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How to tell time in Mandarin Chinese? Days, weeks, months, and years

By: Lina Shen Thu Jan 04 2024

In Mandarin Chinese, if you want to tell the time in terms of days, weeks, months, and years, you need to learn the words for them and a few simple grammatical structures. Suppose you tell your friend that you’ll meet her at the cinema (电影院 (diànyǐng yuàn, cinema)) at a quarter past eight at night. Everything goes well, and you speak Mandarin Chinese wonderfully, except that you meant tomorrow, and your friend thought you meant tonight! That could be a problem. Let’s solve it! In this post, we will look at how to use the days of the week, months, years, nearby words (like “tomorrow” or “yesterday”), as well as some common uses of them, like asking “which year?” or saying when your birthday is.

Table of Contents

    How to say the days of the week in Mandarin Chinese?

    First, let's learn the words for the near past and the near future:

    English
    Mandarin
    Example

    two days ago

    前天

    qián tiān

    我前天学中文了。

    (Wǒ qián tiān xué zhōngwén le.)

    I studied Chinese two days ago.

    yesterday

    昨天

    zuó tiān

    你昨天在哪里?

    (Nǐ zuó tiān zài nǎli?)

    Where were you yesterday?

    today

    今天

    jīn tiān

    你今天打算做什么?

    (Nǐ jīn tiān dǎsuàn zuò shénme?)

    What do you plan to do today?

    tomorrow

    明天

    míng tiān

    我们明天去看电影吧。

    (Wǒmen míng tiān qù kàn diànyǐng ba.)

    Let's go to the movies tomorrow.

    the day after tomorrow

    后天

    hòu tiān

    他们后天就要到美国了。

    (Tāmen hòu tiān jiù yào dào měiguó le.)

    They will arrive in America the day after tomorrow.

    Tip

    Have you noticed, in these sentences above, that time expressions are mostly added after the subject, like (, I)in the first example above, and before the predicate, like (xué, to study) in the same example above? Think 昨天生病 (Wǒ zuó tiān shēngbìng le, I yesterday was sick) or 昨天篮球比赛了 (Tā zuó tiān kàn lánqiú bǐsài le, She yesterday watched the basketball game). This is the way time expressions are usually positioned in Mandarin.

    Second, let’s learn the days of the week. The good news here is that it’s all just counting in Mandarin, at least until you get to Sunday.

    Monday to Saturday:
    Sunday:

    Use words 星期 (xīngqī, week) + numbers one to six

    See the Exception! box, below.

    Days of the week (Monday to Saturday) in Mandarin Chinese

    Day
    Mandarin
    Pinyin

    Monday

    星期一

    xīngqī yī

    Tuesday

    星期二

    xīngqī èr

    Wednesday

    星期三

    xīngqī sān

    Thursday

    星期四

    xīngqī sì

    Friday

    星期五

    xīngqī wǔ

    Saturday

    星期六

    xīngqī liù

    The days of the week are as easy as 1-2-3! (and 4-5-6) Until…

    Days of the week (Sunday) in Mandarin Chinese

    Once you get to Sunday, the formula for the days of the week in Mandarin has an exception!

    Exception!

    Sunday: Use words 星期 (xīngqī, week) +  () or  (tiān)

    Sunday

    星期日 / 星期

    xīngqī rì / xīngqī tiān

    ⤷ Did you know?

    In case you’re wondering, this way of counting weekdays came about because someone named 袁嘉谷 (Yuán Jiāgǔ), back at the end of the Qing Dynasty, decided that it was most convenient, when adopting Western methods of dividing time into weeks, to simply number the days. Sunday is the odd one out, because this same person could not resist the poetry of translating “sun” into  () or  (tiān). Sometimes, you just have to follow your heart, right?

    Other terms for “week” in Mandarin Chinese

    星期 (xīngqī) is by far the most common way of saying “week” in spoken Mandarin, but there are two other terms that mean the same thing and are used in the same way:  (zhōu) is a formal term for week that might appear on a semester schedule, for example. 礼拜 (lǐbài) is less common than 星期 (xīngqī). Because it is less common, it is considered more formal.
    Examples:

    中文课:周一,周二,周三,3:15

    (Zhōngwén kè zhōu yī, zhōu èr, zhōu sān, sān diǎn yí kè.)

    Chinese class: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 3:15

    会议是礼拜四下午1:50的。

    (Huìyì shì lǐbài sì xià wǔ yī diǎn wǔshí de.)

    The meeting is Thursday at 1:50 in the afternoon.

    Pop quiz: How do you say “I’ll meet you Wednesday at 4:30 in the afternoon?”

    Tip

    Remember, in Mandarin, prepositions are not used to indicate something happening “on” or “at” a time. We say 七点见 (qī diǎn jiàn, See you at 7). Also, a note about the order of time expressions: The bigger time unit always precedes the smaller time unit!

    Answer: 我们星期三下午四点半见。 (Wǒmen xīngqī sān xià wǔ sì diǎn bàn jiàn)

    Stating the months and years: How to say your birth date in Mandarin?

