Chapter 6:Chinese numbers (1)


Chinese Grammar  Updated: Sat, Oct 20, 2012 20:56 PM   By HugChina


In this section we present Chinese numbers include 0-99 and higher, formal characters for Chinese numbers, Chinese ordinal numbers, and estimates and approximations numbers.

1. Mandarin numbers 0–99

1.1 Numbers 0–10

0 〇 or 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

The number 2 occurs in two forms.

• When counting without a classifier, the number 2 is always èr.

一 1; 2 二; 3 三; 4 四; 5 五

• When it occurs in a phrase with a classifier, the number 2 is 两 liǎng.

两本书 two books; 两个人 two persons

Telephone numbers are recited as a series of single digits from zero to 9. When reciting a telephone number, the number 2 is always 二 èr.


My phone number is 8 6 2 2 5 6 0 2.Number 100 and higher

1.2 Numbers 11–19

Numbers 11–19 consist of the number 10 [十 shí] followed by the number 1 [一 yī]

through 9 [九 jiǔ] as follows. Note that the number 12 is shí’èr and not 十两 shí liǎng.

11 十一,12 十二, 13 十三,14 十四,15 十五,16 十六,17 十七,18 十八,19 十九

1.3 Numbers 20–90

Numbers 20, 30, 40, etc. consist of the numbers 2 [二 èr] through 9 [九 jiǔ] followed by the number 10 [十 shí] as follows:

20 二十,30 三十,40 四十,50 五十,60 六十,70 七十,80 八十,90 九十

The numbers 21, 22, etc. are formed as follows:

21 二十一,57 五十七,22 二十二,68 六十八,35 三十五,74 七十四,46 四十六,99 九十九

2. Number 100 and higher

2.1 100, 1000, 10,000 and 100,000,000

Chinese has distinct words for multiples of 100, 1000, 10,000, and 100,000,000 as follows:

Hundreds 百 bǎi 100 yrbǎi
Thousands 千 qiān 1000 yrqiān
Tenthousands 万 wàn 10,000 yrwàn
Hundredmillions 亿 yì 100,000,000 yryì

These number words function as classifiers. Therefore, the number 2 is usually 两

liǎng when it occurs immediately before the word for ‘hundred,’ ‘thousand,’ or ‘ten-thousand’:两百 liǎng bǎi,两千 liǎng qiān, 两万 liǎng wàn, etc. In many regional dialects of Mandarin, 二百 èr bǎi,二千 èr qiān,二万 èr wàn, etc. is also acceptable.

2.2 Forming numbers through 9,999

Numbers up to 9,999 follow the same pattern as in English:

352 三百五十二; 1,670 一千六百七十;3,482 三千四百八十; 9,222 九千二百二十二

2.3 ‘Zero’ as a placeholder

The word 零 líng may be used when the ‘hundreds’ place or the ‘tens’ place is empty, provided there is a number before and after 零 líng. For example, it can be used to mark the ‘hundreds’ place when thousands and tens are filled, as in the following number.

7,066 七千零六十六

It can be used to mark the ‘tens’ place when hundreds and single numbers are filled, as in the following number.

9,102 九千一百零二

When two consecutive places are empty,零 líng occurs only once.

6,006 六千零六

2.4 Forming numbers 10,000 to 100,000,000

Languages read numbers in terms of the categories that they distinguish. English distinguishes tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, and up. Numbers between one thousand and one million are read in terms of the numbers of thousands that they contain.

Chinese distinguishes the categories of tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and hundred millions. Numbers between ten thousand and one-hundred million are read in terms of the number of ten-thousands that they contain. Compare the way that English and Chinese read the following numbers.

  English Chinese
1,000 one thousand yīqiān
10,000 ten thousand yīwàn
100,000 one hundred thousand shí wàn
1,000,000 one million bāi wàn
10,000,000 ten million qiān wàn
100,000,000 one hundred million
1,000,000,000 one billion shí yì

3. Formal characters for numbers

To discourage forgery, Chinese numbers are sometimes written using the following special set of characters. The numerals on Chinese currency are written with these special characters.

  Ordinaryform Specialform  
2 èr
3 sān
6 liù
9 jiǔ
10 shí
100 bǎi
1000 qiān
10000 wàn

Chapter 8 presents the words and phrases associated with money.

4. Ordinal numbers

To make a number ordinal, add the prefix 第 dì before the number:

1st 第一  20th 第二十
2nd 第二 50th 第五十
3rd 第三 77th 第七十七
4th 第四 83rd 第八十三!
5th 第五 95th 第九十五!
6th 第六 100th 第一百
10th 第十 1000th 第一千

NOTE: In ordinal numbers, ‘second’ is always 第二 dì èr and never第两 dì liǎng.

5. Estimates and approximations

To indicate that a quantity is ‘more or less’ than the stated number, use the phrase 左右 zuǒyòu ‘more or less,’ as follows:

number + classifier (+ noun) + 左右 zuǒyòu

五十个(人)左右;about 50 (people) (50 people more or less)

一百块钱左右;around $100 ($100 more or less)

To indicate that a quantity is almost but not quite the stated amount, use chàbuduō + number ‘almost number.’

差不多 + number + classifier (+ noun)

差不多五十(个)人;almost 50 people

差不多一百块钱;almost $100

To indicate that a quantity is greater than or equal to the stated number use 以上 yǐshàng ‘or more.’ For a more formal expression of the same meaning, use之上 zhī shàng.

number (+ classifier + noun) +以上 yǐshàng/之上 zhī shàng

五十(个人)以上/之上 50 (people) or more

To indicate that the actual number is less than or equal to the stated number, use 以下 yǐxià ‘or fewer.’ For a more formal expression of the same meaning, use 之下 zhī xià.

number (+ classifier + noun) +以下 yǐxià/之下 zhī xià

五十(个人)以下/之下 50 or fewer (people)

To indicate that the actual time lies within the specified period of time, use 以内 yǐnèi. For a more formal expression of the same meaning, use 之内 zhī nèi.

一年以内/之内 within one year

To indicate the actual number is more than the stated number, use 多 duō ‘more than.’

number + duō + classifier (+ noun)

五十多个人 more than 50 people

To indicate an approximation within a small range, use two numbers in a sequence as follows:

我一两天就回来 I’ll come back in a day or two.

这个东西卖三四块钱 This thing sells for three or four dollars.

This expression can be used together with zuǒyòu:

这个东西卖三四块钱左右 This thing sells for around three or four dollars.

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