第 (dì) + number
How to express numbers in Mandarin Chinese?
This post offers a comprehensive explanation of Chinese numbers, enabling you to use a wide range of Chinese numbers effectively.
In Chinese, apart from zero to ten, the only other numbers you need to remember are hundred ,百 (bǎi) thousand 千 (qiān), ten thousand 万 (wàn), and a hundred million 亿 (yì). You can pretty much mix and match the above numbers to make up all other Chinese numbers. However, you need to learn the rules to know how to combine Chinese numbers. The main systematic difference between Chinese and English numbers is that numbers are grouped by four zeroes in Chinese rather than three zeroes like in English. Intrigued? Dive in to find out more!
We will also discuss:
How to form ordinal numbers
How to read decimals, fractions, and percentages
How to express approximations
How to say “two”
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is the number system in Mandarin Chinese?
Let us start with the number system in Mandarin Chinese:
Number | Mandarin | Pinyin | Notes |
---|---|---|---|
0 | 零 | líng | |
1 | 一 | yī | |
2 | 二 | èr | |
3 | 三 | sān | |
4 | 四 | sì | |
5 | 五 | wǔ | |
6 | 六 | liù | |
7 | 七 | qī | |
8 | 八 | bā | |
9 | 九 | jiǔ | |
10 | 十 | shí | |
100 | 一百 | yībǎi | |
1,000 (thousand) | 一千 | yīqiān | (Chinese mental division) |
10,000 | 一万 | yīwàn | 1’0000 |
100,000 | 十万 | shíwàn | 10’0000 |
1,000,000 (million) | 一百万 | yībǎi wàn | 100’0000 |
10,000,000 | 一千万 | yīqiān wàn | 1000’0000 |
100,000,000 | 一亿 | yīyì | 1’0000’0000 |
1,000,000,000 (billion) | 十亿 | shíyì | 10’0000’0000 |
In Chinese, the numbers 1-10 can make up many other numbers. For example, numbers between 10-19 follow the pattern of 10 + 1-9, e.g. 11 will be 10 + 1, which is 十 (10) + 一 (1) (shí + yī) = 十一 (shíyī). Similarly, numbers between 20-29 follow the pattern of 20 + 1-9, e.g. 25 will be 二十 (20) + 五 (5) = 二十五 (èrshí wǔ, 25). Numbers between 110-119 follow the pattern 110 + 1-9, e.g. 110 + 5 = 115 (yībǎi yīshí wǔ). The reason we say “,yībǎi yīshí wǔ” instead of “yībǎi shí wǔ,” is perhaps to keep consistency with the rest of tens numbers here, for example 125 (yībǎi èrshí wǔ), etc. So, Chinese numbers are easier than English numbers in that, above 10, Chinese does not have unique numbers as in English, such as “eleven,” “twelve,” “fifty.”
Please note number “2” and its combinations can be written in two forms: 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng). See the following section 二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng) for more details.
The above table shows that up to 1,000, Chinese and English count the number in the same way. The difference occurs from 10,000, where English follows the international practice of segmenting a long Arabic number into three-digit sets, so 10,000 is “ten thousand” in English. While the Chinese share the same practice in writing, mentally they divide the number into four-digit sets when speaking (as shown in the fourth column of the above table).
Consequently, 10,000 becomes 1’0000 in a Chinese mind, and is called 万 (wàn) which is a unique unit in terms of the Chinese counting system. To illustrate, 一万 (yīwàn) = 1 wàn = 1’0000 = 10,000, and 十万 (shíwàn) = 10 + wàn = 10’0000 = 100,000). Thus, English has three three-digit based units: thousand, million, billion, but Chinese has only two four-digit based units: 万 (wàn, 10,000 (1’0000)) and 亿 (yì, 100,000,000 (1’0000’0000)).
How to form ordinal numbers in Mandarin Chinese?
Ordinal numbers express things like "first," "second," “third,” etc. In English, “-st,” “-nd,” “-rd,” and “-th” are used to make ordinal numbers, e.g. third, fourth, etc. In Chinese, ordinal numbers are much easier to make than in English; simply follow this pattern:
For example, 第一 (dìyī, the first), 第二 (dì’èr, the second), 第三 (dìsān, the third), 第四 (dìsì, the fourth). All you need to do is add 第 (dì) before a number to make it an ordinal number.
How to form decimals, fractions, and percentages in Mandarin Chinese?
