Learning how to count and use numbers in Chinese is essential for anyone looking to communicate effectively in Taiwan or engaging in business dealings with Taiwanese or Chinese companies. In this article, we’ll explore the basics of numbers in Chinese.
Cardinal numbers in Chinese are composed of simple characters and are relatively easy to learn.
Numbers from 0 to 99
The first ten numbers are the most basic and important numbers in Chinese. They are represented by the following characters:
After the first ten numbers, the Chinese number system follows a regular pattern. For example, the number 11 is 十一 (ㄕˊ ㄧ), which means “ten-one”. The number 12 is 十二 (ㄕˊ ㄦˋ), which means “ten-two”, 23 is 二十三 (ㄦˋ ㄕˊ ㄙㄢ), 57 is 五十七(ㄨˇ ㄕˊ ㄑㄧ), and so on.
💡 The number two (兩 – ㄌㄧㄤˇ)
The number two (二) becomes 兩 when used to enumerate something, like two cups should be 兩杯 and not 二杯.
In Chinese, large numbers are counted in units of ten thousand (萬). For example, 100,000 is 十萬, 1,000,000 is 百萬, and 10,000,000 is 千萬. To express numbers beyond 10,000,000, the Chinese language uses a similar system of counting based on units of 100 million (億).
Ordinal numbers in Chinese are used to indicate order or rank. They are formed by adding the character 第 (ㄉㄧˋ – dì) before the cardinal number. For example:
- 第一 (ㄉㄧˋ ㄧ) – first
- 第二 (ㄉㄧˋ ㄦˋ) – second
- 第三 (ㄉㄧˋ ㄙㄢ) – third
- 第四 (ㄉㄧˋ ㄙˋ) – fourth
- 第五 (ㄉㄧˋ ㄨˇ) – fifth
Years and phone numbers
When saying phone numbers and years in Chinese, each digit is pronounced separately. For example, if your phone number is 1234567890, you would say it as 一二三四五六七八九零 (ㄧ ㄦˋ ㄙㄢ ㄙˋ ㄨˇ ㄌㄧㄡˋ ㄑㄧ ㄅㄚ ㄐㄧㄡˇ ㄌㄧㄥˊ), and for the year 2023 you would say it as 二零二三 (ㄦˋ ㄌㄧㄥˊ ㄦˋ ㄙㄢ).
Measure words are used to quantify a noun, much like how we use the words “a” or “an” in English. In Chinese, measure words come after the number and before the noun, indicating the quantity or amount of the object being described. For example, the measure word for “people” in Chinese is 個 (ㄍㄜˋ). So, to say “two people” in Chinese, you would say “兩個人” (ㄌㄧㄤˇ ㄍㄜˋ ㄖㄣˊ).
There are many different types of measure words in Chinese, and each one is used to count or quantify a specific category of nouns. Here are some examples of commonly used measure words:
|個||ㄍㄜˋ||gè||Used for general objects or people|
|張||ㄓㄤ||zhāng||Used for flat objects, such as paper, pictures, or maps|
|本||ㄅㄣˇ||běn||Used for bound objects, such as books, magazines, or notebooks|
|隻||ㄓ||zhī||Used for animals, such as cats or dogs|
|頭||ㄊㄡˊ||tóu||Used for large animals, such as horses or cows|
|條||ㄊㄧㄠˊ||tiáo||Used for long, thin objects, such as snakes, rivers, or pants|
Lucky and Unlucky Numbers
In Chinese culture, certain numbers are considered lucky or unlucky. The number 8 (八) is considered lucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “prosperity” (發財 – ㄈㄚ ㄘㄞˊ). The number 4 (四) is considered unlucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “death” (死 – ㄙˇ). As a result, many Chinese people avoid using the number 4 in phone numbers, addresses, and other important situations.
In addition to 8 being considered lucky due to its similarity to “prosperity,” the number 9 (九) is also considered lucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “longevity” (長壽 – ㄔㄤˊ ㄕㄡˋ). This number is often associated with happiness and is often used in weddings and other joyous occasions.
On the other hand, the number 5 (五) is considered unlucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “nothing” (無 – ㄨˊ). Additionally, the number 6 (六) is considered unlucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “流 – ㄌㄧㄡˊ,” which means “to flow away” or “to slip away.” For this reason, it is often avoided in important situations, such as choosing wedding dates or house numbers.
In conclusion, understanding numbers is an important part of learning any language, including Chinese. While the Chinese number system may seem daunting at first, it is actually quite easy to learn and use. By memorizing the basic number characters and practicing pronunciation, you can quickly become proficient in counting and using numbers in everyday situations. Additionally, learning number-related vocabulary can help you better communicate about numbers in Chinese. Finally, being aware of lucky and unlucky numbers can help you avoid cultural faux pas when communicating with Chinese speakers.