Today, Chinese people use Chinese numbers and Arabic numbers to count and record in their daily lives. While the Chinese alphabet could be a bit challenging to learn, the good news is that numbers are easy! Once you master them, you can tell the time, date and even ask for a number from someone you like. So, let’s get started!
Simplified and Traditional Chinese Numbers
There are two forms of writings for Chinese numbers, which are the Simplified and Traditional forms. They are the same in pronunciations but different in writing, similar to capitalization in English.
The Simplified Form
These numbers are named as lowercase form 小写 (xiǎoxiě), which are geometrically simple to write. The Chinese people widely use them during daily activities. If you are new to the Chinese language, it is more than enough to master the Simplified Chinese numbers.
The Traditional Form
They are also called the uppercase form 大写(dàxiě). These writings are slightly more challenging to write and used lesser in daily lives. They are usually written to state the amounts in financial systems to prevent falsifications on numbers, thus called “anti-fraud numerals.”
For instance, 1,000 dollars in the Simplified Chinese numbers would be 一千 (yīqiān). If you are writing a cheque, forgers can easily modify them to 三千(sānqiān) – 3,000 with two strokes. No way we want that! That’s where the Traditional Chinese numbers come in, which is impossible to modify 壹仟 (yīqiān) to 叁仟(sānqiān).
How to Count 1 to 10 in Chinese
In Chinese, the numbers are pretty logical and straightforward to learn. The numbers 1-10 are monosyllables with up to 5 strokes per character for the simplified form. You might find them interesting, as each conveys superstitions related to some words that sound similar.
Wait no more, let’s start counting!
一(yī) – One(1)
It is pretty simple with only one stroke. Just imagine it as the lying Arabic number 1! It could sound like 七(qī) – Seven(7) when you speak fast in Chinese. So, you can speak 幺 (yāo) instead to recite a sequence of numbers. For instance, to read 152, you say yāo wǔ èr.
二(èr) – Two(2)
Similar to 一(yī), except it comes in two strokes for 二(èr), makes sense right? Both 二(èr) and 两(liǎng) mean two(2) in Chinese. 二(èr) is usually used for numbers like phone numbers and bank account numbers. Use 两(liǎng) if you want to talk about the quantity of something. For example:
- 二十二 (èrshí’èr): twenty-two
- 两个人 (liǎng gèrén): two people
三(sān) – Three(3)
Just add another stroke to make 三(sān), like how we write 一(yī) and 二(èr). It sounds like 生 (shēng), which has a positive connotation with the meaning of “life.” Chinese culture cherishes longevity and prosperity a lot, so you see how good 三(sān) means!
四(sì) – Four(4)
Now, this is a bit special. 四(sì) is written as a mouth 口 surrounding the 儿(it looks a bit like 八(bā) – number 8). Just like number 13 in the West, 四(sì) signifies bad luck, as it sounds similar to 死(sǐ) – “death.” Avoid giving people four of something as a gift, like four pieces of fruits. Buildings and houses usually skip number 4 in the house or floor numbering too.
五(wǔ) – Five(5)
Literally, you are adding two strokes on top of 三(sān), one long and one short. There are five intersecting points in this character. It is positive as many Chinese traditional concepts are associated with 五(wǔ), like feng shui and music. However, sometimes it is the opposite since it sounds like 无(wú), which means “without” or “no.”
六(liù) – Six(6)
It is the combination of 亠 on top of 八(bā) – number 8. In most cases, 六(liù) is considered lucky as it sounds like 流 (liú), meaning “flow” or 溜(liū) meaning “smooth.” It also conveys the meaning of “happiness” or “fortune” when spoken in Cantonese (Cantonese Yale: lok6). With the positive significance, businesses always use it for it is a good number.
七(qī) – Seven(7)
七(qī) is easy to write with just two strokes, and it gives both positive and negative meaning in Chinese culture. On the good side, it sounds similar to 起 (qǐ) and 气 (qì), meaning “rise” and “vital energy.” On the contrary, it may imply bad luck with similar pronunciation to 欺(qī), which means “cheat.”
八(bā) – Eight(8)
When you removed the 口 from 四(sì), it becomes 八(bā). In oppose to 四(sì), Chinese number 八(bā) is considered the luckiest number, and people tend to incorporate 8 in their daily life and business. People also use 八 to greet and wish others as it sounds like 发(fā), meaning “wealth” and “prosperity” – everyone loves 发!
九(jiǔ) – Nine(9)
九(jiǔ) is the ultimate and supreme digit in the Chinese culture. In ancient China, 9 is exclusively for the Chinese emperors, and Chinese emperors are called 九五之尊(jiǔwǔ zhī zūn). 九(jiǔ) represents “longevity” and “eternity” for it sounds like 久 (jiǔ) with those meanings. People often use 九 for wedding and birthday wishes for the significance of “long-lasting.”
十(shí) – Ten (10)
10 in Chinese is just a horizontal and a vertical stroke – super easy to write. In Chinese culture, 十(shí) symbolizes reunion and satisfaction. We say 十分(shífēn) which means extremely, and 十全十美(shíquánshíměi), implying everything goes perfect.
Now that you’ve learned the numbers 1-10, but you will need some classifiers to use along with numbers in counting. Classifiers are also called Chinese measure words or counter words, where we add in between a number and a noun to combine them. They are similar to how we categorize words in English, such as “a cup of tea” and “three pairs of socks.” You should not eliminate them, nor are they interchangeable. If in doubt, use 个(gè) as it is a generic measure word, and many understand it.
Here are some examples of common Chinese counters used:
|双||shuāng||A pair of things||一双手 (yī shuāngshǒu) – a pair of hands|
|杯||bēi||For cups or glasses of drinks||三杯茶 (sān bēi chá) – three cups of tea|
|只||zhī||Animals, utensils, one of a pair, etc||两只鸡 (liǎng zhī jī) – two chickens|
I know they are interesting – more or less like how we use them in English. But we’re focusing more on basic numbers in this article. If you are keen to learn more, Maayot has daily bite-size and engaging stories to boost your Chinese!
The Chinese language is one of the oldest languages that people still use, and it is rich in history. That’s why many linguistic learners are keen to take up the challenge and master it! Learning numbers could be your easy and enjoyable first baby steps in this case.
Once you learn the basics, you can then learn 100, 1000, and 10000 by combining them. I hope this guide could be your enlightenment to count numbers in Chinese – and that you could impress others with 一(yī), 二(èr), 三(sān) soon!