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Structure of numbers

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Chinese handles numbers in a very consistent and logical way. Once you've mastered just a few tricky parts, you will know how to read out any number in Chinese.

One to One Hundred

Structure for the First Ten

You just have to memorize these ten; nothing tricky there.

Numeral Character Pinyin
1
2èr
3sān
4
5
6liù
7
8
9jiǔ
10shí

Phone Numbers

Like in American English, Chinese phone numbers are given as a string of individual numbers, using the digits 0-9. The only trick is that the number 1 is often pronounced "yāo" instead of "yī" to avoid confusion with number 7, which is pronounced "qī."

  • 110Number for the police in the PRCyāo yāo líng
  • 120Number for an ambulance in the PRCyāo èr líng
  • 119Number to report a fire in the PRCyāo yāo jiǔ
  • 13501200120Cell phone numbers are 11 digits in the PRCyāo sān wǔ, líng yāo èr líng, líng yāo èr líng

Structure for Teens

十 + x

Eleven, twelve and the teens are handled very logically. They're formed with 十 (shí) followed by a digit 一 (yī) to 九 (jiǔ). So eleven is 十一 (shíyī), twelve is 十二 (shí'èr), thirteen is 十三 (shísān), and so on up to nineteen, which is 十九 (shíjiǔ).

Numeral Character Pinyin
11十一shíyī
12十二shí'èr
13十三shísān
14十四shísì
15十五shíwǔ
16十六shíliù
17十七shíqī
18十八shíbā
19十九shíjiǔ

Structure for Tens

All the tens are also formed very logically. Twenty is 二十 (èrshí), thirty is 三十 (sānshí), and so on. Units in the tens are simply added on the end. So twenty one is 二十一 (èrshí-yī), thirty four is 三十四 (sānshí-sì), and ninety-nine is 九十九 (jiǔshí-jiǔ). All very logical and consistent.

x + 十

x + 十 + y

Examples

Numeral Character Pinyin
20二十èrshí
23二十三èrshí-sān
30三十sānshí
39三十九sānshí-jiǔ
40四十sìshí
44四十四sìshí-sì
50五十wǔshí
73七十三qīshí-sān
82八十二bāshí-èr
97九十七jiǔshí-qī

And one hundred is simply 一百 (yībǎi), as in English. So you now know how to count to one hundred in Chinese.

After One Hundred

Dealing with Zeroes

Note: when there's a "0" in the middle of a number, you read it as 零 (líng), and don't put a unit (like "ten" or "hundred") after it. In the following examples, we'll show what happens when the "tens" place is a zero in a three-digit number.

Structure

x + 百 + 零 + y

Examples

Numeral Character Pinyin
101一百零一yībǎi líng yī
202二百零二èrbǎi líng èr
206二百零六èrbǎi líng liù
305三百零五sānbǎi líng wǔ
407四百零七sìbǎi líng qī
504五百零四wǔbǎi líng sì
602六百零二liùbǎi líng èr
701七百零一qībǎi líng yī
803八百零三bābǎi líng sān
909九百零九jiǔbǎi líng jiǔ

For Numbers 110 and Greater

For numbers greater than 100, if the number ends in zero (110, 230, 370, 450, etc.), a number like 150 can be read as 一百五十 (yībǎi wǔshí), but is often read as 一百五 (yībǎi wǔ). In fact, reading it as 一百五 (yībǎi wǔ) always means 150, never 105. As described above, 105 would be read as 一百零五 (yībǎi líng wǔ).

For numbers greater than 100 that end in a number in the teens, it's normal to pronounce the ten as "yīshí" rather than just "shí" (see the examples below).

Also, sometimes the number "200" is read as 二百 (èrbǎi), but often it is read as 两百 (liǎngbǎi). Both are OK. (This is an 二 (èr) vs. 两 (liǎng) issue which you may or may not have encountered before.)

Structure

x + 百 + y + 十 + z

Examples

Numeral Character Pinyin
110一百一十yībǎi yīshí
111一百一十一yībǎi yīshí-yī
210二百一十èrbǎi yīshí
350三百五十sānbǎi wǔshí
480四百八十sìbǎi bāshí
550五百五十wǔbǎi wǔshí
635六百三十五liùbǎi sānshí-wǔ
777七百七十七qībǎi qīshí-qī
832八百三十二bābǎi sānshí-èr
999九百九十九jiǔbǎi jiǔshí-jiǔ

After One Thousand

千 (qiān) means "thousand" in Chinese. Its rules of usage are similar to the rules for "hundred." Just note that no matter how many zeroes are in the middle of the number, you just say 零 (líng) once.

Examples

Numeral Character Pinyin
1001一千零一yīqiān líng yī
1010一千零一十yīqiān líng yīshí
1019一千零一十九yīqiān líng yīshí-jiǔ
1020一千零二十yīqiān líng èrshí
1100一千一百yīqiān yībǎi
1101一千一百零一yīqiān yībǎi líng yī
1234一千二百三十四yīqiān èrbǎi sānshí-sì
2345两千三百四十五liǎngqiān sānbǎi sìshí-wǔ
8765八千七百六十五bāqiān qībǎi liùshí-wǔ
9999九千九百九十九jiǔqiān jiǔbǎi jiǔshí-jiǔ

10,000 and beyond

Things get a little trickier once you get to 10,000. If you're ready for it, you can move on to big numbers.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books