Learning numbers in Mandarin Chinese is one of the first few things any learner should pick up.
Whether you’re talking about money, prices, time, days of the week, or dates, you’ll need to understand the number system in Chinese.
It may be interesting to note that people in China and Taiwan don’t necessarily use Chinese characters when writing out numbers.
Often, they’ll use the Arabic numerals as well (0, 1, 2, 3, 4…), which happens to be the most widely adopted numerical system in the world.
That’s because this numbering system is quick and easy to use.
But of course, Chinese characters are still used to denote numbers for various settings, such as checks, banknotes, legal papers, and ceremonial occasions.
And either way, you’ll still need to know how to talk about numbers for your day-to-day conversations. There’s no escaping it.
But thankfully, the numbering system in Chinese isn’t too complicated to grasp.
This guide covers how to count from zero to a million in Mandarin Chinese.
But before we get into big numbers, let’s start with the basics.
Chinese Numbers: 0 to 10
If you want to be able to use numbers in Mandarin Chinese, it all comes down to nailing the numbers 0 to 10.
The number 1 in Chinese is 一 (yī).
Yes, it’s just one horizontal line.
The number 2 is 二 (èr), and 3 is 三 (sān).
Notice a pattern?
Learning Chinese isn’t that difficult after all… right?
Well, judging by what’s been covered so far, you may be tempted to use four horizontal lines to represent 4. But hold your horses.
Everything after 3 is no longer as straightforward.
Here’s how to count from 0 to 10 in Mandarin Chinese.
On an important note, it is crucial that you get the pinyin correct when pronouncing any number (or any word for that matter).
If you haven’t gotten the basics of Chinese pinyin down yet, it’s best to check out some Mandarin Chinese learning resources to fortify your basics first.
Knowing how to pronounce Chinese words correctly is crucial because a slight change in tone can completely alter the meaning of the word.
For instance, new learners tend to mix 四 (sì) and 十 (shí) up due to their similar pronunciations.
Another thing to note is regarding the number 2.
When counting or talking about numbers in general (phone numbers, address, etc.), you will use 二 (èr).
However, when referring to the quantity or measure of something, you will utilize 两 (liǎng) instead.
This also means “two.”
In the third example, you’ll also notice that 两 (liǎng) is used when talking about time.
Chinese Numbers: 10-100
Once you’ve got the basic down, counting upwards from 10 will be much easier.
You’ll begin to notice a pattern as you go up the number scale.
Let’s start with the numbers 11-20 first.
As you may have noticed, the single digits serve as building blocks for number after 10.
For instance, 11 is 十一 (shí yī). 十 (shí ) is 10 in Mandarin, while 一 (yī) is one. It is just a combination of 10 plus 1.
This goes on for the rest of the list.
Let’s move on to 20 and up.
- 21: 二十一 (èrshíyī)
- 22: 二十二 (èrshí’èr)
- 23: 二十三 (èrshísān)
二十 (èr shí) means 20, but you can liken this to “two tens.”
So 二十一 (èrshíyī) is “two tens plus one.”
And you’ll keep this pattern going as you go up. You can do this all the way up to 99.
Essentially, all digits below 99 are made up of the basic numbers 1 to 10!
- 30: 三十 (sānshí)
- 32: 三十二 (sānshí’èr)
- 50: 五十 (wǔshí)
- 54: 五十四 (wǔshísì)
- 78: 七十八 (qīshíbā)
- 99: 九十九 (jiǔshíjiǔ)
And that’s why mastering the basic 1-10 is important.
You can get away with just that up until 99.
So what’s 100, then?
100 in Mandarin Chinese is 一百 (yībǎi).
百 (bǎi) translates to “hundred,” and 一 (yī) is 1.
Putting that together, you’ll get 一百 (yībǎi), which means 100.
Chinese Numbers: 100 to 1,000
When talking about numbers in the hundreds, the word 百 becomes the star of the show.
Here’s how to count after 100 in Mandarin Chinese.
- 101: 一百零一 (yībǎi líng yī)
- 102: 一百零二 (yībǎi líng èr)
- 103: 一百零三 (yībǎi líng sān)
- 104: 一百零四 (yībǎi líng sì)
Now you’ll notice that there a 零 (líng) in each number above.
