How to ask, "When is your birthday?" in Chinese - 20 Questions to Basic Fluency #14

Last time we took a look at how to say, "What time does the show start?" in Chinese.  If you missed that discussion, take some time to go back and check it out.
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"20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")

Today we are talking about the most important day of the year, your birthday!  It’s not only important on a personal level, but it also teaches you the pattern for expressing dates.  And in Chinese, this pattern is very easy.  Let’s take a look at the question and answer.

Question
你的生日是几月几号?
Nǐ de shēngrì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?
When is your birthday?

Answer
我的生日是十一月二十四号。
Wǒ de shēngrì shì shí yī yuè èrshísī hào.
My birthday is November 24th.

You can see that the word order and word choice are different from English, but this is one of those cases where the differences don’t seem to matter much.

The sentence starts out with
你(nǐ) which means
“you.”  The character
的(de) can have lots of meanings, but here it just changes the “you” into the possessive
“your.”


Next, the character
生(shēng) means
“birth” and the character
日(rì) means
“day.” We couldn’t ask for a simpler translation.


Next, the character
是(shì) means
“is.”  Now we’re on to the date.  The character
几(jǐ) means
“what.”


You might remember that 什么(shénme) also means “what.”  But the two are not interchangeable.  When used in a question,
几(jǐ) always asks for
“what number.”  The character
月(yuè) means
month.  So
几月(jǐ yuè)  means,
“what number month.”


So you might be asking yourself why we need to use “what number” to talk about months.  Chinese uses numbers from 1 to 12 for months rather than names as in English.   So January is literally “first month.”  We’ll see more about this below.


Now for the day;  The character 号(hào) is really the most confusing part of all this.  The
号(hào) means
“number.”  Why Chinese doesn’t use the word “day” here is a mystery.  But regardless,  in this context,
几号(jǐ hào) means
“what day.”  The literal translation,
“Your birthday is what month what day?”
definitely sounds foreign and maybe even a bit robotic.  But it is easy to understand and remember and as we will see later, the pattern can be used to ask about any date.  Now it’s time for the answer.

 

The first part of the answer 我的生日是… (Wǒ de shēngrì shì…) just repeats the question.  The only difference is that you need to replace “your” 你的(nǐ de) with
“my” 我的 (wǒ de).  The next part of the answer is also a repetition of the question.  All you need to do is replace
几(jǐ)in both places with the number for the month of your birthday and the number for the date of your birthday.  Look at the pattern below.

 

Question Answer

号?                                                            …十一二十四号.

yuè hào?                                                           … shíyī yuè
èrshísì hào.

what month what day?                                         …
11th  month
24thday.


More Info

Here are some cosmic connections to help you remember this pattern.  First, 日(rì) means “day” but it is also the character for “sun” and 月(yuè) means “month” but it is also the character for “moon.”  This makes a lot of sense since the movement of the sun defines a day and the movement of the moon defines a month.  The characters even kind of look like stylized representations of the sun and the moon (especially the moon with its crescent stroke). 

 

Also, you might remember that 什么时候(shénme shíhou) means “when.”  So why not use it in this question and avoid the 几月几号(jǐ yuè jǐ hào) altogether? You certainly could do that.  The question would then look like this:

 

你的生日是什么时候

Nǐ de shēngrì shì shénme shíhou? Whenis your birthday?

 

We didn’t include 什么时候(shénme shíhou) in our original question because you need to know the 几月几号(jǐyuè jǐ hào) pattern to be able to say the date anyway.  But please know that 什么时候(shénme shíhou) is ok here too.

 

Finally, the day and date are always wrapped up with one another so let’s take a quick look at the days of the week. There are a few ways to express the days of the week in Chinese, but we are going to take a look at the most common.  To ask “What day?” you say, 星期几?(Xīngqí jǐ?).  To answer, you just replace 几(jǐ)  in the question with a number.  Just like Chinese months, Chinese days are expressed with numbers.  Here are the days of the week:

 

星期一      星期二        星期三            星期四       星期五         星期六        星期天

xīngqí yī     xīngqí èr     xīngqí sān        xīngqí sì      xīngqí wǔ     xīngqí liù     xīngqí tiān

Monday     Tuesday      Wednesday    Thursday     Friday           Saturday      Sunday

 

Notice that the Chinese week starts on Monday and that Sunday uses the character 天(tiān) and not the number 7, 七(qī).  You cannot put 星期(xīngqí) and 七(qī) together to mean Sunday.

