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Last time we took a look at how to say,
"Do you have a fork?" in Chinese. If you missed that discussion, take some time to
go back and check it out.
(see all "20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")
Today we are in the marketplace and we're asking, "How much?" Here is the question and answer:
Money can be difficult to deal with in another language. Numbers have a way of resisting the mind’s attempts to switch from one language to another. If the language has a different way of expressing monetary units, like Chinese, then the job is even tougher.
So in this lesson we won’t look at everything you need to know about money, but rather just the absolute basics of what you should know about shopping in places where Chinese is spoken. Let’s take a look at the question.
The words for “How much” are 多少(duōshao). The character 多(duō) means “more” or “many.” The character 少(shao) means “few” or “less.” The character 钱(qián) means “money.” So 多少钱(duōshao qián) might seem to have a connotation of “more or less money?” That might be good way to remember the characters but it is not a very good translation.
This question isn’t asking for an estimate of how much something costs. It is simply asking the price of something. But it can be useful to keep a loose translation for 多少(duōshao) in your mind because it can also be used to ask about numbers in general, not just to ask “how much” or “how many.” We’ll talk more about that later. Now let’s look at the answer.
In the US, we might say this price as, “Seven dollars and ninety nine cents” or we might just say, “Seven ninety nine” or if we want to round it up we might say, “8 bucks.” This kind of thing happens in Chinese too. The base monetary unit in China is 元(yuán) but most people will say 块(kuài)instead in everyday speech. It’s kind of the same as “dollar” and “buck” in English.
Next we have some words that don’t have a translation in English. Chinese uses measure words to hold the 10’s and 100’s place when talking about money: 毛(máo) is used for the tenths place and 分(fēn) is used for the hundredths place. The word 钱(qián) on the end just means “money.”
Just as in English, Chinese speakers may choose to leave out some of the pieces of information above, but not the numbers of course! As a beginner, it is best to use all the measure words above. It’s a good communication strategy (and good practice) to repeat the price after you hear it with all the information to make sure you’ve understood. And when in doubt, ask the person to write the number down.
The characters 多少(duōshao)can also be used to ask about a phone number.
Nǐ de shǒujī hàomǎ shì duōshǎo? Whatis your cell phone number?
Wǒ de shǒujī hàomǎ shì bāliù qīwǔsān líng jiǔ.
My cell phone number is 867-5309.
The important thing to remember about 多少(duōshao)is that it is used to ask about numbers. It is most often used to ask “how much” or “how many” but it can be a bit more flexible and be used outside of that context as well.
*It is important to note that Chinese uses numerals (1, 2, 3…) just as English does. So you are likely to see prices, phone numbers, years, etc. expressed in numerals, not just Chinese characters.
一 Yī - 1
二 Èr - 2
三 Sān - 3
四 Sì - 4
五 Wǔ - 5
六 Liù - 6
七 Qī - 7
八 Bā - 8
九 Jiǔ - 9
十 shí - 10
十一 Shíyī - 11
十二 Shí'èr -12
十三 Shísān - 13
十四 Shísì - 14
十五 Shíwǔ - 15
十六 Shíliù - 16
十七 Shíqī - 17
十八 Shíbā - 18
十九 Shíjiǔ -19
二十 Èrshí - 20
二十一 Èrshíyī - 21
(numbers to 99 follow the same pattern)
When dealing with larger numbers, Chinese is the same as English in most aspects. Chinese uses words for hundred, thousand, million and billion. But unlike English, Chinese kind of starts over after the thousands place and reuses the characters for tens, hundreds and thousands in combination with the word for the “ten thousand's” place, 万(wàn).
This pattern happens again after the hundred thousands place. In other words, the Chinese number system uses the thousands place in the same way English uses the hundreds place. The prefix characters, 千，百，十 are always reused and the base character are changed every four places. The easiest way to explain this is to see it illustrated. Check out the number below.
1, 0 0 0, 0 0 0, 0 0 0 (one billion)
十亿 亿 千万 百万, 十万 万 千, 百 十 个
shíyì, yì qiānwàn bǎiwàn, shíwàn wàn qiān, bǎi shí gè
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