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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.
"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.
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
Next, the character
“birth” and the character
“day.” We couldn’t ask for a simpler translation.
Next, the character
“is.” Now we’re on to the date. The character
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
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
“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.
…jǐ yuè jǐ hào? …
what day? …
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:
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
N ǐ jīnnián jǐ suì? Wǒ
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).
Shèngdàn jié shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào? Shí'èr yuè èrshíwǔ hào.
When is Christmas? December 25th.
Jùhuì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào? Sān yuè shíwǔ hào.
When is the meeting? March 15th.
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
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