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9 Best Ways to Say and Write Years in Chinese Characters

Expressing years of experience in Chinese characters is an invaluable skill on the journey toward mastery of the Chinese language. From writing the date to celebrating holidays, you’ll need to know how to read, write, and pronounce years in Mandarin. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn the basic formula for reading years in Chinese characters, exceptions to be aware of, how to write years in numeric and character formats, and fascinating details about the 12 Chinese zodiac years. With helpful explanations, examples, and tips, you can confidently say and write years in Chinese characters in no time.

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Part1. How to Write the Date in Chinese

In Chinese, dates are traditionally written in the order of year, month, and then day. For example, February 14, 2023 would be written as:

Year – Month – Date

2023年2月14日

This format places the year first, followed by the character 年 (nián) meaning “year”. Next is the month, then the character 月 (yuè) meaning “month”. Finally, the day is written, followed by 日 (rì) meaning “day”. Unlike English, Chinese dates go from largest unit (year) to smallest (day). Following this convention aids clarity when writing and reading dates in Chinese characters.

Part2. Reading and Pronouncing Years in Chinese Characters

#1. Basic Formula for Reading Years

In Chinese, years are read quite differently than in English. Rather than reading the year as a whole number like “two thousand twenty-one,” in Mandarin, each digit is read, followed by 年 (nián), meaning “year.”

For example:

2021 – èr líng èr yī nián – two zero two one year

2023 – èr líng èr sān nián – two zero two three year

1997 – yī jiǔ jiǔ qī nián – one nine nine seven year

This formula applies to any year. Read each digit, then add 年 (nián) at the end to form the entire reading. Mastering numbers in Chinese is essential to be able to read years fluidly. Resources like the beginner-friendly Wukong Chinese course can help build number literacy through interactive lessons.

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#2. Reading Years with “Ling”

In Chinese, the character 零 (líng) is used when reading zero in numbers. For years like 2010, 2048, etc, the presence of zeroes affects how the year is read.

For example:

2010 – èr líng yī líng nián – two zero one zero year

2048 – èr líng líng sì bā nián – two zero zero four eight year

Whenever a zero appears in the year, include the character 零 (líng) to read it properly in Chinese.

#3. Exceptions for Reading Years

There are two exceptions when reading years that only contain zeroes, such as 2000, 3000, 4000, etc. In these cases, the first zero is read as 零 (líng) rather than 一 (yī) for the digit 1.

For example:

2000 – èr líng líng líng nián – two zero zero zero year

3000 – sān líng líng líng nián – three zero zero zero year

4000 – sì líng líng líng nián – four zero zero zero year

This makes them consistent with other years containing zeroes.

#4. Shortened Readings for Recent Years

In recent years, it’s common to shorten the reading by only pronouncing the last two digits.

For example:

22 – èr èr – two two (for 2022)

86 – bā liù – eight six (for 1986)

99 – jiǔ jiǔ – nine nine (for 1999)

However, be aware that shortened versions can create ambiguity between clarity and context. 86 could refer to 1986 or 1786. So, ensure the context clarifies the year when opting for shortened readings.

Part3. Writing Years in Chinese Characters

Just as there are nuances to reading years aloud in Chinese, writing years also follow specific conventions. Let’s look at how to write years in Chinese characters and numerals.

#1. Writing with Numbers and 年

The most common way to write years in Chinese characters is by using Arabic numerals plus the Chinese character 年 (nián), meaning “year.” For example:

2021年

2023年

1997年

This format is used in formal and informal contexts for writing out years numerically.

#2. Writing Fully in Characters

Years can also be written out entirely in Chinese characters rather than numbers. This is more formal and was more common historically. For example:

二零二一年 – èr líng èr yī nián – two zero two one year

一九九七年 – yī jiǔ jiǔ qī nián – one nine nine seven year

三零零六年 – sān líng líng liù nián – three zero zero six year

Character writing is not commonly used today outside of specialized documents, calligraphy, or historical contexts, but it is good to recognize.

#3. Mixed Numeral-Character Format

A mixed writing format combines numerals for the year with the character 年 (nián). For example:

一九四五年 – yī jiǔ sì wǔ nián – one nine four five year

This was very common historically, and you may encounter it when reading older documents or calligraphy.

#4. Shortened Writing of Recent Years

Following the spoken conventions, it’s acceptable to use the shortened two-digit version when writing about recent years. For example:

八六年 – bā liù nián – eight six-year (for 1986)

Again, context is critical to avoiding ambiguity with the century. But in most cases, the meaning will be clear.