 

And while we’re at it…

 

Asking someone’s age in China isn’t as taboo as it can be in the west, so it might come up.  There are a few ways to ask how old a person is, but we’ll just look at one here.  This question also uses 几(jǐ) to ask “what number year?” Question Answer

今年几岁?                                                        我今年四十岁。 

N ǐ jīnnián jǐ suì?                                                      Wǒ jīnnián
sìshí suì.

How old are you (this year)?                                  I’m 40 years old (this year).

 

Personalizing your Q and A

 

Here are some examples of how you can ask and answer questions about dates.  To change the question simply put the event you want to ask about in front of 几月几号(jǐyuè jǐ hào).

Question
Answer

圣诞节是几月几号?                                           十二月二十五号。

Shèngdàn jié shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?                              Shí'èr yuè èrshíwǔ hào.

When is Christmas?                                                December 25th.

 

聚会是几月几号?                                               三月十五号。

Jùhuì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?                                           Sān yuè shíwǔ hào.

When is the meeting?                                           March 15th.

 

你去中国几月几号?                                          八月八号。

Nǐ qù zhōngguó jǐ yuè jǐ hào?                              Bā yuè bā hào.

When are you going to China?                            August 8th.

 

*Note: You will often see Chinese dates written with numerals. For example: Question Answer

聚会是几月几号?                                              3月15号。

 

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Related: Video lesson - How to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese

(photo credit tracitodd)

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Comment by Gál János on December 4, 2015 at 9:30am

"Asking someone’s age in China isn’t as taboo as it can be in the west..."

When I put it to my female chinese teatcher as a question, she replied: "You can ask it, absolutely not a taboo. In the worst case he or she won't give you the true answer. However there is a polite manner to find out somebdy's age accurately. Just ask his/her chinese zodiac. (你的生肖是什么?) For example this is the year of sheep. If he's/she's zodiac is sheep then he/she 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72 etc. years old. You can decide at first sight which is correct:-)


Admin
Comment by Seraph Ching on May 15, 2012 at 2:18pm

I think it's more common to say "哪一天" instead of “几月几号".

You can just simply replace 几月几号 with 哪一天 in almost all cases.


Teacher
Comment by Shu on May 3, 2012 at 11:27pm

Leva and Matt,

Yes, what Matt said is correct :) It means your actual age for that moment. Another way to ask is 你现在几岁? Good job, keep up the nice, positive learning attitude !


Admin
Comment by sikora on May 3, 2012 at 9:09pm

Hey leva,

That's a good question and to be honest I've never really thought about it.  A native speaker will probably have the right answer for you, but my guess is that 今年 doesn't actually refer to the calendar year, like 2012.  Maybe 今年 refers to "this year" of your life.  Otherwise it would seem that everyone would have to say that they are one year older on January 1st (or Chinese New Year).  Another option is to just leave out the 今年 and just say 你几岁? But whenever I've attempted to do this I've been told that saying 你今年几岁? would be better.  So I think no matter what 今年 really means here, I would just say your actual age for that moment.

Comment by Ieva on May 3, 2012 at 2:46pm

You've mentioned the question 你今年几岁. How a person should react to this 今年? Am I supposed to say my age in 2012, no matter my birthday already was or will be, or just the actual age for that moment, ignoring that 今年?


Teacher
Comment by Shu on April 20, 2012 at 12:04pm

Yes, you can.  You can also say  你几月几号要去中国? or 你什么时候要到中国去?


Admin
Comment by sikora on April 20, 2012 at 9:58am

Thanks Shu!  That's good to know.  Could you also say these?

你几月几号到中国去? or  你什么时候到中国去?


Teacher
Comment by Shu on April 20, 2012 at 9:19am

Matt,

very nice post.

This sentence

你去中国几月几号?                                          八月八号。

Nǐ qù zhōngguó jǐ yuè jǐ hào?                              Bā yuè bā hào.

When are you going to China?                            August 8th.

你去中国几月几号? Sound a bit weird. It would be more natural to say 你几月几号去中国?

or 你什么时候要去中国?

 


Founder
Comment by Brandon on April 20, 2012 at 8:10am

seriously impressive

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