vicky Yi

No matter what foreign language you learn, numbers are always an unavoidable part for beginners. Today, we will have a look at how to speak and write numbers in Chinese. It may have some tricks but don’t worry, I'm here to help you slay it!

How to tell Chinese numbers from 0 – 10

First, let’s get started with the very basic 0 -10.

In Chinese, numbers from 0 to 10 are unique and therefore need to be memorized individually. Other numbers bigger than 10 are combined on the basis of 0-10.

Number

Hanzi

Pinyin

0

零/〇

Líng

1

2

二/两

Èr/ Liǎng

3

Sān

4

5

6

Liù

7

8

9

Jiǔ

10

Shí

One thing to note is that number 2 can be read or written as 二(Èr)or 两( Liǎng). 两( Liǎng)is more commonly used in spoken language, and二(Èr)more commonly used in written language.

How to tell Chinese numbers 11- 20

After mastering 0-10, 11-19 is much easier. In general, they are a combination of the number 10 and another number 1-9

For example, 11 can be recognized by using 10 + 1 (read as “shí yī ”), 12 by 10 + 2 (read as “ shí èr ”).

It should be noted that though二(Èr)or 两( Liǎng)can be used individually, there is no something like 十两 (shí liǎng)since 两(liǎng) is also a measure unit for weight in Chinese, so normally, 十两 (shí liǎng)means 10 units of 两(liǎng). Only 十二(shí èr )is correct.

In short, you could memorize as  二(Èr) can be used in any digit, like 12, 42, 234,or 2345, while 两 ( Liǎng)cannot be used at the end of any number except just one digit , number 2. For numbers like 234 or 2345,since its 2 is not the last digit, so you could use 两( Liǎng)here.

And for number 20, it could be recognized as 2*10,read as “èr shí ”.

Number

Hanzi

Pinyin

11

十一

Shí yī

12

十二

Shí èr

13

十三

Shí sān

14

十四

Shí sì

15

十五

Shí wǔ

16

十六

Shí liù

17

十七

Shí qī

18

十八

Shí bā

19

十九

Shí jiǔ

20

二十

Èr shí

How to tell Chinese numbers 21-99

From 21-99, it should be pretty straightforward with the same theory applying for every number. In short, we can use ten ( 十, read as“shí”) as a basic unit.

For example, 21 by using  2 *10 +1 , writing as “二十一“ (read as“ èr shí yī ”) , 56 would be 5*10+6 ,writing as ”五十六“ (read as“wǔ shí liù”), and 99 would be 9*10+9,writing as “九十九“ (read as “ jiǔ shí jiǔ ”).

Big Chinese Numbers – some specific characters you need to know

Beyond the number 99, when counting in Chinese, you need to use characters that represent hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, etc… as this might seem confusing

Number

Hanzi

Pinyin

100

(一)百

( Yī )bǎi

1,000

(一)千

( Yī) qiān

10,000

(一)万

( Yī )wàn

100,000

十万

Shí wàn

1,000,000

(一)百万

( Yī )bǎi wàn

10,000,000

(一)千万

( Yī)qiān wàn

100,000,000

(一)亿

( Yī) yì

1,000,000,000

十亿

Shí yì

First, let’s start with some basic one. 百(bǎi),千(qiān) and 万(wàn). And the last one, 亿 (yì), we will learn it later.

   百 (bǎi) as a “measure word” for hundreds

   Example: 999 = 九百 九 十九 = 9*100 + 9*10 +9 ,read as “ jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

   千 (qiān) as a “measure word” for thousands

   Example :9,999 = 九千 九百 九 十九 = 9*1000 +9*100 + 9*10 +9 ,read as “jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

   万 (wàn) as a”measure word” for tens of thousands

   Example: 99,999 = 九万 九千 九百 九 十九 = 9*10000 + 9*1000 + 9*100 + 9*10 + 9,read as “Jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

    After “万” (wàn), the next digit, the unit of hundreds of thousands is “十万”(Shí wàn) ,which is a combination of “十 ”( Shí ) and “万”( wàn),it could be recognized as 10 * tens of thousands. There is no single character to represent it.

