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Learn Chinese by Learning Numbers

written by: davidmakofsky • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Numbers have a special place in Chinese culture. They are very closely associated with one’s fortune. Let’s learn some Chinese and practice our numerical skills at the same time. Learning number characters offers a good introduction to the language, and to learning the names of dates and weekdays.

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    Numbers in Chinese Characters

    These actually cover the numbers from zero to 999 in Chinese characters

    零 líng zero;

    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jiǔnine; 十shí ten ;

    百bǎi one hundred

    It should come as no surprise that 十一shí yī is 11, or that 二十五

    èr shí wǔ is 25

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    Quiz Part One

    With that in mind, consider the following quiz.

    Give the numerical equivalent of

    (a) 四十九sì shí jiǔ

    And this should not be too difficult

    (b) 一百八十九yī bǎi jiǔshí jiǔ

    And even this WITHOUT PINYIN

    (c) 九百九十九

    But what about some arithmetic

    (d) 四 plus三 = ?

    Or to get into double digits

    (e) 三十九 plus 二十六= ?

    Or a multiplication question

    (f) 八 times (x) 七= ?

    Answers Below

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    The Utility of Numbers Extends to Days of the Week

    Let’s add to our vocabulary

    星期xīngqī week ;是 shì is ;今天jīntiān today ;

    明天míngtiān tomorrow and 昨天 zuótiān yesterday

    The first day of the week is Monday (in China)

    星期一xīngqī yī Monday, which means that the second day is

    星期二xīngqī èr

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    Quiz Part Two

    So if: jīntiān shì xīngqīsì that is今天是四星期

    What can we say about

    (g) 昨天 zuótiān or about (h) 明天 míngtiān

    And if you have a big date on星期六, (i) what night should you show up?

    Answers Below

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    This All Works for Dates as Well.

    We will need some new vocabulary, of course

    月yuè month; 年nián year; 号 hào day or date

    We should all know that the Beijing Olympics began on August 8, 2008

    In Chinese this is二零零八年八月八号, èr líng líng bā nián bā yuè bā hào

    Literally 2008 year, 8 month 8 day (or date). Eight is a very lucky number in China

    So here is our final question:

    If 今天是十一月一号jīntiān shì shíyī yuè yī hào

    (i) 昨天 zuótiān ?

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    Quiz Answers

    (a)49(b)189(c) 999(d) (4+3=7)(e) (39+26=65) (f) (8X7=56)

    If today is Thursday, then yesterday was (g) Wednesday and tomorrow will be (h) Friday.Your date is on Saturday night

    And be sure to watch out for Sunday, which is not星期七 xīngqīqī. Instead, it is

    星期天xīngqītiān(i) today is November 1.Yesterday was October 31.Happy Halloween!