How to count in Chinese

Counting in Chinese is relatively easy being a decimal counting system. This means Chinese has the numbers for 0 – 9, ten, hundred, etc. In Chinese you can write numbers as numerals as we do in English, that is 0,1,2,3,etc., or you in words, the equivalent of zero, one, two, three, etc. Whichever way you write the character the pronunciation is the same.

Number in Numerals English Chinese Pinyin
0 zero líng líng
1 one
2 two èr èr
3 three sān sān
4 four
5 five
6 six liù liù
7 seven
8 eight
9 nine jiǔ jiǔ
10 ten shí shí
100 hundred bǎi bǎi
1,000 thousand qiān qiān
10,000 ten thousand wàn wàn
100,000,000 hundred million 亿

As you can see from the table above, Chinese numbers follow the same tens, hundreds, thousands logic as we use in English. Where things are different is that Chinese has a unit for ten thousand, pronounced “wàn” (jiǔ), and a unit for one hundred million pronounced “yì” (亿).

The table below shows how you use the Chinese ten thousand and one hundred million characters.

Number in Numerals English Chinese Pinyin
1 one
10 ten shí shí
100 one hundred bǎi yībǎi
1,000 one thousand qiān yīqiān
10,000 ten thousand wàn wàn
100,000 one hundred thousand shíwàn shí wàn
1,000,000 one million bǎiwàn yībǎi wàn
10,000,000 ten million qiānwàn yīqiān wàn
100,000,000 100 million 亿
1,000,000,000 one billion shí亿 shí yì

As you can hopefully see from the table above, the way counting in Chinese works starts of the same as in English all the way up to 9,999. For example 1,000 is literally “one (“yī”) thousand (“qiān”), that is “yīqiān” (qiān).

Ten thousand instead of writing it as “ten” and “thousand”, there is the special character that represents this number, so it is simply “one” and “ten thousand”, that is “wàn” (wàn).

One hundred thousand again uses “wàn” (wàn), thus instead of being “one hundred” and “thousand” it is instead “ten” “ten thousands”, that is “shí wàn” (shíwàn).

One million becomes “one hundred ten thousands”, that is “yībǎi wàn” (bǎiwàn).

Ten million becomes “one thousand ten thousands”. that is “yīqiān wàn” (qiānwàn).

One hundred million is a number called a “yì” (亿), so you write it as literally “one one-hundred-million”, that is “yī yì” (亿). Having a number character to represent 100 million follows the same logic as in English having a word for million rather than saying “one thousand thousand”.

It is important to understand that, like English, it is normal to write any number as numerals and certainly not normal to write out a large number with Chinese characters. The below table is to illustrate the pronunciation of numbers in Chinese, but does mean that it is normal to write these numbers out in Chinese characters.

Number Chinese Pinyin
47 shí sìshí qī
107 bǎilíng yībǎi líng qī
547 bǎishí wǔbǎi sì shí qī
2,547 èrqiānbǎishí èrqiān wǔbǎi sì shí qī
10,547 wànbǎishí yī wàn wǔbǎi sì shí qī
30,547 sānwànqiānbǎishí sān wàn wǔqiān sìbǎi qī shí
32,547 sānshí'èrdiǎnbǎishí sānshí’èr diǎn wǔbǎi sì shí qī
232,547 èrshísānwànèrqiānbǎishí èrshísān wàn èrqiān wǔbǎi sì shí qī
1,000,000 bǎiwàn yī bǎi wàn
6,000,000 liùbǎiwàn liùbǎi wàn
6,000,000,047 liùbǎiwànshí liùbǎi wàn hé sì shí qī
6,232,547 liùbǎièrshísānwànèrqiānbǎishí liùbǎi èr shí sān wàn èr qiān wǔbǎi sì shí qī
90,000,000 jiǔqiānwàn jiǔ qiān wàn
100,000,000 bǎiwàn yī bǎi wàn
1,000,000,000 shí亿 shí yì
1,006,232,547 shí亿liùbǎiwànèrbǎisānshíèrshùqiānbǎishí shí yì

Do Chinese speakers get confused when counting in English?

Given that English counting is based on thousands, that is a million be a thousand thousand and a billion being a thousand thousand thousand, it is not uncommon to hear a native Chinese speaker accidentally translate a number in to English incorrectly. Normally a native Chinese speaker would correct their English mistranslation immediately, however I have seen cases where confusion resulted in a number being translated incorrectly.

Equally, a native English speaker can easily get confused when saying large numbers in Chinese. If you are dealling with large numbers in Chinese and are not used to it you will find yourself pausing and thinking before you say the number – remembering that one million in Chinese is one hundred ten thousands.

How to pronounce decimal points in Chinese

The character for “point” in Chinese is diǎn, pronounced “diǎn”. diǎn is used in maths, thus if you wanted to write 3.7 in Chinese characters, that is the equivalent of writing it as “three point seven” in English, the Chinese is sāndiǎn and accordingly pronounced as “sān diǎn qī”.

If you wanted to say “decimal point” in full, this is written as xiǎoshùdiǎn, pronounced as “xiǎoshùdiǎn”. So you could for example tell someone they forgot the decimal point e.g.

nǐ wàngle xiǎoshùdiǎnle

You forgot the decimal point


Wrapping it up, if you are new to Chinese or are travelling to China, it is useful to know the numbers from zero to one hundred, or at a minimum one to five. If you are ever in the situation where you are buying something for one “yì”, that is 100 million, I’m sure the seller will find a translator to help bridge the divide.