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4.11: Lesson 3 Grammar - Structure of numbers in Chinese

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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.

    Structure for the First Ten 

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

    • 1 一 yī
    • 2 二 èr
    • 3 三 sān
    • 4 四 sì
    • 5 五 wǔ
    • 6 六 liù
    • 7 七 qī
    • 8 八 bā
    • 9 九 jiǔ
    • 10 十 shí

    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."

    • 110
      yāo yāo líng
      [Note: This is the phone number for the police in the PRC.]
    • 120
      yāo èr líng
      [Note: This is the phone number for an ambulance in the PRC.]
    • 119
      yāo yāo jiǔ
      [Note: This is the phone number to report a fire in the PRC.]
    • 13501200120
      yāo sān wǔ, líng yāo èr líng, líng yāo èr líng
      [Note: This is a sample mobile number.  Cell phone numbers are 11 digits in the PRC.]

    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).

    • 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


    • 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!

    [adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

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    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!