les nombres

The simplest words of 普通话 (pǔtōnghuà) must be the first three natural numbers: “一” (yī), “二” (èr), “三” (san). Recently I came across a meme on The Language Nerds page:

Well, it points out exactly how one’s smile could be wiped off when he comes to know the illogicality of 汉字 (hànzì). It’s much more time-saving to learn languages with orthographic writing than those with logographic writing, simply because compared with the number of morphemes, the number of phonemes are just too thin on the ground.

That’s not to mention today’s learned Chinese writing system is the simplified one, with fewer strokes. Just imagine if we were to learn from scratch all the complicated characters of traditional Chinese; it must be overloading.

At least I finished learning how to count from 0 to 999 in mandarin before I stopped my first class: It’s quite simple, and somehow similar to that of counting in Vietnamese: 0 (零, líng), 1 (一, yī), 2 (二, èr), 3 (三, san), 4 (四, sì), 5 (五, wǔ), 6 (六, liù), 7 (七, qī), 8 (八, bā), 9 (九, jiǔ), 10 (十, shí).

Then, if you want to say 11, just combine 10 and 1: 十 一, shí yī. Similarly, we have: 十 二, 十 三, 十 四, 十 五, and so on. And 20 is presented by “二 十”. 

我 二 十 七 岁


I am twenty seven years old.

With that rule of combination, 99 is presented by 九十九. And in simplified Chinese, “hundred” is “百”, pronounced in pīnyīn as “bǎi”. This sound is different from “白” meaning “white”. Suddenly, I’m thinking of a song:

百灵鸟从蓝天飞过 (pīnyīn: Bǎilíng niǎo cóng lántiān fēiguò)


Larks fly over the blue sky.

百灵鸟 (Sino-vietnamese: Bạch linh điểu) is a kind of lark. That is the beginning of the song 我爱你中国 (I love you, China). It was impressively performed by a bald guy named 平安 (Píngan) in The Voice China. Actually, even though I despise the country’s government, I really love Chinese culture and would hope to visit China someday. 

Sorry I was distracted. Anyway, if you want to say “999” in Mandarin, just put them all together decimally: 900 + 90 + 9, and we have:


Pretty much like Vietnamese:

“chín trăm chín mươi chín”

Today I’ve learned how to count from 0 to one billion in français. First, just like English, you need to learn the first 20 natural numbers, including 0:

0 – zéro, 1 – un, 2 – deux, 3 – trois, 4 – quatre, 5- cinq, 6 – six, 7 – sept, 8 – huit, 9 – neuf, 10 – dix, 11 – onze, 12 – douze, 13 – treize, 14 – quatorze, 15 – quinze, 16 – seize, 17 – dix-sept, 18 – dix-huit, 19 – dix-neuf, 20 – vingt

Then you need to learn the multiples of 10: 30 – trente, 40 – quarante, 50 – cinquante, 60 – soixante. 70, 80 and 90, however, are quite tricky. We will talk about them later. 

Now, if you want to present 21, you say “vingt et un”, which means “20 and 1”. But for the rest from 22 to 29, you don’t need to add “et”. Just say: “vingt-deux” for 22, “vingt-trois” for 23, “vingt-quatre” for 24, and so on. Don’t forget the hyphen, or trait d’union. Similarly, to present 34 we say “trente-quartre”; or to present 51 we say “cinquante et un”.

When it comes to 70, french people do some calculations to limit the number of new words.To them, 70 is 60 and 10. Thus, they say “soixante-dix” for 70. Then, 71 is “soixante et onze”, for 71 equals to 60 plus 11. Next, we have “soixante douze” for 72, “soixante treize” for 73, and so on.

80 equals to 4 multiplied by 20. Therefore, it is presented as “quatre-vingts” meaning “four times twenty”. And then we have “quatre-vingt-un”, “quatre-vingt-deux”, “quatre-vingt-trois”… It repeats the same pattern as “soixante-dix” when it comes to 90: “quatre-vingt-dix”, then “quatre-vingt-onze”, “quatre-vingt-douze”, and so on, until we reach 100, which is “cent”.

1.000 is mille; 1.000.000 is million; and is milliard. So if I want to present 1993, I say: “mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-treize”.

There’s a site that could help us practice writing numbers in français: le conjugueur le figaro.

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