Often you see Arabic numbers among Chinese texts for example: 我想要321餃子 would that be read as "three hundred" or as "三百二十一"?

This may seem obvious but thought I'd seek clarification. Learning the numbers has been a challenge, due to the different decimal places, so for large numbers in particular I was wondering how it works when written like e.g. 1,542,800.

  • 1
    regarding commas,中文环境下阿拉伯数字的逗号应该每三位写一个还是每四位? zhihu.com/question/19867703
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 20:27
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    I'm quite curious how you would imagine someone who's never heard a word of English in their life to suddenly say "three hundred twenty one" if they saw the digits 321. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 23:22
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    321餃子 looks like a brand name , in which case we read it as 三二一饺子. Otherwise, it should be written as 321个饺子, which should be read as the way answers indicated
    – dan
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 23:35
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    Why would they read it in English? It's not like English speakers invented that notation. The English language and Arabic numerals have no special relationship. Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 0:04
  • as i said, probably an obvious question. i've been learning Chinese numbers, just wondered why i rarely actually see chinese numbers in written texts on media, its usually Arabic numbers. maybe this is every language same? thanks for clarifying. where i have small experience with romance languages, none at all with a non phonetic lexicon like Chinese. so the relationship between spoken and the written text is a very new concept to me, never explored before. i cant draw parallels. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 15:18

6 Answers 6


I'm a native speaker. I'll read "我(wo) 想(xiang) 要(yao) 三(san) 百(bai) 二(er) 十(shi) 一(yi) 個(ge) 餃(jiao) 子(zi)".

BTW "321餃子" doesn't make sense. "321個餃子" would be correct because you need the unit "個".

  • woops. thanks for your answer. i am struggling with numbers as you can see. so for larger numbers, such as 1,542,800? Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 18:43
  • 一百五十四萬兩千八百 yi bai wu shi si wan liang qian ba bai.
    – NoobTW
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 18:45
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    If you want to get familiar to read large number, I have a mnemonic phrase for you: 個(ge), 十(shi), 百(bai), 千(qian), 萬(wan), 十萬, 百萬, 千萬, 億(yi), 十億, 百億, 千億, 兆(zhao)
    – NoobTW
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 18:47
  • the mandarin pinyin is xiang for 想.
    – sfy
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 8:07

When reading the number '1,542,811' the first thing I do is count the number of digits from the smallest to the largest.

In this case, I would first count: "個、十、百、千、萬、十萬、百萬" to confirm it is a seven digits number (million). Then I would read it out in reverse order, from highest to lowest

First read how many '萬' (10000) ; and there are '154 萬' (一百伍十四萬)

Then read how many '千' (1000) after that; and there are '2 千' (二千)

Then read how many '百' (100)after that; and there are '8 百' (八百)

Then read how many '十' (10) after that; and there is '1 十' (一十)

Finally read the last single digit, and it is '1' ()

[一百伍十四萬][二千][八百][一十][一] would be the correct reading of '1,542,811'

If it is not an amount but a serial of number (like phone number or document reference number), we can just read each number as it is, so '1542811' would be read as '一五四二八一一'


Practical and clarity is the key, it is similar to many language way of handling plural.

  • 321只餃子 only one way to say it : 三百二十一只餃子 , otherwise the listener will confuse whether you want 3 or 2 or 1 餃子

  • Phone number , e.g. 712-333-859 you are free to speak out individual number, or mix it. For example, when 333 is to the audience whether it is two 3 or three 3 , you should say, 三百三十三,or 三个三 。 三三三 is not recommended as the audience will definitely want to confirm with 三个三?

  • Number 1,542,800 . You may say 一百五十四万二千八百, or individual number : 一五四二八零零; 一五四二八百

  • Number 542,800. This is more interesting. 五十四万二千八百, or use the English convention 五百四十二千八百, or speak out individual number.

  • anything more than millions is getting more confusing. 10 millions is always 千万。 100 millions will be 一万万,or 一亿。 But you don't need to touch those number unless you start get use to Chinese numbering convention.


Arabic numerals are more like symbols than actual words, and people tend to read them in their native language. So, yes, when Chinese speakers read Arabic numbers, they read in Chinese.

Learning the numbers is hard, no matter what language you are dealing with. Chinese actually has a rather straightforward system, without numbers changing forms when they get to the "tens", or having two different forms for each number, etc. The challenge with large numbers you are encountering is very normal.

