Learning Mandarin: Larger numbers and what's up with 20,000 ?

Awesome image by Crissy Jarvis

In an earlier post, I described how to count in Mandarin. That covered the numbers up to 100. Obviously, we need to know larger numbers, yet that was where I first came across a substantial difference in how the Chinese count when compared to English speakers. And I managed to get another puzzled look from my mother-in-law.

The larger numbers are quite different from what we use. Instead of hundred, thousand, million, and billion, they are:

(qiān) is 1,000
(wàn) is 10,000
亿 (yì) is 100,000,000

Note how different this is.

I remember trying to say 20,000 to my mother-in-law, and I said:

二十千 (Èrshíqiān)

That was my direct translation of twenty (two tens), and thousand. She looked at me very puzzled, and I eventually caught on that they don't say that.

Notice they have a word for 10,000, so they don't say twenty thousand, they say two ten thousands:

二万 (Èr wàn)

The other large numbers are then combinations of the values above:

十万 (shí wàn) is 100,000 (ten ten-thousands)
百万 (bǎi wàn) is 1,000,000 (one hundred ten-thousands)
千万 (qiān wàn) is 10,000,000 (one thousand ten-thousands)
亿 (yì) is 100,000,000 (one hundred-million)
十亿 (shí yì) is 1,000,000,000 (ten hundred-millions)

It's also worth noting that based upon the age of the language, that (wàn) is also just used as a form of inexact value meaning "a lot".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

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