Summary of Chinese Numbers

The Chinese system of numbers is simple and predictable. You may find it more regular than the number system in English. Here are the numbers 1 to 10 plus zero:
yi1 (1) wu3 (5) jiu3 (9)
er4 (2) liu4 (6) shi2 (10)
san1 (3) qi1 (7) ling2 (0)
si4 (4) ba1 (8)
The numbers 11 through 19 are formed with the word for 10, shi2, followed by the words for 1 through 9:
shi2yi1 (11) shi2si4 (14) shi2qi1 (17)
shi2er4 (12) shi2wu3 (15) shi2ba1 (18)
shi2san1 (13) shi2liu4 (16) shi2jiu3 (19)
You can see that the system for forming 11 through 19 resembles addition: 10 + 1, etc. The number 20 is literally "two tens." All the multiples of 10 are formed with the words for 2 through 9 followed by the word for 10, shi2:
er4shi2 (20) wu3shi2 (50) ba1shi4 (80)
san1shi2 (30) liu4shi2 (60) jiu3shi2 (90)
si4shi2 (40) qi1shi2
You can see that this system resembles multiplication: 2 x 10, etc. The remaining numbers up to 100 are formed by combining these two systems. For example, to form the word for 21, first multiply, "two tens," and then add the word for 1.
er4shiyi1 (21) si4shijiu3 (49) liu4shiqi1 (67)
er4shiba1 (28) si4shiyi1 (41) qi1shisi4 (74)
san1shier4 (32) wu3shisan1 (53) ba1shijiu4 (86)
san1shijiu4 (36) wu3shiba1 (58) jiu3shier4 (92)
si4shiwu3 (45) liu4shiwu3 (65) jiu3shijiu3 (99)
Notice that shi2, 10, loses its tone in the examples above.


Multiples of 100 are formed in the same way as multiples of 10: the words for 1 through 9 followed by the word for "hundred," -bai3.
y4bai3 (100) si4bai3 (400) qi1bai3 (700)
liang3bai3 (200)
wu3bai3 (500)
ba1bai3 (800)
san1bai3 (300) liu4bai3 (600) jiu3bai3 (900)
Notice that the word for 1, yi1, occurs before -bai3, although it was not used before 10, shi2. Note also the different word for 2 used when forming the hundreds. In the numbers 2, 12, and all numbers containing 2 up to 100, er4 is used, Liang3- is used with hundreds. When forming numbers with "hundred," remember that some of the numbers from 1 through 9 change tone before the Low tone of -bai3. Yi1 (1) changes from a High tone to a Falling tone. Liang3 (2), wu3 (5), and jiu3 (9) change from Low tones to Rising tones.
yi1 yi4bai3
liang3- liang3bai3 (liang2bai3)
wu3 wu3bai3 (wu2bai3)
jiu3 jiu3bai3 (jiu2bai3)
The numbers 1 through 9 after the hundreds bring up a special point when there is no number in the tens place: a zero, ling2, is used to mark that place.
yi4bai3ling2yi1 (101) liu4bai3ling2liu4 (606)
lian3bai3ling2er4 (202)
qi1bai3laing2qi1 (707)
san1bai3ling2san1 (303) ba1bai3ling2ba1 (808)
si4bai3ling2si4 (404) jiu3bai3ling2jiu3 (909)
wu3bai3ling2wu3 (505)
When numbers in the teens follow the hundreds, yi1 (1) is inserted before the word for 10, shi2. To understand why this is necessary, you need to distinguish between the numbers 1 through 9 and the numbers which label a group of numbers - more specifically, which label a power of 10, such as "ten," shi2, "hundred," -bai3, and so on. The rule is that two numbers which are labels for other numbers (such as -bai3 and shi2) cannot occur one after the other. Therefore, yi1 is added before shi2 in the numbers 110 through 119.
yi4bai3yi1shi2 (110) wu3bai3yi1shiwu3 (515)
liang3bai3yi1shiyi1 (211) ba1bai3yi1shiliu4 (816)
si4bai3yi1shier4 (412) san1bai3yi1shiqi1 (317)
jiu3bai3yi1shisan1 (913) liu4bai3yi1shiba1 (618)
qi1bai3yi1shisi4 (714) yi4bai3yi1shijiu3 (119)
The High tone of yi1 changes to a Falling tone before the Low tone of -bai3 but does not change before shi2, as you would expect. The tone of yi1 is usually affected by any tone which follows, but this case is an exception. The remaining numbers in the hundreds are formed regularly.
yi4bai3ba1shijiu3 (189) liu4bai3si4shiqi1 (647)
liang3bai3er4shier4 (222) qi1bai3san3shiliu4 (736)
san1bai3si4shiliu4 (346) ba1bai3qi1shijiu3 (879)
si4bai3ba1shi2 (480) jiu3bai3liu4shier4 (962)
wu3bai3san1shiyi1 (531)