As a heads up, you’ll see it appear in the numbers 101 to 109.
It’s important to have the 零 in these cases because dropping it would alter the meaning and cause confusion.
To help you remember this better, you can liken the 零 to “and” in “a hundred and one,” “a hundred and two,” and so on.
Let’s continue up the number line.
- 110: 一百一十 (yībǎi yīshí)
- 111: 一百一十一 (yībǎi yīshíyī)
- 112: 一百一十二 (yībǎi yīshí’èr)
- 113: 一百一十三 (yībǎi yīshísān)
- 120: 一百二十 (yībǎi èrshí)
- 130: 一百三十 (yībǎi sānshí)
- 140: 一百四十 (yībǎi sìshí)
For the numbers 110, 120, 130, 140, and so on, you can drop the 十 (shí).
This means that you can say 一百一 (yībǎi yī), 一百二 (yībǎi èr), 一百三 (yībǎi sān), and that would be perfectly correct.
Because of this, you may now realize the importance of including 零 to differentiate 110 from 101.
一百一 (yībǎi yī) refers to 110, while 一百零一 (yībǎi líng yī) refers to 101. Likewise, 一百二 (yībǎi èr) is 120, while 一百零二 (yībǎi líng èr) is 102.
Here are some examples of numbers in the 100s.
Let’s move on.
Since you now know that 百 translates to “hundred,” you should be able to get the hang of the following fairly quickly.
- 200: 两百 (liǎng bǎi) / 二百 (èrbǎi)
- 300: 三百 (sānbǎi)
- 400: 四百 (sìbǎi)
- 500: 五百 (wǔbǎi)
- 600: 六百 (liùbǎi)
- 700: 七百 (qībǎi)
- 800: 八百 (bābǎi)
- 900: 九百 (jiǔbǎi)
All the same concepts we have learned above applies until you reach 1,000.
For example, 510 is 五百一 (wǔbǎi yī) or 五百一十 (wǔbǎi yīshí). Meanwhile, 501 is 五百零一 (wǔbǎi líng yī).
Don’t forget to include the 零 to differentiate 501 from 510.
Here are some examples you can use to check your understanding thus far.
- 301: 三百零一 (sānbǎi líng yī)
- 565: 五百六十五 (wǔbǎi liùshíwǔ)
- 732: 七百三十二 (qībǎi sānshí’èr)
- 890: 八百九十 (bābǎi jiǔshí)
- 945: 九百四十五 (jiǔbǎi sìshíwǔ)
Once you’ve understood the basics, everything else will come naturally.😊
Now that you’ve mastered three-digit numbers, let’s move on to 1,000 and up.
1,000 in Mandarin Chinese is 一千 (yīqiān).
As you would already know by now, 一 (yī) is “one,” while 千 (qiān) translates to “thousand.”
Chinese Numbers: 1,000 to 10,000
Don’t be scared off by the big numbers in Chinese.
Everything else will be a breeze if you’ve got the basics locked down.
Now that you know 一千 (yīqiān) is 1,000, you would be able to count the thousands up until 10,000, when you’ll be introduced to another new word.
Let’s go down the list:
- 2,000: 两千 (liǎng qiān) / 二千(èr qiān)
- 3,000: 三千 (sānqiān)
- 4,000: 四千 (sìqiān)
- 5,000: 五千 (wǔqiān)
- 6,000: 六千 (liùqiān)
- 7,000: 七千 (qīqiān)
- 8,000: 八千 (bāqiān)
- 9,000: 九千 (jiǔqiān)
Again, the same concept applies if you’d like to be more specific with numbers in the thousands.
For instance, 3454 would be 三千四百五十四 (sānqiān sìbǎi wǔshísì).
The format is extremely similar to English, where the order goes from thousands to hundreds to tens.
Here are some things to take note of:
- 1001 will have the 零 (líng) in it. With this in mind, 1001 is 一千零一 (yīqiān líng yī). As we’ve covered before, you can liken the 零 (líng) is “and” in “a thousand and one.”
- 1010 is 一千零十 (yīqiān líng shí). Again, the 零 (líng) can be likened to “and” in “a thousand and ten.”