    Months are named in numerical order, just like weekdays. This time though, there’s no Sunday at the end to confuse things. It’s just months one through twelve, 一到十二 (yī dào shí èr)

    Months in Mandarin

    January to December: number (one to 12) +  (yuè)
    Month in English
    Month in Mandarin
    Pinyin

    January

    一月

    yī yuè

    February

    二月

    èr yuè

    March

    三月

    sān yuè

    April

    四月

    sì yuè

    May

    五月

    wǔ yuè

    June

    六月

    liù yuè

    July

    七月

    qī yuè

    August

    八月

    bā yuè

    September

    九月

    jiǔ yuè

    October

    十月

    shí yuè

    November

    十一月

    shí yī yuè

    December

    十二月

    shí èr yuè

    Exercise: How do you say “April 26th”?

    Important

    When referring to the date,  () /  (hào) is added after the number.  () is used in formal situations, while  (hào) means “number” in Mandarin Chinese and is commonly used in the spoken language. In addition, there is no “-th” (19th) when you say the date in Mandarin. For example, May 19th is 五月十九日/号 (wǔ yuè shí jiǔ rì/hào) in Mandarin.

    Remember: The bigger time unit always precedes the smaller time unit!

    Answer: 四月二十六日/号 (sì yuè èr shí liù rì/hào)

    Using 几 (jǐ, "how many/much") to ask about time and date in Mandarin

    To ask about the time and date in Mandarin Chinese, you can use the word (, how many/much).

    Tip

    The Mandarin word (, how many/much) is used to ask "what time 几点 (jǐ diǎn)," "what date 几号 (jǐ hào)," "what day 星期几 (xīngqī jǐ)," and "what month 几月 (jǐ yuè)."

    Remember, in Mandarin, no prepositions are used to indicate something happening “on” or “at” a time.

    A: 今天是星期几
    Jīn tiān shì xīngqī jǐ?
    B: 今天是星期四。
    Jīn tiān shì xīngqī sì.

    A: What day is it today?
    B: It’s Thursday today.

    A: 今天是几月几号
    Jīn tiān shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?
    B: 今天是12月25号。
    Jīn tiān shì shí èr yuè èr shí wǔ hào.

    A: What date is it today?
    B: It is December 25th.

    A: 你的生日是几月几号
    Nǐ de shēngrì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào.
    B: 我的生日是八月三号。
    Wǒ de shēngrì shì bā yuè sān hào.

    A: When is your birthday?
    B: My birthday is on August 3rd.

    How to say the years in Mandarin?

    In Mandarin Chinese, whatever the year, we simply say the name of each digit followed by the word (nián, year).
    Examples:

    一九九八年

    (yī jiǔ jiǔ bā nián)

    the year 1998

    一八七五年 二月

    (yī bā qī wǔ nián èr yuè )

    February 1875

    二零二一年 十一月三十一日/号

    (èr líng èr yī nián shí yī yuè sān shí yī rì/hào)

    November 31st, 2021

    How to ask about “in which year” in Mandarin?

    To ask “in which year” in Mandarin, use the the expression 哪一年 (nǎ yì nián).

    ⤷ Remember:

    The Mandarin word (, how many/much) is used to ask "what time 几点 (jǐ diǎn)," "what date 几号 (jǐ hào)," "what day 星期几 (xīngqī jǐ)," and "what month 几月 (jǐ yuè)." While 哪一年 (nǎ yì nián) is used to ask "in which year/ in what year" in Chinese.
    For example:

    A: 你是哪一年出生的?
    Nǐ shì nǎ yì nián chūshēng de?

    A: In what year were you born?

    B: 我是一九九九年出生的
    Wǒ shì yī jiǔ jiǔ jiǔ nián chūshēng de.

    B: I was born in 1999.

    How to say “this year,” and other nearby years in Mandarin?

    Just like with days, the words  (qián),  (zuó),  (jīn),  (míng), and  (hòu) work with years, with the exception of last year.

    English phrase
    (year)
    Mandarin phrase
    (year)
    Pinyin
    English phrase
    (day)
    Mandarin phrase
    (day)
    Pinyin

    two years ago

    前年

    qián nián

    two days ago

    前天

    qián tiān

    last year

    去年

    qù nián

    yesterday

    昨天

    zuó tiān

    this year

    今年

    jīn nián

    today

    今天

    jīn tiān

    next year

    明年

    míng nián

    tomorrow

    明天

    míng tiān

    the year after next

    后年

    hòu nián

    the day after tomorrow

    后天

    hòu tiān

    To sum up

    Your time vocabulary is moving right along. You know how to tell the week, the month, and the year. We also have a post on how present, past, and future time are expressed in Mandarin. In the meantime, check out our list of essential dates, holidays, and eras in Chinese!

    Ready to dive in?! Here are some exercises to practice the days, weeks, months, and years in Mandarin. Let's go!

    Downloadable Resources

    Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

    How to tell time in Mandarin Chinese-Days, weeks, months, and years~List of holidaysHow to tell time in Mandarin Chinese-Days, weeks, months, and years~Activities

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