   Example: 999,999 = 九十九万 九千 九百 九 十九 = 90*10000 + 9*10000 + 9*1000 + 9*100 + 9*10 + 9,read as “ jiǔ shí Jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

    The next digit, the unit of millions is “百万”( bǎi wàn) ,which is a combination of “百 ”( bǎi)  and “万”( wàn),it could be recognized as 100 * tens of thousands. There is no single character to represent it.

   Example: 9,999,999 = 九百九十九万 九千 九百 九 十九 = 900*10000 + 90*10000 + 9*10000 + 9*1000 + 9*100 + 9*10 + 9,read as “jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí Jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

    And the next digit, the unit of tens of millions is “千万” (qiān wàn) , which is a combination of “千 ”(qiān )  and “万”( wàn),it could be recognized as 100 * tens of thousands. There is no single character to represent it, neither.

    Example: 99,999,999 =九千九百九十九万 九千 九百 九 十九 = 9000*10000 + 900*10000 + 90*10000 + 9*10000 + 9*1000 + 9*100 + 9*10 + 9,read as “ jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí Jiǔ wàn jiǔ qiān jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ ”.

    Ok, by far, I hope you didn’t get confused.

After “千万” (qiān wàn),finally, here is a single character to represent hundreds of million, that character is “亿” (yì). 

And similar to“十万”(Shí wàn),“十亿“(Shí yì) means 10* hundreds of million, which is represented billions. So, could you guess what is “百亿“( bǎi yì)  and “千亿” (qiān yì) ?

How to tell big Chinese numbers - Different Units

Why don’t Chinese people directly count from thousands to millions just like Westerners do? The answer to this question is the key concept to read all kinds of numbers in Chinese!

For the ease of the reader, when writing big numbers, Westerners normally separate them with a comma, in groups of 3 digits, from right to left (e.g. 99,999), every 3 digits represent thousands, millions, and billions.

When counting in Chinese, numbers are generally separated (from right to left) in groups of 4 digits: 99,999 ⇒ 9,9999

To sum up

Chinese has two units that English doesn't have (or at least, it has unique words for these units, whereas English describes them with combinations of other units). These are:

   万 (wàn): ten thousand

   亿 (yì): hundred million

When counting big numbers in Chinese, it would be better to separate them into groups of 4 digits and to keep in mind that each group of 4 contains the sequence “千 – 百 – 十 – 个” (thousands-hundreds-tens-units).

   “万”(ten thousands)is the basic unit for this next 4 digits. From left to right are“千万 – 百万 – 十万 – 万” ( ten millions – millions – hundred thousands – ten thousands). 

The next digit after 千万(ten millions) is 亿 (hundred millions),From left to right are “ 千亿 - 百亿 – 十亿 – 亿 (ten billions – billions – thousands millions – hundreds millions).

Mini – test

So, after learning the content above, I believe that the following ia a piece of cake for you.

Use the number we’ve given you and try to practice Chinese in both writing and speaking.

6

Click to reveal the correct answer

17

Click to reveal the correct answer

48

Click to reveal the correct answer

362

Click to reveal the correct answer

4789

Click to reveal the correct answer

15785

Click to reveal the correct answer

456790

Click to reveal the correct answer

3333333

Click to reveal the correct answer

123456789

Click to reveal the correct answer

Keep practicing…

Whether you’ve struggled with telling number in Chinese or found it pretty easy, practicing it Chinese daily will help you get to grips with telling the numbers

Numbers are used often in everyday life, so the more you speak, the more opportunity you’ll get to practice them and the more perfect your Chinese will be! If you know any native Chinese-speakers, try and practice what you’ve learned with them.

Good luck and have fun!

Vicky Yi


Vicky Yi is a language enthusiast. She has some experience in teaching Chinese to foreigners. Previously a journalist in one of the most influential press media in China, she now devotes herself into experiencing various cultures and the beautiful world.

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