The word for "thousand" is -qian1. The thousands are formed in the same way as the hundreds.
yi4qian1 (1,000) liu4qian1 (6,000)
liang3qian1 (2,000) qi1qian1 (7,000)
san1qian1 (3,000) ba1qian1 (8,000)
si4qian1 (4,000) jiu3qian1 (9,000)
wu3qian1 (5,000)
Notice that 2 is liang3- and that the High tone of yi1 changes to a Falling tone before the High tone of -qian1. Rules concerning tone changes and use of yi1 and ling2 for numbers in the hundreds also apply to numbers in the thousands.
yi4qian1ling2ba1shiliu4 (1,086)
liang3qian1liang3bai3er4shi2 (2,220)
wu3qian1liu4bai3yi1shi2 (5,610)
ba1qian1yi4bai3ling2wu3 (8,105)
jiu3qian1ling2yi1shiqi1 (9,017)
The use of ling2 is expanded in numbers as large as thousands. The word ling2 can stand for two or more adjacent zeros. This use is similar to the English "and" in "one thousand and one" (1,001).
yi4qian1ling2yi1 (1,001)
liang3qian1ling2er4 (2,002)
san1qian1ling2san1 (3,003)
si4qian1ling2si4 (4,004)
wu3qian1ling2wu3 (5,005)
liu4qian1ling2liu4 (6,006)
qi1qian1ling2qi1 (7,007)
ba1qian1ling2ba1 (8,008)
jiu3qian1ling2jiu3 (9,009)
Seemingly, this expansion of the meaning of ling2 could lead to confusion, but compare the following:
yi4qian1si4bai3ling2liu4 (1,406)
yi4qian1ling2si4shiliu4 (1,046)
yi4qian1ling2liu4 (1,006)
yi4qian1ling2liu4shi2 (1,060)
The remaining numbers in the thousands are formed regularly.
jiu3qian1liang3bai3qi1shiba1 (9,278)
qi1qian1san1bai3yi1shiyi1 (7,311)
si4qian1wu3bai3er4shier4 (4,522)
liang3qian1yi4bai3liu4shisan1 (2,163)

Ten Thousands

The word for "ten thousand" is -wan4.
yi1wan4 (10,000) liu4wan4 (60,000)
liang3wan4 (20,000) qi2wan4 (70,000)
san1wan4 (30,000) ba2wan4 (80,000)
si4wan4 (40,000) jiu3wan4 (90,000)
wu3wan4 (50,000)
Notice that the numbers yi1, qi1, and ba1 change from High tones to Rising tones before the Falling tone of -wan4. The rules for hundreds and thousands also apply to ten thousands:
  1. The word liang3- (2) is used with -wan4.
  2. Numbers which label a position cannot occur one right after another.
  3. The word ling2 can stand for two or more adjacent zeros in a number.
jiu3wan4er4qian1san1bai3si4shiliu4 (92,346)
liang3wan4er4qian1er4bai3er4shier4 (22,222)
ba2wan4ling2ba1 (80,000)
ba2wan4ling2ba1shiba1 (80,088)
ba2wan4ling2ba1bai3ba1shiba1 (80,888)
In the first two examples er4 is used for 2 when it is not the first digit in a number. The second example clearly shows that native speakers may start off with liang3- and then switch to er4. Numbers in the ten thousands bring out a characteristic of the Chinese number system which is truly different from the English system of numbers. Traditionally, Chinese numbers were written with the comma to the left of the fourth digit.
liang3wan4wu3qian1wu3bai3san1shiliu4 2,5536
ba2wan4liu4qian1qi1bai3si4shiqi1 8,6747

Ordinal Numbers

Like the cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers in Chinese are also easily and regularly formed. The word for "number," di4- (in the sense of "number 1") may be placed before any cardinal number to make it an ordinal number.
di4yi1 ("number 1," "first")
di4er4 ("number 2," "second")
di4san1 ("number 3," "third")
di4si4 ("number 4," "fourth")
di4wu3 ("number 5," "fifth")
di4liu4 ("number 6," "sixth")
di4er4shi2 ("twentieth")
The prefix di4- must be followed by a unit number, not by a number which is a label for a group of numbers. For instance:
(NOT di4bai3)
("[one] hundredth")
(NOT di4qian1)
("[one] thousandth")
(NOT di4wan4)
("[one] ten thousandth")
Notice that this does NOT hold true for the numbers 10 to 19:
di4shi2 ("number 10," "tenth")
di4shi2yi1 ("number 11," "eleventh")
di4shi2jiu3 ("number 19," "nineteenth")
There is also another word, -hao4, which when used with a number refers to things in an order. Unlike the numbers used with di4-, the numbers with -hao4 come to be used as names for the things they refer to, as in addresses or dates.
Da4li3 Jie1 Si4shier4hao4 ("No. 42 Dali Street")
San1yve4 San1shiyi1hao4 ("March 31st")

Saying Numbers Aloud

There are two ways to say numbers aloud. One way is to give the full form of the number, including the labels for the powers of 10.
The other way is to use "telephone style," leaving out the labels for the powers of 10.
There are two things to notice when reading numbers "telephone style." First of all, since there is a slight pause between each number, the tone of a syllable is not changed by the next syllable. Therefore, all numbers are pronounced with their basic tones. Secondly, ling2 cannot stand for more than one zero (and is repeated if need be). "Telephone style" is often used to identify a year. The word for "year," -nian2, follows the numbers.
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