If you have read my previous two articles (which you can find here and here), then you should already have the following four characters in your Chinese learning toolbox: 一, 二, 三 and 十 (one, two, three, and ten, respectively). Now, in this article, we are going to instantly increase your number vocabulary eleven times by using those four characters! So, let’s begin by reviewing what was covered in the previous two articles:
Character |
Pinyin |
Meaning |
一 |
yī |
one |
二 |
èr |
two |
三 |
sān |
three |
十 |
shí |
ten |
I am a huge fan of taking and encouraging small steps, so while there are those who might not even consider this to be a vocabulary list, I completely do! There is a famous Chinese proverb by Laozi that says: 千里之行，始于足下. This means “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, let’s take our first step!
Math Time!
Before we continue, we need to do a little bit of math. While mathematics is an amazing subject in many ways, I myself am not very good at it! However, you don’t have to be a math genius to do the following math problems.
First, please fill in the blanks for the following three questions:
- 11 = 10 + ___
- 12 = 10 + ___
- 13 = 10 + ___
Did you fill in 1, 2 and 3, respectively? Great! So, let’s now go through the following steps to figure out how to say “eleven” in Chinese.
Step 1: Write “ten” in Chinese.
- 十 shí (ten)
Step 2: Write “one” in Chinese.
- 一 yī (one)
Step 3: Now, put them together. What do you get? You get “ten” and “one.” This is how we say “eleven” in Chinese!
- 十一 shí yī (eleven)
Now repeat these three steps again in order to figure out “twelve” and “thirteen.” Did you get an answer?
Answers:
- 十二 shí èr (twelve)
- 十三 shí sān (thirteen)
So, just with the characters that we know so far, we can write and say “eleven,” “twelve” and “thirteen” in Chinese. And the great thing is that this same concept applies to the numbers all the way through nineteen!
What about twenty and thirty?
Again, we are going to start with a little bit of math.
Please fill in the blanks for the following two questions:
- 20 = ___ X 10
- 30 = ___ X 10
Did you fill in 2 and 3 respectively? Great! Now let’s go through some steps to see how to say “twenty” and “thirty” in Chinese:
Step 1: Write “two” in Chinese.
- 二 èr (two)
Step 2: Write “ten” in Chinese.
- 十 shí (ten)
Step 3: Now, put them together. What do you get?
- 二十 èr shí (twenty)
You get “two” and “ten.” And that is how we say “twenty” in Chinese!
For the rest of the tens, we simply say how many tens we have. Now, can you tell me what “thirty” is in Chinese?
Answer:
- 三十 sān shí (thirty)
What if I want to say “twenty-two”?
For “twenty-two,” we just need to build on our previous equation and add the remaining digit to it.
Please fill in the blank for the following question:
- 22 = 2 X 10 + ___
The answer you should have gotten is 2. Now, let’s go through the following steps to figure out how to say “twenty-two” in Chinese.
Step 1: Write “twenty” in Chinese.
- 二十 èr shí (twenty)
Step 2: Write “two” in Chinese.
- 二 èr (two)
Step 3: Now, put them together. What do you get?
- 二十二 èr shí èr (twenty-two)
Let’s do another example. How do we say “thirty-three”?
First, we start with “thirty.”
- 三十 sān shí (thirty)
Then, we add “three,” which is 三。 As a result, we end up with 三十三。
- 三十三 sān shí sān (thirty-three)
Now, try the following:
- “twenty-one,” “twenty-three,” “thirty-one” and “thirty-two.”
Answers:
- 二十一 èr shí yī (twenty-one)
- 二十三 èr shí sān (twenty-three)
- 三十一 sān shí yī (thirty-one)
- 三十二 sān shí èr (thirty-two)
Please note that we do in fact use Arabic numbers in Chinese. However, I like to teach numbers this way to encourage character learning. Now, let’s learn the remaining six numbers from one to ten! For the following characters, we will focus on constructing the numbers rather than covering the individual characters.
Character |
Pinyin |
Meaning |
一 |
yī |
one |
二 |
èr |
two |
三 |
sān |
three |
四 |
sì |
four |
五 |
wŭ |
five |
六 |
liù |
six |
七 |
qī |
seven |
八 |
bā |
eight |
九 |
jiŭ |
nine |
十 |
shí |
ten |
Now, with just one to ten, you know how to say all the numbers from “one” to “ninety-nine”! Let’s do some practice!
How do we say sixteen in Chinese?
- 16 = 10 + 6
Step 1: Write “ten” in Chinese.
Step 2: Write “six” in Chinese.
Step 3: Now, put them together. You should get 十六。
- 十六 shí liù (sixteen)
How do we say fifty in Chinese?
- 50 = 5 X 10
Step 1: Write “five” in Chinese.
Step 2: Write “ten” in Chinese.
Step 3: Now, put them together. You should get 五十。
- 五十 wŭ shí (fifty)
How do we say 57 in Chinese?
Building upon the previous answer, we just need to add “seven.” So the final answer is 五十七。
- 五十七 wŭ shí qī (fifty-seven)
Congratulations! You now know how to say all the numbers from one to ninety-nine in Chinese!
Now, I did tell you that I am not a big fan of math. However, I love the logic behind Chinese numbers. It’s so straightforward and rational. And now that you know all of these numbers, you can start learning how to write and say dates as well! Stay tuned for my next article!
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Hero Image by Andy Maguire (CC BY 2.0)