Assuming that you have followed my last few articles, I have a great news for you! You will be able to learn at least ten Chinese dates (written in Month/Day format) in less than ten minutes! I absolutely adore our dating system (no, not that kind of dating)! This is definitely not a biased statement and you will see why very soon!
Here is a checklist before you proceed:
Question #1: Do you recognize the following four characters?
Question #2: Which of the following means thirty-one?
The answers to questions #1 and #2 are at the end of this article.
Preparation: Learning two more new characters
So, let’s add two more Chinese characters to your toolbox!
These two characters are in fact pictographic characters! I just love these types of characters! And if you don’t remember what pictographic characters are, please check out this article.
The new characters that we are about to learn are 日, which represents the sun, and 月, which represents a crescent moon.
For students who are interested in learning character etymology, you can follow the links listed below to find diagrams showing how these characters have evolved over time:
Here is how I like to teach these two characters
The character 日rì
What kind of windows do you have? Do they slide left and right, or up and down? If your windows slide left and right like mine, then I hope you have also seen windows that slide up and down.
The reason is that we are going to picture this character as a window that slides up and down. When you slide the window up and look outside, what do you see? Hopefully it’s not raining at the moment and you see a big bright sun!
The character 月yuè
Now, continuing with our windows example, do you have curtains? No? You have blinds? Arggghh. Well, let’s pretend that we have curtains. Close your eyes and picture the following scene: you are leaning against your window, looking out and enjoying the peaceful night and the summer breeze. The curtains on both ends of your window blow softly as if they are playing a melody right there besides to you. You look up and you see the big, bright _____.
Did you fill in “moon” for that blank? Great, because our second character represents the moon.
Connecting the dots
What do the sun and the moon have to do with the days and months?
Without getting too technical, we see the sun during the day, right? The character 日 symbolizes the sun and day.
The moon represents the lunar cycle, which is used to calculate the month. So, 月 represents the moon and month.
Do you see where I am going with this?
The names of the months in Chinese
I am going to give you an example:
- 一月 yī yuè
So, what does 一 mean? It means “one.” And what does 月 mean? It means “month.”
Therefore, this term literally means “one month.” That is how we say “January,” which is the first month of the year.
Following the same logic, let’s put 二 and 月 together.
- 二月 èr yuè
Now what do we have?
We literally have “two” and “month.” This represents the second month of the year, or “February.”
Basically, we simply count from one to twelve, and then add the 月 character to produce the names of the months! Is not that awesome or what?
With the four basic characters that you know already, can you tell me how to say the following months?
The answers are:
- 三月 sān yuè (March)
- 十一月 shí yī yuè (November)
- 十二月 shí èr yuè (December)
Not too bad right? What about the days?
The names of the days in Chinese
Days have exactly the same logic. We just put a number in front of the character for day, which is 日。
- 一日 yī rì
This literally means “one day,” which is equivalent to the first day of the month. So I will translate this as “1st day.”
- 二日 is the 2nd day of the month.
- 三日 is the 3rd day of the month.
Now try the following exercises using the characters that you know already:
- 11th day
- 21st day
- 31st day
The answers are:
- 十一日 shí yī rì
- 二十一日 èr shí yī rì
- 三十一日 sān shí yī rì
If you are having trouble with this part, please check my previous article that talks about counting from one to ninety-nine for help.
Putting it all together
Let’s bring back a little bit of math again (I know, I know, you are probably starting to wonder if I was not being entirely honest about disliking math).
This time, we don’t even need to do any calculations. We are simply going to “plug and chug.”
- _____ 月 ______ 日
When we talk about dates involving months and days in Chinese, we go from big to small. In other words, we start with the month first, and then say the day. If we need to include the year, then the year should be put first.
Just to refresh your memory, here is your character bank:
Let’s do an example together. I want to say March 1st.
Step 1: Which month is March? It is the 3rd month of the year. So, we use 三.
Step 2: Plug your answer from the previous question into the first blank space.
Step 3: How do we say one in Chinese? It’s 一.
Step 4: Plug your answer from the previous question into the second blank space.
Viola, we have March 1st, which is:
- 三月一日 sān yuè yī rì
Now, can you try the following examples?
- February 22nd
- March 3rd
- December 31st
The answers are:
- 二月二十二日 èr yuè èr shí èr rì
- 三月三日 sān yuè sān rì
- 十二月三十一日 shí èr yuè sān shí yī rì
Note: It is important to know that we do use Arabic numbers when we write dates as well. So don’t be surprised if you see 二月二十二日 being written as 2 月 22 日! However, I like teaching dates this way because it allows you to play with the characters and immediately start recognizing and understanding entire phrases!
In this article, I have only used characters that you already know. So, if you remember how to say the numbers from one to nine, then you can express any date during the year! Have fun with Chinese dates!