Chinese Numbers: A Fascinating Guide to Beginners

Chinese Numbers: A Fascinating Guide to Beginners

The Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Numbers

Numbers are essential to every language — Mandarin Chinese included. In fact, counting is one of the first things babies learn as they start to make sense of the world. 

Similarly, if you’re learning Chinese, numbers are a great place to start because they give you a simple entry point into this exciting new journey. Learn all about Chinese numbers, including how to count from 0 to 100, and use this knowledge daily.

Understanding the Chinese Number System

Learning to count in Chinese is much more straightforward than expected. China uses the same number system that most countries do. However, every digit can also be written as a Chinese character, which you may sometimes see in place of the numeral. The concept of Chinese numbers is simplified into an easily digestible system:

  • Numbers 1 through 10 all have one character.
  • Numbers 11 through 19 all have the word for 10 (十, shí) added before the second digit. For example, 17 is written as 十七  (shí qī).
  • Numbers 20 through 90 are all expressed as a multiple of 10. For example, 20 would be two-ten (二十, èr shí), while 50 would be five-ten (五十, wŭ shí).
  • If you want to express numbers 21–29, 31–39, and so on, you add the final digit to the end. For example, 23 would be two-ten-three (二十三, èr shí sān). 
  • The word for hundred is 百 (băi). Generally, counting above 100 works the same way as counting to 20. That is, 一百 (yì băi) is 100, while 一百三十 (yì băi sān shí) is 130.
  • However, for the numbers 101 through 109, you should add the word for zero (零, líng) before the last digit. Thus, 103 is 一百零三 (yì băi líng sān). 

All items in Chinese numerology have “measure words” that let the receiver know what you are referring to. For example, the Chinese word for noodles is 面 (miàn). A measure word that pairs with food items like noodles is 份 (fèn). If you wanted to ask for one portion of noodles, you would say: 一份面 (yì fèn miàn). If you simply said 一面 (yí miàn), your request would not make sense. When speaking about specific numbers of items, you usually need the measure words to clarify the context.

Also, when learning Chinese numbers, pinyin (the phonetic system that transcribes Chinese characters to the Latin alphabet) can help you learn to pronounce each word correctly. It’s wise to use it as a guide.

Chinese Numbers 1–10

The best place to start learning the Chinese number system is to start with the basics. Here are the characters and pinyin transcriptions for numbers one through 10.

0零 / 〇líng

Now you will move on to more complex numbers. As you do, keep in mind the rules you previously learned. 

Chinese Numbers 11–100

This is where you need to start applying a few rules. Remember that numbers 20–99 are all expressed as multiples of 10 with the appropriate numerals added to the front and back of the word.

11十一shí yī
12十二shí èr
13十三shí sān
14十四shí sì
15十五shí wǔ
16十六shí liù
17十七shí qī
18十八shí bā
19十九shí jiǔ
20二十èr shí
21二十一 èr shí yī
22二十二 èr shí èr
23二十三 èr shí sān
29二十九 èr shí jiŭ
30三十sān shí
31三十一 sān shí yī
32三十二 sān shí èr
45四十五 sì shí wŭ
57五十七 wŭ shí qī
69六十九liù shí jiŭ
72七十二qī shí èr
85八十五 bā shí wŭ
99九十八jiŭ shí bā
100一百yì bǎi

Don’t just memorize these Chinese numbers, symbols, and pinyin. The best thing you can do is learn to put them to use.

How to Use Chinese Numbers

The primary reason to learn any unfamiliar language is to use your newfound knowledge to communicate with others in a real-world context. While figuring out the characters and pinyin for Chinese numbers 1-100 can be fun, there is much more you can do with Chinese numbers.

Over the following sections, you’ll learn how to use Chinese numbers translations in practical ways, including telling others about your birthday and other important events, sharing your age, giving someone your phone number, measuring substances, and finger-counting.


生日快乐 — shēng rì kuài lè

This is one of the ways you can say “Happy Birthday” in Chinese. Depending on the circumstances, there may be a follow-up question about your age. You may hear it one of two ways, with the latter primarily said to teenagers and young children:

  • 你多大? — Nǐ duō dà?
  • 你几岁? — Nǐ jǐ suì?

This part should be easy once you have learned Chinese numbers from 1 to 100. Simply say “I” (我, wǒ) before the number. Then, you’ll place the word for years of age (岁, suì) after the number. When you put the phrase together, you say, “I [number] years old.” For example:

  • 我九岁 — Wǒ jiǔ suì (I am 9 years old)
  • 我三十九岁 – Wǒ sān shí jiǔ suì (I am 39 years old)
  • 我九十九岁 – Wǒ jiǔ shí jiǔ suì (I am 99 years old)

You should always wait for someone to ask your age. Now, when they do, you’ll be able to answer with confidence.


