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Useful Guide to Chinese Numbers with Pinyin and Characters

When it comes to numerals, three systems are used among Chinese speakers. Besides the widely-used system of Arabic numerals, two indigenous systems are also used in China. What are they, and how do they differ from English numerals? This guide will explain the Chinese numbers and the Pinyin for them.

Three Numeral Systems in the Chinese Language

As the most common system to denote numbers, the Arabic numeral system is naturally adopted in China. For convenience, many people and organizations use the Arabic or mixed Arabic-Chinese system, making the Arabic numerals a prevailing approach to represent numbers.

However, when it comes to certain financial or commercial occasions, such as writing amounts on banknotes, cheques, etc., people conventionally stick to traditional Chinese numerals with less room for data falsification. As a more popular indigenous system in China, the traditional Chinese numeral system is based on Chinese characters, which are also used by other languages within the Chinese cultural sphere, including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. 

Besides the two abovementioned numeral systems, there was another indigenous numeral system worth mentioning – the Suzhou numerals or 蘇州碼子. This numeral system is considered the only surviving form of rod numerals. It was once used by ancient Chinese mathematicians and later adopted and widely used by merchants in Chinese markets before the introduction of the Arabic numerals.

In China, three written numeral systems used to coexist until the 1990s, when Arabic numerals gradually replaced the Suzhou numerals. Strictly speaking, only the former two numeral systems are used in China these days.

English Numeral

Arabic Numeral

Chinese Numeral

Suzhou Numeral

Financial (T/S)

Normal

zero

0

one

1

two

2

貳/贰

three

3

參/参

four

4

five

5

six

6

陸/陆

seven

7

eight

8

nine

9

ten

10

Chinese Numbers are Denoted with Characters

Numbers has always been something people struggle with when translating between languages. But the truth is, anyone can get his head around Chinese numbers once he gets the hang of their uses and idiosyncrasies. 

Even though almost all Chinese numbers are one syllable long with a logical counting system, translating the higher Chinese numbers can confuse inexperienced translators accustomed to Western languages.

The lower Chinese numbers are straightforward, like English numerals and many other languages. You only need to know ten characters to count from 1 to 10 in Chinese. To count from 11 to 20, you will need to know another 10 English words, yet no new Chinese character is needed to introduce in this process. That’s where Chinese and English diverge in this respect. 

How to Translate Numbers from English to Chinese?

Chinese numerals follow the rules to recombine the same characters used for one to ten to cover all the numbers from 11 to 99. 

By comparing the characters and pinyin of Chinese numbers from 1 to 10 with that of higher numbers, you will realize the Chinese language reincorporates characters used for specific numbers to represent all Chinese numbers. 

Once you grasp the logic behind the Chinese numbers from 1 to 20, you can quickly expand the same characters to count to 99 by default. When it comes to high numbers like one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, and one hundred million, you only need to respectively introduce the new characters “百”  “千”  “万”, and “亿”. With this rule in mind, it’s easy to count Chinese numbers from 1 to 100, and even to 10,000 or higher numbers.

English Numeral

Chinese Numeral

Pinyin

Literal English Translation

zero

líng

zero

one

one

two

ér

two

three

sān

three

four

four

five

five

six

liù

six

seven

seven

eight

eight

nine

jiǔ

nine

ten

shí

ten

eleven

十一

shí yī

ten one

twelve

十二

shí ér

ten two

thirteen

十三

shí sān

ten three

fourteen

十四

shí sì

ten four

fifteen

十五

shí wǔ

ten five

sixteen

十六

shí liù

ten six

seventeen

十七

shí qī

ten seven

eighteen

十八

shí bā

ten eight

nineteen

十九

shí jiǔ

ten nine

twenty

二十

ér shí   

two ten

twenty one

二十一

ér shí yī

two ten one

twenty two

二十二

ér shí ér

two ten two

twenty three

二十三

ér shí sān

two ten three

twenty four

二十四

ér shí sì

two ten four

twenty five

二十五

ér shí wǔ

two ten five

one hundred

一百

yī bǎi

one hundred

one hundred and one

一百零一

yī bǎi líng yī

one hundred zero one

one hundred and eight

一百零八

yī bǎi líng bā

one hundred zero eight

one thousand

一千

yī qiān

one thousand

two thousand and nineteen

二千零十九

ér qiān líng shí jiǔ

two thousand zero ten nine

ten thousand

一万

yī wàn

one “wan”*

one million

一百万

yī bǎi wàn

one hundred wan

ten million

一千万

yī qiān wàn

one thousand wan

one hundred million

一亿

yī yì

one “yi”*

billion

十亿

shí yì

ten yi

thousands of

成千上万的

chéng qiān shàng wàn de

Amounting to thousands and approaching ten thousands

millions of

无数的

wú shù de

Countless

*There’s no such mathematical concept of “wan” in English, which translates into ten thousand. The equivalents of twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand, and one hundred thousand are respectively “two wan”, “three wan”, “four wan”, and “ten wan”. *There’s no such mathematical concept of “yi” in English, either. “Yi” equals to one hundred million in number.

Conclusion

Chinese numbers are easy to master, with pinyin indicating their pronunciations. However, translating numbers is much more intricate than counting numbers, which is considered one of the critical elements in localization. When translating numbers into Mandarin Chinese or any other language, it’s crucially important to take cultural knowledge into account. A surefire way to get locale-specific translations accurate is to employ in-country native linguists native to the target language. 

If you need such assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact Wordspath, a professional language service provider that has enabled seamless communication between people worldwide. 

 

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