English single digits 1-9 translate to "一 。。。 九"
tens is “十, 二十..."

hundreds "百”

thousands “千”

ten thousand “萬”

You can easily see that the challenge stems from the fact that Chinese has one more unit than English - “萬” which is 10,000. In English, you express the number as 10*1,000 (ten thousand). 100,000 is 100*1000 (a hundred thousand) in English, but in Chinese, it is 10* 萬. When I teach Chinese I often encourage my students to shift the comma to the left, so 100,000 (one hundred thousand) becomes 10,0000 (十萬) and so on. Use the comma as a visual cue. When you get better at this, you can just shift the comma mentally. Keep practising and you'll get better and better. Happy learning!


based on my experience only.

chinese text mixed with arabic digits, i read them in cantonese.

english text mixed with arabic digits, i read them in english. depends on the context, i would decipher the meanings, either digit by digit, in time / date format, or quantity.

well, arabic digits amongst le texte français, i read it, en français; my slowest reading.

have fun :)


Learning counting is hard in every language. And the rules can be hard for native speakers to write down as well. It appears we just happen to know what's the right thing to say, and will be able to tell that something wrong simply "sounds wired". Below is an attempt to summarize the rules but definitely requires improvement.


Smaller, common numbers are best summarised in a table. Hard to learn but will be used a lot. I only used combinations of 0,1,2,8 and I hope the pattern is shown clearly. It's ordered in the hope that expression of the same format are grouped together. There're probably some mistakes and forgotten exceptions in the following list. And many special cases and alternative expressions are ignored.

  • 1 一
  • 8 八
  • 10 十
  • 11 十一
  • 12 十二
  • 18 十八
  • 20 二十
  • 80 八十
  • 21 二十一
  • 22 二十二
  • 28 二十八
  • 81 八十一
  • 100 一百
  • 200 二百
  • 800 八百
  • 101 一百零一
  • 102 一百零二
  • 108 一百零八
  • 110 一百(一)十
  • 111 一百(一)十一
  • 112 一百(一)十二
  • 118 一百(一)十八
  • 120 一百二(十)
  • 180 一百八(十)
  • 280 二百八
  • 128 一百二十八
  • 821 八百二十一
  • 1000 一千


Still quite commonly used in everyday life and relatively straight-forward.

First divide it into a/xxx, and say it like

a 千+ add 零 in the middle if xxx is smaller than 100 + how you would say xxx

For exmaple

  • 2001 = 二千 / 零 / 一 (xxx=001<100)
    • Only 1 零 is necessary, never use several consecutive 零s unless you are saying it as a year)
  • 2020 二千 / 零 /二十 (xxx=020<100)
  • 2021 二千 / 零 /二十一(xxx=021<100)
  • 2100 二千 / / 一百 (xxx=100)
  • 2821 二千 / / 八百二十一 (xxx=821>100)

And lastly

  • 10000 一万
  • 80000 八万
  • 20000 二万 (tricky, but this expression works)

10000 onwards if you are really interested

Break numbers into groups of 4.


First, say each group as you would according to previous sections.

Insert something in between:

兆 10^12 亿 10^8 万10^4


If the following group is smaller than 1000 (bold), add a 零 (one and only one) before it.

(NB Very unsure about this tricky bit, I think some 零 can be omitted)


What about


Omit unnecessary part and follow the principle of no consecutive 零s


And for 872,0321,5421,0000


Full stop.

Notes and Thoughts

I belive that's way more than enough. I wrote the answer based on a computer programme I've written for this conversion, but we are humans. No idea why I went into such depths.

In daily life, we just pronounce each digit in order when we are lazy, forget about all the grammars. Or write it down in groups of four, or press it on a calculator, because there's no meaning in saying a large number aloud.

In written language, these official expressions are necessary for legal files or bank cheques for example.

For what exactly is going on in my mind when I read 321,0021,8010. I won't try to convert it at all. It'll remain as a number instead of a word in my mind. The only thought is "Woo, that's a large number". I won't think of English expression at all.

  • great help. thanks a lot. i think i can do numbers up the the 萬 quite easily now especially after this answer. but anything in the millions and i will struggle. will continue to learn. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 16:56

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