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Confucius Institute

Mandarin Numbers: 1-99 in 1 Minute

8 September 2016

Is Mandarin Chinese the hardest language in the world? Believe it or not, within one minute only you could learn to say the numbers 1-99 in Chinese.

In Chinese tradition, certain numbers are believed by some to be lucky or unlucky based on the Chinese word that the number name sounds similar to.

The following are the Chinese characters from one to ten, followed by the pinyin (Chinese pronunciation system), and then the pronunciation spelled out phonetically in English.

  • 一 yi  [eee] 
  • 二 èr  [arr] 
  • 三 san  [sahn] 
  • 四 sì  [ssuh]  
  • 五 wu  [woo]  
  • 六 lìu  [liou] 
  • 七 qi [chi]  
  • 八 ba  [bah] 
  • 九 jiu  [jeou] 
  • 十 shí [sher] 

For numbers up to 99, just say the number in the tens place, then say "十" "shi", then the number in the one's place, for example. 25 is pronounced ”二十五 (èr shí wu)", and 87 is pronounced “八十七 (ba shí  qi)’’.  You can also take it as a simple calculation: 25= 2x10+5; all you need to do is read the three numbers from left to right. The same goes for 87=8*10+7.

As Chinese people believe that certain numbers can bring them good luck, they prefer those numbers as their phone numbers, car plate numbers or even their wedding dates. For example, “six” (六 lìu) sounds similar to the character流 (liú) which means "to flow”, which implies that “everything goes smoothly”. Therefore six is considered lucky in business. The word for "eight" (八 ba) sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth" (发 fa – often paired with "发财" during Chinese New Year, which means having good fortunes).On the contrary, there are numbers considered to be unlucky in China. Number 4 (四 sì) is considered an unlucky number because it is nearly homophonous to the word "death" (死 si). Due to that, many numbered product lines skip the "4": e.g., Nokia cell phones (before the Lumia 640, there is no series containing a 4 in the name), PDAs, Canon PowerShot G's series (after G3 goes G5), etc. In China, some buildings do not have a 4th or 14th floor. (Compare with the Western practice of some buildings not having a 13th floor because 13 is considered unlucky.)

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