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Numbers in Chinese

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Chinese Numbers

A question that one might ask oneself after reviewing all the previous pages is how Chinese people handle the numbers. Whether they use Arabic numerals1 or if they have Chinese characters for them, after all Arabic numbers are widespread all around the world and are also very ancient.

Truth is, they use Arabic numerals for mathematic operations and they learn it at school. But also, they use two Chinese numeral systems, especially in written texts, and to write addresses, checks, etc. The first system is called Suzhou. It is a set of characters that existed before the Arabic set was introduced, it was used in markets and can be compared to Roman numerals in the Western world. The other widespread system is the Chinese numeral system and it has Chinese characters to represent each number; it can be compared to writing "1" or "one" in English. The following list shows the Arabic numbers, the Chinese character and the pinyin pronunciation.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10



líng

èr

sān

liù

jiǔ

shí

For number zero both characters are used. For number 2, the character 两 (liǎng) is used to say "a pair" and to write high numbers.  After 10, to make numbers one has to add 10 to the number of units. Eleven in Chinese is really Ten One, twelve is Ten Two, etc.

11

12

16

19

十一

十二

十六

十九

shí yī

shí èr

shí liù

shí jiǔ

 

To make 20, 30, 40, etc. you multiply Two Tens, Three Tens, etc.:

20

30

50

90

二十

三十

五十

九十

èr shí

sān shí

wǔ shí

jiǔ shí

And to make the numbers from 21 to 99 you have to add the units to the numbers in the last table. Therefore, 21 would be "two tens one". 
 


21

45

72

99

二十一

四十五

七十二

九十九

èr shí yī

sì shí wǔ

qī shí èr

jiǔ shí jiǔ

The rest of the numbers are written in a similar way. Chinese introduces a new character after 4 zeros (104, 108), unlike English that uses sets of 3 zeros (thousand, million).

 

100

1,000

10,000

100,000,000

一百

一千

一万

一亿

yī bǎi

yī qiān

yī wàn

yī yì

 

All of the higher numbers are build the same way as the lower ones. If you have zeros in the middle of the number, for example 10004, you add just one zero in Chinese. Here are some examples:

 

153

8000

12000

12009

一百五十三

八千

一万两千

一万两千〇九

yī bǎi wǔ shí sān

bā qiān

yī wàn liǎng qiān

yī wàn liǎng qiān líng jiǔ

 

The characters presented here are the simplified, informal ones. Some traditional numbers are different. You might notice that if you want to write a check using the character for one, it might easily be tampered to say 2 or 3. To avoid this, there is a financial set of characters that is more complex. The financial character for 1 is 壹.

1. Arabic numerals are the symbols 0, 1, 2, 3, 4…

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