Do you want to feel accomplished while you’re learning Mandarin Chinese? Learn to count in Mandarin! Counting in Mandarin is really easy, compared to many other languages!
I recently read an article titled “Your math ability could depend on the language you count in” and I couldn’t relate to it more!
I still think about numbers in Chinese despite having used English as my primary language for many years. I count and do all math calculations in my head in Chinese. I remember phone numbers or two-step verification codes in Chinese.
Thinking about numbers in Chinese is much easier and faster for me than in English. No matter how much time I spend in an English-speaking environment, I don’t ever want give up my numeracy skills in Chinese.
(The downside is that, I appear slow if I get asked a numerical question in English. I would have to spend my brain power processing numbers in English into Chinese first. Oh well.)
How do you say counting numbers in Chinese?
In Chinese, numbers are called 数. Digits are 数字. Mathematics is 数学. Data is 数据. The noun for numbers is pronounced shù, the fourth decreasing tone.
To keep things spicy, count is 数, the same character, but pronounced as shǔ, the third tone with a dip!
Let’s start 数数!
How to count in Chinese from zero to one hundred
Let’s get zero out of the way first. Zero is 零 = Líng. It’s not used anywhere again from zero to niney-nine in Chinese.
Counting from one to ninety-nine follows a system that’s very straightforward. As long as you learn how to count one to ten, you can easily count up to 99.
First, let’s listen to Peppa counting from one to ten!!
In Chinese, 11 is pronounced as 10-1; 20 is pronounced 2-10; 96 is pronounced as 9-10-6. It’s pretty straightforward.
For double digit numbers, you read out the first digit, add a “十” or ten in the middle, and you read out the second digit.
One hundred is 一百 = yī bǎi or literally 1 and 100.
A complete table for counting from zero to one hundred in Chinese
Can you find the pattern from the table below?
|shí yī||shí èr||shí sān||shí sì||shí wǔ||shí liù||shí qī||shí bā||shí jiǔ||èr shí|
|èr shí yī||èr shí èr||èr shí sān||èr shí sì||èr shí wǔ||èr shí liù||èr shí qī||èr shí bā||èr shí jiǔ||sān shí|
|èr shí yī||shí èr||shí sān||shí sì||shí wǔ||shí liù||shí qī||shí bā||shí jiǔ||shí|
|sì shí yī||sì shí èr||sì shí sān||sì shí sì||sì shí wǔ||sì shí liù||sì shí qī||sì shí bā||sì shí jiǔ||wǔ shí|
|wǔ shí yī||wǔ shí èr||wǔ shí sān||wǔ shí sì||wǔ shí wǔ||wǔ shí liù||wǔ shí qī||wǔ shí bā||wǔ shí jiǔ||liù shí|
|liù shí yī||liù shí èr||liù shí sān||liù shí sì||liù shí wǔ||liù shí liù||liù shí qī||liù shí bā||liù shí jiǔ||qī shí|
|qī shí yī||qī shí èr||qī shí sān||qī shí sì||qī shí wǔ||qī shí liù||qī shí qī||qī shí bā||qī shí jiǔ||bā shí|
|bā shí yī||bā shí èr||bā shí sān||bā shí sì||bā shí wǔ||bā shí liù||bā shí qī||bā shí bā||bā shí jiǔ||jiǔ shí|
|jiǔ shí yī||jiǔ shí èr||jiǔ shí sān||jiǔ shí sì||jiǔ shí wǔ||jiǔ shí liù||jiǔ shí qī||jiǔ shí bā||jiǔ shí jiǔ||yī bǎi|
How the Chinese number system is easier than many other languages
Let’s contrast this with French: 96 is quatre-vingt-seize in French which literally means “four times twenty plus sixteen”. Why?! Just why!?
English numbers are not too bad. But why are there “eleven” “twelve” instead of “one-teen” and “two-teen”, also why is it “teen” rather than “one-ty”. Oh well, you get my point.