Mastering reading and writing years in Chinese characters takes practice but is extremely rewarding. Identifying patterns and consistently reviewing key concepts can help accelerate the learning process. Online courses like Wukong Chinese use spaced repetition and compelling lessons to aid memorization of all aspects of writing Chinese characters, from years to common phrases.

Part4. Chinese Zodiac Year Names 

Beyond the basic numbering system, years in Chinese culture are also designated according to a 12-year zodiac cycle. Each year in the cycle corresponds to one of the 12 zodiac animals and is believed to take on characteristics associated with that animal. Let’s look at the most recent years for each zodiac sign.

#1. Background on the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac stems from a folk tale about the Jade Emperor declaring that the ordered animals at his party would set the zodiac cycle. The 12 animals in the cycle are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Every 12 years, the cycle repeats.

#2. Rat Year – 鼠年 (Shǔ nián)

Most recently: 2012, 2008, 1996

Rat years are characterized by quick wit, resourcefulness, and vitality. But they can also bring more significant conflict and intense competition. Famous rat year babies include George Washington and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

9 Best Ways to Say and Write Years in Chinese Characters - WuKong Education Blog

#3. Ox Year – 牛年 (Niú nián)

Most recently: 2021, 2009, 1997

Ox-year babies are strong, reliable, and diligent. However, ox years can also be more conservative and prone to resistance to change. Barack Obama and Princess Diana were both born in ox years.

#4. Tiger Year – 虎年 (Hǔ nián)

Most recently: 2022, 2010, 1998

Tiger years bring courage, competitiveness, and unpredictability. But tigers can also stir up angst and impulsiveness in the population. Notable tiger babies are Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga.

#5. Rabbit Year – 兔年 (Tù nián)

Most recently: 2011, 1999, 1987

The rabbit brings diplomacy, graciousness, and tranquility. But also potential complacency and over-indulgence. Famous rabbits include Johnny Depp and Albert Einstein.

#6. Dragon Year – 龙年 (Lóng nián)

Most recently: 2012, 2000, 1988

The dragon ignites ambition, strength, and nobility. But also arrogance and dogmatism. Prominent dragon babies are Martin Luther King Jr. and Bruce Lee.

9 Best Ways to Say and Write Years in Chinese Characters - WuKong Education Blog

The Chinese Dragon Year, or 龙年 (Lóng nián), symbolizes ambition, strength, and nobility. 

#7. Snake Year – 蛇年 (Shé nián)

Most recently: 2013, 2001, 1989

Snake years bring wisdom, discretion, and good fortune. But also indulgence and shifting goals. Famous snakes include Audrey Hepburn and Bob Dylan.

Each zodiac year is believed to impart unique qualities. Checking which Chinese zodiac you were born in can enrich your cultural experience.

Learning to express years in Chinese characters provides access to many fascinating Chinese language and cultural aspects – from Lunar New Year in chinese characters to historical documents. Mastering how to read, write, and pronounce years opens doors to deeper engagement and exploration. Whether a beginner or advanced student, consistently challenging yourself with new numeric representations and reinforcing essential vocabulary will take your Mandarin skills to new levels.

Part5. FAQs about Years in Chinese Characters

Q1. What is the character for year in Chinese?

The Chinese character for year is 年 (nián). This character is essential for writing and reading years in Chinese characters. It is pronounced “nian” in Mandarin.

Q2. Why do you need 年 (nián) when saying the year in Chinese?

Unlike English and many other languages, in Chinese it is mandatory to say the character 年 (nián) when pronouncing the year. Simply saying the numbers alone is incorrect. 年 (nián) indicates you are stating a year specifically.

Q3. Do Chinese people write out the year in characters?

Nowadays most Chinese writing will use Arabic numerals for the year followed by 年 (nián). But in more formal contexts, calligraphy, or historical documents, it is still common to see the year written out fully in Chinese characters rather than numbers.

Q4. What is the Chinese zodiac year character for 2022?

The Chinese zodiac year for 2022 is 虎年 (hǔ nián). This is because 2022 is the year of the tiger in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. The character 虎 (hǔ) represents the tiger.

Conclusion

Smoothly saying and writing years in Chinese characters is an essential benchmark on the journey to Chinese fluency. From the basic read-each-digit formula to exceptions with “ling,” shortened versions, and character writing methods, you can confidently express years in Chinese characters.