I usually prefer to teach Vocabulary and Grammar piece by piece, picking up each new bit as it appears in the reading materials. However, the Numbers aren’t really useful unless you know them all, and there are a few topics that I’m sure you’ll be happy to pick up as soon as possible, like working with money, asking the time, days, and dates, to name a few. So let’s just cover all these basics as quickly as possible right now, in SIX easy lessons.
The flashcard set for all the Numbers lessons is entitled DLB Chinese Topics: Numbers, and can be found in the Flashcards Deluxe Shared Library. You know what to do. 😉
1. Numbers, Part 1
ㄧ ㄦˋ ㄙㄢ ㄙˋ ㄨˇ ㄌㄧㄡˋ ㄑㄧ ㄅㄚ ㄐㄧㄡˇ ㄕˊ
1. Numbers 1 – 10
Here are the numbers one through ten. Now that you know them, you should be able to count to ten by yourself, right? Do it now!
2. Numbers 11 – 99
Counting in Chinese is very logical. Eleven, twelve, and thirteen are just 十一, 十二, 十三 (ten-one, ten-two, ten-three). Twenty, twenty-one, and twenty-two are 二十, 二十一, 二十二 (two-ten, two-ten-one, two-ten-two). This pattern continues all the way up to 99. Try counting to 99 now!
3. Counting things
Now you can count numbers, but what about counting things? To count in Chinese, you need two things: counter words, and 兩 (the alternate #2).
In English we sometimes use “counter words” for things that are otherwise grammatically “uncountable”.
One sheet of paper.
One cup of water.
In Chinese, almost everything has a counter.
|one||(counter for cups of X)||water|
one cup of water
Counters are also known as “measure words”, or “classifiers”. The most common classifier is 個. Sometimes 個 is used even when other counter words are also appropriate. Although it won’t be grammatically perfect, Chinese speakers won’t mind if you use 個 to count everything while you are still a beginner.
|four||(polite counter for people)||cup|
Some other useful counters are 次 and 下, which are used for counting actions.
One more time.
He knocked three times.
In context, the object being counted is often omitted, so it may feel sometimes like there is no counter. Also, a very small number of words in Chinese do not require a counter, because they are counters themselves.
|four||(polite counter for people)|
We’re almost ready to start counting things in Chinese! But, before we go on, we need to learn an alternate way of saying the number 2.
兩 (ㄌㄧㄤˇ) ~ 2 (alternate)
This version of two is used for counting objects, people, and big numbers like hundreds, thousands, etc. Below 100, it will ONLY be used for the number 2; not for 12, 20, 22, etc.
One, two, three!
|one||bottle (counter)||two (alternate)||bottle (counter)||three||bottle (counter)|
One bottle, two bottles, three bottles.
This bar has 2 girls and 22 boys.
Now you have everything you need to start counting stuff in Chinese! Try counting to 99 again, but this time while adding 個 to the end of each number. Don’t forget to use 兩 instead of 二, but only once!
4. Asking how many
To ask how many of something there is, just replace the number with 幾.
How many people? One person.
How many children do you have? I have three children.
5. Numbers 100 – 109
To count above 99, we need two more characters. The first is of course, “hundred”.
百 (ㄅㄞˇ) ~ 100
The rules for 百 are a little different than they are for 十. Just as in English, 百 (hundred), must be preceeded by an 一 (one).
Remember 兩? Two hundred is usually counted with a 兩 instead of an 二, although technically both are okay.
Two hundred twenty-two. / 222.
For numbers 101-109, we will need the character for “zero”.
零 (ㄌㄧㄥˊ) ~ 0
Can you guess how to say 101?”.
One hundred and one. / 101.
And so on from 101 to 109. The reason we need the zero in there is so we don’t confuse 101 with 110, as you will see in a moment. Try counting from 90 to 109 now!
6. Numbers 110 – 999
Counting above 109 is completely logical, based on what you already know.
One hundred and ten. / 110.
Four hundred twenty. / 420.
Nine hundred ninety-nine. / 999.
Notice how 十 can appear by itself in numbers 10-19, but must be preceeded by 一 in larger numbers.
Ten, one hundred and ten. / 10, 110.
If there is a zero in the one’s place, you can omit the 十.
One hundred and ten. / 110.
Four hundred twenty. / 420.
Two hundred fifty. / 250.
This is why you need 零 for 101-109, 201-209, etc.; If you just say 一百一, people will think you mean 一百一十.
7. Numbers 1000 – 9999
千 (ㄑㄧㄢ) ~ 1000
The rules for using the character 千 (thousand) are the same as for 百, with one addition; if you see two zeros in the middle (1001-1009, 2001-2009, etc), only say 零 once. As you can guess, the numbers with zeros in them will be the trickiest to get the hang of.
|1110||一千一百一十 OR 一千一百一 **|
* For 1010, don’t say “一千零一” (dropping the 十), even though you may hear others doing it. It creates confusion because “一千零一” literally means 1001.
** In this case, it’s again okay to drop the 十, because there is no 零 to confuse things.
萬 億 兆
ㄨㄢˋ ㄧˋ ㄓㄠˋ
8. Numbers 1,0000 – 9999,9999,9999,9999
Notice the commas? In China, the big numbers have a comma after every four digits; not three like western countries do. That’s because unlike English, Chinese has a word for ten thousand.
萬 (ㄨㄢˋ) ~ 1,0000 (ten thousand)
And just as English has a word for a thousand thousands (one million), a thousand millions (one billion), and a thousand billions (one trillion), Chinese has words for each factor of 萬.
億 (ㄧˋ) ~ 1,0000,0000 (one hundred million)
兆 (ㄓㄠˋ) ~ 1,0000,0000,0000 (one trillion)
Just like English, start by reading the entire group of numbers to the left of the first comma. Then when you hit the comma, say the appropriate large number, then read the next group of numbers, then the next comma, and so on.
One hundred twenty-three trillion, four hundred fifty-six billion, seven hundred eighty-nine million, twelve thousand, three hundred forty-five.
Instead of counting digits in your head, it may be easier to just remember the more common large numbers as individual vocabulary words.
Now you can count from zero all the up to the trillions. And you can properly count objects too! You are sooooo smart!
Once you’ve had the chance to review your flashcards, and take a short break (or a long one), we can start tackling fractions, decimals, dates and more!