There’s a joke from the Qing Dynasty on numbers in Chinese. A tutor teaches a rich man’s son that one horizontal line is ‘one’ (一), and that two lines (二) is ‘two’, and ‘three’ is three lines (三). The son is satisfied and tells his father he has learned how to write numbers in Chinese Hanzi characters, and doesn’t need a teacher anymore. After some time, the father wants to invite a friend named Wan (万) which means ‘ten thousand’ in Chinese. The son is to write an invitation. After a whole day of writing in his room, his father asks when he can post the invitation and is wondering why it takes so long — after which the son replies: “Argh, his name is 万, I’ve only drawn five thousand horizontal lines so far!”
Numbers in Chinese 1-10
As you’ll see, the numbers 1 to 3 are indeed 一，二，三， but after that, it gets different (luckily, we might add). To many students, there’s no apparent logic in most of these Hanzi characters, so you’ll have to memorize these.
Chinese numbers 11-20
For many Chinese learners, the numbers 11 to 20 in English are difficult. Why isn’t it tenty-one, tenty-two, just like twenty-one, twenty-two? Why eleven? Why twelve? In Chinese, these numbers are more logical. It’s just ten-one, ten-two. As you’ll see.
Numbers in Chinese 20-100
It doesn’t get very difficult if you can remember 1 to 10. Because twenty is just two-ten (二十 Èr shí), while thirty is three-ten (三十 Sān shí). And thirty-three is 三十三 Sān shí sān. Easy right? Like LEGO blocks.
|21||二十一||Èr shí yī|
|22||二十二||Èr shí èr|
|23||二十三||Èr shí sān|
|24||二十四||Èr shí sì|
|25||二十五||Èr shí wǔ|
This same logic in Chinese numbers continues per hundreds and huge numbers. You’ll notice in the Chinese language it’s common to use 一万 Yī wàn for 10,000. For instance, housing prices in Shanghai or salaries are often described in 万wàn. This causes some headaches for foreign Chinese language students: 十万 Shí wàn is 100.000 or 1.000.000? You’ll also notice there is no 一万万Yī wàn wàn. From there the metric becomes 亿 Yì.
And maybe you’ve noticed here it’s not 二百Èrbǎi but 两百Liǎng bǎi. Actually, both are OK, but 两百 is more common.
二Èr or 两liǎng？
Use 二Èr in most cases, such as:
- 我是二十岁Wǒ shì èrshí suì (I’m twenty years old)
- 我以第二名完成了比赛Wǒ yǐ dì èr míng wánchéngle bǐsài (I finished the race as second)
Use 两liǎng when counting objects:
- 两只猫Liǎng zhī māo (Two cats)
两杯咖啡Liǎng bēi kāfēi (Two cups of coffee)
Hope that helps going over numbers in Chinese!