How do you respond when someone asks about your birthday or the date of another important event? First, you’ll need to become familiar with a few vocabulary words:

日 (formal)day of month
号 (conversational)hàoday of month

When you are giving the date in Chinese, you will do so in this order: year, month, and day of month. That means that November 24, 1986, would be written this way:

  • 86年11月24号 — Bā liù nián, shí yī yuè, èr shí sì hào

Note that in a similar fashion to American English, you can simply use the last two digits of your birth year instead of writing out all four numbers.


Before you dive into measurements in Chinese, it’s essential to know that China uses the metric system and has done so since February 1929. If you come from a country where you are used to using the imperial system, which measures in feet, inches, pounds, and miles, you’ll need to mentally switch gears to fully understand Chinese measurements. 


Weight in Chinese is written as 重量 (zhòng liàng). When it comes to measuring weight, you need to know two critical measurements: 

  • 斤 — jīn
  • 两 — liǎng

These measurements are seen primarily in markets; for example, prices for items like tea are often advertised using 斤 and 两. A few equivalencies you need to know to understand this system include:

  • 1 两 (liǎng) = 50 grams
  • 1 斤 (jīn) = 10 两 or 500 grams

Many of the words used to describe measurements are based on traditional Chinese units. If you’re looking for some of the more familiar metric measurements, here’s a table to help you out:

gram 克 
milligram 毫克 háo kè
kilogram 公斤gōng jīn
ton dūn
pound 镑 bàng
ounce 盎司 àng sī

Height & Length

Height in Chinese is written as 高度 (gāo dù). Regarding height and length, China has a system similar to measuring weight. For example, 2 里 (lǐ) means 1 kilometer, and 3 尺 (chǐ) is 1 meter. However, these measurements are rarely used today in practical ways. Road signs and other essential items are more likely to simply use the metric measurement. 

Are you seeking guidance on writing and pronouncing some height and length measurements you may already know? This table can point you in the right direction.

length 长, 长度 cháng, cháng dù
width宽度 kuān dù
millimeter毫米háo mǐ
centimeter 厘米lí mǐ
kilometer 公里 gōng lǐ
mile 英里yīng lǐ
inch 英寸 yīng cùn
foot 英尺yīng chǐ
yard 码 

Volume, Capacity, & Area

The word for volume (capacity) is 容量 (róng liàng), and the term used for area is 面积 (miàn jī). A few volume and area-related terms you may recognize include:

depth 深度 shēn dù
liter 升 shēng
gallon 加仑 jiā lún
square meter 平方米 píng fāng mǐ

Other Measurements

Here are the Chinese words for a few other measurements you may find helpful. Take a look to see which ones you already recognize.

degree 度 
volt 伏, 伏特 fú, fú tè
horsepower 马力 mǎ lì
quantity 数量 shù liàng
a little bit of … 一点 yì diǎn
half 一半 yí bàn
dozen 一打 yì dá
scale (on a map)比例 bǐ lì
size 大小 dà xiǎo
the smallest最小的 zuì xiǎo de
medium中等的 zhōng děng de
the largest最大的 zuì dà de

Next, you’ll learn how to give someone your phone number in Chinese.

Phone Numbers

If you’re used to grouping numbers together when you tell someone your phone number, you’ll have to drop that practice when you speak Chinese. There are no worries about emphasizing area codes or the first three or last four digits of your phone number. Instead, just say the numbers in order. For example, if your phone number is 12345678987, you would simply say “yāo, èr, sān, sì, wǔ, liù, qī, bā, jiǔ, bā, qī.” 

Notice something a little different? That’s because 幺 (yāo) is usually used instead of 一 (yī) when giving out a phone number. That prevents confusion with the number 7 (qī) in speech.

Finger Counting

One fun fact is that numbers 1 through 10 can be communicated with just one hand in Chinese. In contrast, English speakers must use two hands for numbers 6 through 10. Learning the hand symbols for each number can help you communicate when you’re having trouble understanding someone or can’t make use of your other hand.

Tips for Learning Chinese Numbers

A few tips to help you nail down your Chinese numbers include: 

  • Try learning Chinese numbers through song or another form of entertainment
  • Don’t do it alone! Instead, make it a point to practice with others who are also learning
  • Practice what you know in a variety of settings, including grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, or even at work (when appropriate, of course)
  • Incorporate multidimensional learning to learn through a few different mediums, including videos, flashcards, and Chinese numbers worksheets

When you employ these tips and tricks, you’ll have more fun, and it’s more likely that the information will stick.

Learn Chinese With NewConcept Education

Learning a new language can be daunting, but having the right system in place will make all the difference. Instead of trying to piece together the information you’ve found in other resources, consider taking an online class where you can learn from an experienced teacher and practice a Chinese numbers activity or two with classmates after the same goal.

Whether learning a new language for business purposes or simply expanding your horizons, NewConcept Education offers an exciting curriculum, a collaborative learning community, and a proven system that can help you learn Mandarin Chinese up to three times faster than the average program.

Sign up for our classes and discover a fun way to learn Mandarin Chinese.

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