Here’s a quick summary of the grammar for numbers in Mandarin Chinese. Click the section headings for detailed explanations.
Mandarin has two numerical units that English doesn’t have:
- 万 (wàn): 10 000 (ten thousand)
- 亿 (yì): 100 000 000 (one hundred million)
(More accurately, Mandarin has unique names for these units whereas English describes them using other units.)
Meanwhile, English has a unit that Mandarin doesn’t have - millions. “One million” is instead expressed as “一百万” (yī bǎi wàn) - “one hundred ten thousands”.
The easiest way to deal with this is to split up long numbers into groups of 4 digits. So if you see 12000, break it up into 1 2000 . Now the Mandarin “一万两千” (yī wàn liǎng qiān) is much more obvious. Similarly, if you break up 1000000 into 100 0000 you can see the Mandarin “一百万” (yī bǎi wàn) more easily.
Where English uses “and” to indicate unfilled decimal places in a number, Mandarin uses the word “zero”. So “two hundred and three” is expressed as “two hundred zero three”. This makes sense as there is actually a zero in the number 203; you’re just reading out the digits. If there aren’t any zeros, say nothing. 150 is “一百五十” (yī bǎi wǔ shí).
As in English, you only need to indicate a gap once, even if there are several zeros. 4006 is “四千零六” (sì qiān líng liù), for example. You don’t need to indicate zeros on the end of a number: 3000 is just “三千” (sān qiān).
Decimals are very easy in Mandarin. Read the point as “点” (diǎn), and read out every digit in turn. 0.01 is “零点零一” (líng diǎn líng yī). 3.14 is “三点一四” (sān diǎn yī sì).
How many tens?
One final little rule is that you must always specify the tens, even if there’s only one. 110, for example, is “一百一十” (yī bǎi yī shí). This is because there’s no zero (the equivalent of “and” when reading numbers in Mandarin), but you still need to indicate that you’re giving the next decimal place.