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A Crash Course in Chinese Numbers

This is a pretty simple post, but hopefully it’ll give you a quick and easy introduction to Chinese numbers–which can be rather intimidating at first the larger they get! But as you’ll see, it’s pretty easy to figure out once you know a simple little trick.

The basic numbers are all pretty straightforward:

0 〇/零 (líng)
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)

Then the 10’s, 100’s, 1000’s and more:

10’s 十 (shí)
100’s 百 (bǎi)
1,000s 千 (qiān)
10,000s 萬 (wàn)
10,000,000s 億 (yì)

The above numbers all work the same: take any of the base numbers (1-9), put it in front and you’ll get the corresponding value. Then, the next digit if any.

So, for example, 80 would be:

八 + 十 = 八十 = 80

Or 9804:

九 + 千 + 八 + 百 + 零 +  四 = 九千八百四 = 9804

That is all pretty straightforward but what about super huge numbers? Well, here’s the where we get to the good stuff:

Because the base unit in Chinese counting is four, larger numbers are multiples of four. That is, to determine the value quickly, you just keep on adding multiples of four onto the end of each number:

萬:add four zeros on to the end of the number

億:add eight zeros on to the end of the number

兆:add twelve zeros on to the end of the number

Let’s look at an example:


Jurassic Park was 65 million years in the making, or 65,000,000, which might be written something like 6500萬年 in Chinese. Notice the multiple of four at play here: 6500. But, how do you figure out how many years is 萬年? Well, with a quick look above, you know all you need to do is add four zeros on to the end of the number! So, 6500萬 becomes 65000000 or 65,000,000 and we’re back at our original number!

It’s a lot easier to think of it in this way, so hopefully this helps!

3 thoughts on “A Crash Course in Chinese Numbers”

  1. Hey Greg, great post. Numbers can be hard to translate from and into Chinese, especially if they are larger than 10’000. I always need a few seconds to convert from three to four digit alignment.

    I think you’re missing a 零 between 百 and 四 in your Chinese translation of 9804.

    1. Hi there!

      Thank your or the comment, and good catch on the missing 零! I’ve gone ahead and fixed it 🙂 I noticed some people leave it in conversation, but when it’s written it should be in there. So thank you for pointing that out!

      Thanks again for commenting!

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