Numbers and Counting

There is no quicker, easier way to penetrate the mystery of Chinese (or any other language) than to learn the numbers. You can do it in a day. Spend thirty minutes acquainting yourself, and you will hear the numbers over and over if you view any of the many Chinese tutorials and instructional videos that I link to in this notebook.

It’s useful even to know as little as the numbers one through four, since many moves are broken down into smaller components. Your teacher may lead you: (step forward), èr (raise the left arm), sān…etc. Also, if a movement is repeated, the leader may say, yī, èr, sān, to set the pace for the repetitions.

Here are the integers:

一           Yī             One

二           Èr            Two

三           Sān         Three

四           sì             Four

五           Wǔ         Five

六           Liù          Six

七           Qī            Seven

八           Bā           Eight

九           Jiǔ           Nine

十           shí          Ten

From here, it’s easy: numbers from eleven through nineteen are formed by adding the single digit to shí (ten), as follows:

十一     Shí yī      Eleven

十二     Shí èr     Twelve

十三     Shí sān  Thirteen

十四     Shí sì      Fourteen

十五     Shí wǔ   Fifteen

十六     Shí liù    Sixteen

十七     Shí qī     Seventeen

十八     Shí bā    Eighteen

十九     Shí jiǔ    Nineteen

Equally logical and easy are the numbers from 20 to one hundred by tens, formed as follows

二十     Èr shí     Twenty

三十     Sān shí  Thirty

四十     Sì shí      Forty

五十     Wǔ shí   Fifty

六十     Liù shí    Sixty

七十     Qī shí     Seventy

八十     Bā shí    Eighty

九十     Jiǔ shí    Ninety

Filling in all the rest of the numbers is now simple and makes a good exercise, if you really want to learn how to say numbers in Chinese. Examples:

二十一     Èr shí yī          Twenty-one

三十二     Sān shí èr       Thirty-two

四十三     Sì shí sān        Forty-three

五十四     Wǔ shí sì         Fifty-four

六十五     Liù shí wǔ        Sixty-five

七十六     Qī shí liù          Seventy-six

八十七     Bā shí qī          Eighty-seven

九十八     Jiǔ shí bā         Ninety-eight

The word for hundred is:

百           Bǎi          Hundred

一百     Yī bǎi      One hundred

二百     Èr bǎi     Two hundred

三百     Sān bǎi  Three hundred

Bonus words, good to know but not essential:

零           Líng        Zero (as in sì líng, four zero, for forty)

一二     Yièr            One or two, a few

千           Qiān        Thousand

万           Wàn         Ten thousand, a great number

單           Dān          One, lone, sole

双           Shuāng    Double

两           Liǎng        Two, both

Dān is used to refer to single saber form, dān dāo, to distinguish from double saber, shuāng dāo.

When talking about a number of things, a term called a measure word is used:

个           Gè          Measure word

Gè is used as follows:

一个     Yīgè        One [eg, one dog]

两个     Liǎngè   Two  [two ponies]

三个     Sāngè    Three [three lions]

There are plenty of good discussions of the use of liǎngè and gè. Full proper use is well beyond the scope of this post and my knowledge!

Two more bonus words:

第           dì            Number, as in number 1, number 2, etc.

段           duàn      Section; for example, a section of a form.

With these two words you can derive:

第一段    dì yī duàn             Section One (lit. number one section)

第二段    dì èr duàn            Section Two

And so on.