The Japanese counting system is very similar to Chinese, but they have a bunch pronunciation variations that vary depending on the numbers, and sometimes there are two ways to read the same number. I find it hard to remember all the rules when it comes to numbers in Japanese.
I’d say the only weird rule counting from 1 to 100 in Mandarin Chinese is 二 vs 两 which I actually wrote about. (Technically speaking, you’d still use 二 in counting. Anyways, please read my article if you want to know how to use 两!)
Hear me count in Chinese from 0 to 100
I also recorded myself counting 0 to 100 in Chinese below:
Hear me count in Chinese from 0 to 10:
Hear me count in Chinese from 11 to 20:
Hear me count in Chinese from 21 to 30:
Hear me count in Chinese from 31 to 40:
Hear me count in Chinese from 41 to 50:
Hear me count in Chinese from 51 to 60:
Hear me count in Chinese from 61 to 70:
Hear me count in Chinese from 71 to 80:
Hear me count in Chinese from 81 to 90:
Hear me count in Chinese from 91 to 100:
How to say numbers from one-hundred to nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine in Chinese
The rules for how to read the numbers out loud are more complicated. They are mostly similar to English but there are some special cases involving separating out multiples of a hundred and multiples of ten. Let me summarize the rules below.
A number that is just a multiple of a hundred, such as 100, 200, 900: Say the first digit + 百.
100 = 一百
200 = 二百
900 = 九百
A number that can be decomposed into a multiple of a hundred plus a single digit, such as 101, 205, 904: Say the first digit + 百 + 零 + the last digit.
101 = 一百零一
205 = 二百零五
904 = 九百零九
Note that you have to have the 零 there, because in spoken Chinese 一百一 refers to 110, not 101. 二百五 refers to 250, not 205 (btw 二百五 is a colloquial way to call somebody dumb in Chinese.)]
A number that can be decomposed into a multiple of a hundred plus a multiple of ten, such as 110, 530, 490: Say the first digit + 百 + the second digit (+ 十).
110 = 一百一
530 = 五百三
Technically you can also say add a 十 at the end such as 一百一十, but more often than not the 十 is omitted in spoken Chinese.
A number that can be decomposed into a multiple of a hundred plus a number in the teens, such as 118, 319, 716: Say the first digit + 百 + 一十 + the last digit.
118 = 一百一十八
319 = 三百一十九
716 = 七百一十六
For any of the rest of the numbers, such as 224, 673, 592: Say the first digit + 百 + the normal way to say the two digit number.
224 = 二百二十四
673 = 六百七十三
592 = 五百九十二
How to say numbers one thousand and greater in Chinese
千 = qiān is thousand. 一千 is one thousand, 两千 is two thousand, etc. The rules for numbers in the thousands are very similar to those for the hundreds.
I would highlight that 一千一 means 1100 which is one thousand and one hundred, instead of one thousand and ten even though 110 is read as 一百一.
1100 = 一千一（百）
3600 = 三千六（百）
Other than the case above where you can decompose the number into a multiple of thousand and a multiple of a hundred, if there is a 0 before the last digit, you should read it out, such as
1001 = 一千零一
1010 = 一千零一十
7045 = 七千零四十五
Note that I mostly avoided using two in my examples. Please read my post on 二 vs 两 in addition to this article.
Beyond 千, there is also 万 which is 10,000 and 亿 which is 100,000,000 (AND NOT A BILLION, Google translate is misleading! Btw, watch me battle Google Translate.)
Come on, you probably wouldn’t be counting such large numbers in Chinese.
In colloquial Chinese, similar to English, you’d omit the smaller parts of the numbers and say things like 一千多 = yīqiān duō, just over one thousand, 大概一千 = dàgài yīqiān, about one thousand.
If you are reading out a model number or serial number of a product, you’d usually just read out the digits, check out an example in S01E51 Part 3.
Do you have a number in mind that you’re not sure how to say in Chinese? Comment and I can help.