Do we have to know how to say decimals, fractions, and percentages in Mandarin Chinese? Well, they are more relevant than you might think. For example, if you go to a market and want to haggle down the price, knowing how to say a percentage in Chinese would be very useful.
Decimals: All decimals in Chinese follow this pattern:
number + 点 (diǎn) + number
点 (diǎn) means “decimal point.” Here are two examples:
二点一
(èr diǎn yī )
2.1
零点四五
(líng diǎn sìwǔ )
0.45
Fractions: Fractions (including percentages) follow this pattern:
number + 分之 (fēnzhī) + number
分之 (fēnzhī) means “parts of.” Here are examples:
二分之一
(èr fēnzhī yī )
1/2, one half
四分之三
(sì fēnzhī sān )
3/4, three quarters
十六分之十一
(shíliù fēnzhī shíyī)
11/16
百分之二十
(bǎi fēnzhī èrshí )
20%
(Note: 一 (yī) in 一百 (yībǎi, 100)一百 (yībǎi, “100”) is always omitted in percentages)
Important
When speaking about fractions in English, people follow a top to bottom rule (the numerator goes first), e.g. “two thirds.” In Chinese, people follow a bottom to top rule, e.g. “thirds two” (the denominator is mentioned first). For example, Chinese says 三分之二 (sān fēnzhī èr) for “two thirds,” where 三 (3)三 (3) is the denominator and placed at the beginning of the phrase.
How do we say “something-ish” in Mandarin Chinese?
There are expressions in Chinese that convey approximations. See the following table for details:
Approximation | Pattern | Example |
---|---|---|
几 (jǐ) a few | 几 + word | 几个人 (jǐgè rén ) a few people |
来 (lái) about | number + 来 | 十来个 (shí lái gè ) about 10 |
上下 (shàngxià) about | number + 上下 | 二十上下 (èrshí shàngxià ) about 20 |
左右 (zuǒyòu) about | number + 左右 | 二十左右 (èrshí zuǒyòu) about 20 |
多 (duō ) or so | number + 多 | 二十多 (èrshí duō) 20 or so |
大概 (dàɡài) about | 大概 + number | 大概二十 (dàgài èrshí) about 20 |
大约 (dàyuē) about | 大约 + number | 大约二十 (dàyuē èrshí) about 20 |
As shown in the above table, 几 (jǐ) does not go with another number, because it is itself an approximate number meaning “a few.” 来 (lái), 上下 (shàngxià), 左右 (zuǒyòu), 多 (duō) all follow the same pattern: they are placed after the number. However, the sequence is reversed when it comes to 大概 (dàɡài) and 大约 (dàyuē), which are placed before the number. Combining two adjacent numbers together can also make an approximate number, for example 七、八个 (qī, bāgè, 7, 8). Note that there is a comma needed between the adjacent numbers and it only works for adjacent numbers.
Tip
The numbers in the above table are often round numbers, which include numbers that end with 0 or 5, e.g. 25, 100. For example, we can say “about 25” or “about 100,” but rarely say “about 13.”
When to use 二 (èr) vs. 两 (liǎng) in Mandarin Chinese?
二 (èr) and 两 (liǎng) both mean “two” in Mandarin Chinese. 二 (èr) is used for 2 or 20, ordinal numbers, and phone numbers. 两 (liǎng) is used for 两个人 (liǎnggè rén, two people), 两百 (liǎngbǎi, 200), and 两千 (liǎngqiān, 2,000). So, we read 2,222 as 两千两百二十二 (liǎngqiān liǎngbǎi èrshí èr).
Tip
两 (liǎng) is always used when there is a measure word (e.g. “bottle” in “two bottles of water”). For example, 两只狗 (liǎng zhī gǒu, two dogs), 两辆车 (liǎng liàng chē, two vehicles), (liǎng diǎn, 2 o’clock).
To sum up
Numbers are grouped by four zeros in Chinese, rather than three zeroes, as in English.
Ordinal numbers: "第 (dì) + number,” e.g. 第一 (dìyī, the first).
Decimals: "number + 点 (diǎn) ” e.g. 二点一 (èr diǎn yī, 2.1).
Fractions: "denominator + 分之 (fēnzhī) + numerator, ” e.g. 三分之二 (sān fēnzhī èr, two thirds).
Approximate numbers: such numbers are made up primarily by adding words like 大概/大约 (dàgài/dàyuē, about) to numbers.
“Two” can be 二 (èr) or 两 (liǎng) in Mandarin, depending on the context.
Right, now are you ready to test what you know about Chinese numbers? I bet you are, click here for more practice.
Downloadable Resources
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