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.

0 ling
1
2 èr
3 sān
4
5
6 liù
7
8
9 jiǔ
10 shí­
11 shí­ yī 十一
12 shí­ èr 十二
13 shí­ sān 十三
14 shí­ sì 十四
15 shí­ wǔ 十五
16 shí­ liù 十六
17 shí­ qī 十七
18 shí bā 十八
19 shí­ jiǔ 十九
20 èr shí ­ 二十
21 èr shí ­ yī 二十一
22 èr shí èr 二十二
...
30 sān shí­ 三十
40 sì shí­ 四十
50 wǔ shí­ 五十
60 liù shí­ 六十
70 qī shí­ 七十
80 bā shí­ 八十
90 jiǔ shí­ 九十
100 yì bǎi 一百
101 yì bǎi líng yī 一百零一
102 yì bǎi líng èr 一百零二
...
1000 yì qiān 一千
1001 yì qiān líng yī 一千零一
...
10,000 wàn 一萬

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.