Understanding the Use of Numbers in Mandarin Chinese

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Mandarin Chinese numbers are one of the first things a student should learn. Besides being used for counting and money, they are also used for time expressions such as weekdays and months.

The Mandarin numbering system is a bit different from English. For example, the number '2' has two forms. 二 (èr) is used for counting, and 兩 / 两 (traditional/simplified) (liǎng) is used with a measure word. Measure words are used extensively in Mandarin Chinese and specify the 'type' of the thing being discussed.

The most common 'all purpose' measure word is 個 / 个 (). Note that the pronunciation spellings used here are Pinyin.

This article focuses on the actual numbers. If you want advice on how to learn to count in Mandarin with a step-by-step guide, check out this article: Learning to count in Chinese

Large Numbers

Large numbers also present a challenge. The next major division after 1,000 is 10,000, written as 一萬 / 一万 ( yī wàn). So, numbers above 10,000 are expressed as "one ten thousand," "two ten thousands" and so on up to 100,000,000, which is a new character 億 / 亿 (yì).

The only vocabulary needed for all the numbers up to 100 are 0 to 10. The numbers from 10 to 19 are expressed as '10-1' (11), '10-2' (12) etc.

Twenty is expressed as '2-10', thirty is '3-10' etc.

When there is a zero in a number, such as '101', it must be stated: for example one-hundred zero one (yī bǎi líng yī).

Mandarin Number Table  

Note that there are also fraud-proof variants of many of these characters.

11shí­ yī十一
12shí­ èr十二
13shí­ sān十三
14shí­ sì十四
15shí­ wǔ十五
16shí­ liù十六
17shí­ qī十七
18shí bā十八
19shí­ jiǔ十九
20èr shí ­二十
21èr shí ­ yī二十一
22èr shí èr二十二
30sān shí­三十
40sì shí­四十
50wǔ shí­五十
60liù shí­六十
70qī shí­七十
80bā shí­八十
90jiǔ shí­九十
100yì bǎi一百
101yì bǎi líng yī一百零一
102yì bǎi líng èr一百零二
1000yì qiān一千
1001yì qiān líng yī一千零一

Learn By Doing

The best way of learning is by doing. Start counting things you encounter in your everyday life in Mandarin, such as the number of steps in the stairs, how much time there's left before you get off work, or how many push-ups you've done.