Numbers Don’t Bite: Decoding HSK 1 Numbers and Counting with Confidence

Feeling intimidated by numbers in Mandarin? Fear not, language adventurer! Sure, whipping out your calculator or smartphone is easy enough, but don’t short shrift mastering numbers when learning Chinese. Solid number vocabulary not just enables basic counting and arithmetic competence, but unlocks clarifying prices or measurements, describing ages, telling time, recounting events in sequence, and more.

HSK 1 introduces numbers in a friendly and manageable way, setting you up for counting success. Let’s dive into the basics and unlock your numerical superpowers!

1. Understanding the Basics

  • The Digits (0-9): Start with the basics by memorizing the digits from 0 to 9. These are the building blocks for any number you’ll encounter.
  • Characters and Pinyin:
    • 0 (零 – líng)
    • 1 (一 – yī)
    • 2 (二 – èr)
    • 3 (三 – sān)
    • 4 (四 – sì)
    • 5 (五 – wǔ)
    • 6 (六 – liù)
    • 7 (七 – qī)
    • 8 (八 – bā)
    • 9 (九 – jiǔ)

2. Counting to 99

  • The Tens: After the digits, the next step is learning the tens (10, 20, 30, etc.). In Chinese, you form these by saying the multiple followed by 十 (shí). For example, 20 is 二十 (èrshí).
  • Combining Tens and Units: To create numbers like 21, 35, or 47, you just say the ten and then the unit. For example, 21 is 二十一 (èrshíyī).

3. Special Numbers to Note

  • Ten (10 – 十 – shí): Ten has its unique character and is often used as a base to form larger numbers.
  • Two (2 – 二 – èr) vs. Two in Ordering (2 – 两 – liǎng): While 二 is used for counting, 两 is often used in situations involving order, such as in saying “two of something.”

4. Cultural Nuances

  • Lucky and Unlucky Numbers: In Chinese culture, numbers have significances. For instance, 8 is considered very lucky, while 4 is often associated with bad luck.
  • Number 4 (四 – sì) and Death: The word for four sounds like the word for death (死 – sǐ), so it’s often avoided in situations like floor numbers in buildings.

5. Numbers in Chinese Grammar

In Chinese, numbers can be combined with other words to form compound numbers or express quantities:

  1. Compound numbers: Add 个 (gè) after a numeral to indicate a specific quantity of an item:
    Example: 我有三个朋友 (wǒ yǒu sān gè péngyǒu) – I have three friends.
  2. Expressing fractions: To express fractions, use the character 分 (fēn):
    Example: 半个小时 (bàn gè xiǎo shí) – half an hour; 三分之一 (sān fēn zhī yī) – one third.
  3. Ordinal numbers: To indicate rank or order, add the character 号 (hào) to a numeral:
    Example: 第一个问题 (dì yī ge wèn tí) – the first question.

6. Counting in Different Contexts

Numbers are used in various contexts, such as dates, addresses, and measurements:

  1. Dates: When writing or speaking dates, use the format “年月日” (nián yuè rì):
    Example: 2022年1月1日 (2022 nián yuè rì) – January 1, 2022; 2022年6月25日 (2022 nián liù yuè èr shí wǔ rì) – June 25, 2022.
  2. Addresses: When giving an address, provide the street number followed by the street name and building number if
    Example: 房号108 (áng hào yī líng bā) – Apartment 108; 街道三里屯 (jiē dào sān lǐ tún) – Three-Li Tun Street. “街道” (jiē dào) means “street” or “road,” and “三里屯” (sān lǐ tún) is the name of a specific area, often known for its shopping and nightlife in Beijing.
  3. Measurements: When measuring length, weight, or volume, use the appropriate unit followed by the numeral and the
    unit of measurement:
    Example: 5公斤 (wǔ gōng jīn) – five kilograms; 10米长 (shí èr mǐ zhǎng) – ten meters long.

7. Engaging with Numbers

  • HSK 1 Mock Tests: Practice with mock tests that focus on the numbers section to build up your speed and accuracy.

8. Real-Life Practice

  • Market Visits: Nothing beats practicing numbers like going to a local market and using your skills to shop.
  • Buddy Up: Find a study partner or join a language exchange to practice speaking numbers out loud.

9. Resources and Tools

  • HSK 1 Vocabulary List: Familiarize yourself with the official HSK 1 vocabulary list that includes all the numbers you need to know.
  • Online Resources: Utilize resources like All Musing’s free HSK Vocabulary List and Quiz to reinforce your learning.

10. Overcoming Challenges

  • Pronunciation Pitfalls: Pay extra attention to tones and pronunciation, as they can completely change the meaning of numbers.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Regularly practicing listening and speaking numbers will help you overcome any initial difficulties.


Mastering numbers in Chinese is a crucial step in your language learning journey, especially for the HSK 1 exam. With consistent practice, a good understanding of cultural nuances, and practical application, you’ll soon find yourself counting and using numbers in Chinese with ease and confidence. Remember, numbers don’t bite; they’re just another exciting part of learning this beautiful language!

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