- 1100 is 一千一百 (yīqiān yībǎi).
This can be understandably confusing at first.
But just keep this in mind:
Whenever a number has the digit 0 (or a string of zeros) in between two digits that aren’t zero themselves, then you’ll need to insert the 零 (líng).
For instance, 1003 has a string of zeros between 1 and 3, and that’s why you’ll need to say 一千零三 (yīqiān líng sān) and not just 一千三 (yīqiān sān).
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! 😊 But we’ve got a little more to cover.
Let’s move on to even larger numbers.
10,000 in Chinese is 一万 (yī wàn). 万 (wàn), in this case, stands for ten thousand.
Extra-Large Chinese Numbers: 10,000 to 1,000,000
In English, we group up numbers by the thousands.
For instance, 100,000 is ‘a hundred thousand.’
In Mandarin, though, the numbers are grouped by 10,000s.
Applying this concept, you’ll find that 100,000 becomes 十万 (shí wàn).
Since 万 (wàn) means “ten thousand,” 十万 (shí wàn) literally translates to “ten of ten thousand.”
100,000 is simply 10,000 multiplied by 10, so by doing some simple Maths, everything will add up.
20,000 in Chinese is 二十万 (èrshí wàn), 30,000 is 三十万 (sānshí wàn), and so on.
So if 十万 (shí wàn) stands for 100,000, what’s a million in Mandarin Chinese, then?
Well, one million in Mandarin is 1,000,000 一百万 (yìbǎi wàn). This directly translates to “a hundred of ten thousand.”
Again, you’re grouping the number by the ten thousands and not thousands.
Real-life usage of Chinese Numbers
Now that you understand the basics of counting in Mandarin Chinese, let’s explore some real-life scenarios where you can apply what we’ve learned.
Number of objects or people
Measure words, such as “two pieces of paper” or “three loaves of bread,” are often used together with a number to indicate the quantity of something.
In Mandarin, you will have to use measure words in combination with numbers when talking about the amount of a specific thing.
It may take some time to get used to the different measure words used for different objects.
Here are some examples:
- 两本书 (liǎng běn shū): Two books
- 三辆车 (sān liàng chē): Three cars
- 五只狗 (wǔ zhǐ gǒu): Five dogs
- 三个人 (sān gèrén): Three people
The second character in each example is the measure word.
Also, take note that 两 (liǎng), and not 二, is always used with measure words to indicate quantity.
If you’d like to give your handphone number to someone, here’s how you can do so.
When giving out phone numbers or addresses, yāo is used to say 一 (one) instead of (yī).
This is because 一 (yī) sounds like 七 (qī) in Chinese.
This avoids any confusion and ensures the other party gets the right number.
Telling the time
Let’s learn the basics of telling the time in Chinese.
点钟 (diǎn zhōng) stands for “o’clock” in Mandarin. So “one o’clock” is 一点钟 (yīdiǎn zhōng).
You can leave out the 钟 (zhōng), especially in more casual conversations.
两点 (liǎng diǎn) means “two o’clock.”
Again, 两 (liǎng) is used instead of 二 when talking about time.
We have a complete guide on talking about time in Mandarin Chinese, so feel free to check it out.
Talking about prices
钱 (qián) means “money” in Chinese.
You can either say 一元钱 (yīyuán qián) or 一块钱 (yīkuài qián), both of which mean “one dollar.”
元钱 is reserved for more formal situations, while 块钱 is used in casual, day-to-day conversations.
Just replace the 一 accordingly to state different prices.
For instance, 五块钱 (wǔ kuài qián) or 五元钱 (wǔ yuán qián) means “five dollars,” or more specifically, “five Chinese yuan.”
Once you know the basics, talking about numbers in Mandarin Chinese is a breeze.
The basic numbers 0 to 10 form the building blocks for talking about larger numbers.
This is the best place to start.
Of course, the actual application of Chinese numbers in daily conversations will take some getting used to.
And there are several concepts you will need to keep in mind, such as when to use 两 (liǎng) instead of 二 (èr).
Learning Chinese numbers is definitely something to pick up if you’re keen on speaking and mastering this language!
Do you know of any other interesting ways to apply your knowledge of Chinese numbers in real-life settings?
If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!