An epic guide to months, days of the week, and years in Chinese

Thinking about scheduling your first meeting in Chinese, or perhaps making weekend plans with your new Chinese friends? Then you’ll need to know how to talk about dates in Chinese!

Speaking Chinese will open up your calendar to a whole host of events. Not only is it the second most spoken language in the world, but it’s also one of the best languages to learn for business. With over a billion speakers in China and tens of millions around the world, you’ll surely fill up your calendar quite easily as you start building new meaningful relationships.

However, before you do that, you need to make sure you can actually schedule the first date or meeting. That’s why knowing how to talk about dates in Chinese will enhance your general experience with the Chinese language so significantly. Now, you’ll be able to make plans with your coworkers, classmates, and new friends. Once you’ve established relationships with Chinese speakers, you’ll be able to drastically increase the amount of time you spend practicing outside of class!

Plus, as anyone who’s been learning Chinese for any amount of time will know, studying this amazing language can help us see the world from a different perspective. For example, you’re probably used to writing dates in the month-day-year format if you’re a native English speaker. However, in Chinese, dates are written in the year-month-day format. In other words, they go from largest to smallest units!

Besides that, talking about dates in Chinese isn’t that different from English. All you need is some Chinese calendar vocabulary words, and a few more tips, and you’ll be set. One hugely important prerequisite skill, though, is knowing how to count in Chinese. If you’re not there yet, then we strongly recommend you take a pause and check out our helpful beginner’s guide to counting Chinese numbers.

So, if you’ve got your numbers down and are ready to start making appointments, let’s get right into the key vocabulary.

Woman making an appointment on her phone in Chinese.

Key vocabulary: How to say months, years, and days

Let’s start by covering the building blocks of dates in Chinese: years, months, and days. As you’ll see later on, there are multiple ways to talk about days, but, for now, let’s focus on the essentials:

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation

How to talk about years in Chinese

One of the biggest differences between talking about years in Chinese and English is that you always have to include the word 年 (year) when mentioning a specific year. English usually omits the word year except for ambiguous circumstances, like “the year 2000” or “the year 32 BCE.” In Chinese, you must add the word year (年) every single time.

Next, different languages use different systems for reading out years. English breaks down four-digit years into two two-digit numbers: 1987 becomes 19-87 (nineteen eighty-seven). Languages like Spanish and French opt to simply read out the full number. Chinese, however, reads each number individually. That makes 1987 simply one-nine-eight-seven. And, of course, we can’t forget the (年) at the end, so that makes it 一九八七年 (one-nine-eight-seven-nián). It’s that easy!

Here are a few more examples of how to read Chinese years:

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation
一七四五年yī qī sì wǔ nián1745i chi syh wuu nian
一九七一年yī jiǔ qī yī nián1971i jeou chi i nian
一九九九年yī jiǔ jiǔ jiǔ nián1999i jeou jeou jeou nian
二零零一年èr líng líng yī nián2001ell ling ling i nian
二零一七年èr líng yī qī nián2017ell ling i chi nian
二零二三年èr líng èr sān nián2023ell ling ell san nian
二零三八年èr líng sān bā nián2038ell ling san ba nian
三零二三年sān líng èr sān nián3023san ling ell san nian

A busy Saturday night in Beijing China.

How to talk about months in Chinese

Most of our everyday conversations generally revolve around the present and the immediate past or future. As such, we don’t always need to mention the year when we’re talking about our plans for the summer or what we’ve been up to. You can simply mention the month by itself if the context makes it clear that you’re talking about a specific month.

The months in Chinese are extremely easy to learn. The names of the months in English come from the Gregorian Calendar, and each represents a different Roman leader, god, festival, or number. Chinese, however, uses simple arithmetic to come up with the names for the months. All you need to do is add the word for month, 月 (yuè) immediately after a number 1-to-12. As a fun fact, the word 月 (yuè) used to mean “moon,” making it even easier to remember the word for months if you learn that association! Doesn’t the character look like a waxing crescent moon?

So, January is simply 一月 (yī yuè), which translates directly into “month one.” If you’re wondering how to talk about numbers in terms of quantity, you can do that easily with the Chinese measure word 个 (ge). So, if you want to say that something took you three months to complete, you can say 三个月 (sān ge yuè).

Here are the twelve months of the year in Chinese:

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation
一月yī yuèJanuaryi yueh
二月èr yuèFebruaryell yueh
三月sān yuèMarchsan yueh
四月sì yuèAprilsyh yueh
五月wǔ yuèMaywuu yueh
六月liù yuèJuneliow yueh
七月qī yuèJulychi yueh
八月bā yuèAugustba yueh
九月jiǔ yuèSeptemberjeou yueh
十月shí yuèOctobershyr yueh
十一月shí yī yuèNovembershyr i yueh
十二月shí èr yuèDecembershyr ell yueh

How to talk about days in Chinese

Chinese uses three different words to talk about days: 日 (rì), 号 (hào), and 天 (tiān). Only the first two are used when talking about dates, so let’s focus on those for now. Similarly to the months in Chinese, you just have to add the character for day (or, in this case, one of the two) after a number to turn it into a specific day. For example, 十二日 is the 12th day of the month. While English uses ordinal numbers (first, second, third) for days of the month, Chinese always uses cardinal numbers (one, two, three).

So, how do you know whether to use 日 (rì) or 号 (hào) when talking about days in Chinese? In general, 日 (rì) is more formal than 号 (hào). As such, you’ll tend to see 日 (rì) in written Chinese and 号 (hào) in most spoken interactions, except for formal ones.

Finally, 天 (tiān) is used as a quantifier of days. Use this when you want to talk about a time period in terms of days, such as 三天后见 (sān tiān hòu jiàn), “see you in three days.” You can also use 天 (tiān) to talk about today, tomorrow, and yesterday, though we’ll cover that in the following section.

Here’s how to talk about the 31 days of the month in Chinese.

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation
一号 / 一日yī hào / yī rì1sti haw / i ryh
二号 / 二日èr hào / èr rì2ndell haw / ell ryh
三号 / 三日sān hào / sān rì3rdsan haw / san ryh
四号 / 四日sì hào / sì rì4thsyh haw / syh ryh
五号 / 五日wǔ hào / wǔ rì5thwuu haw / wuu ryh
六号 / 六日liù hào / liù rì6thliow haw / liow ryh
七号 / 七日qī hào / qī rì7thchi haw / chi ryh
八号 / 八日bā hào / bā rì8thba haw / ba ryh
九号 / 九日jiǔ hào / jiǔ rì9thjeou haw / jeou ryh
十号 / 十日shí hào / shí rì10thshyr haw / shyr ryh
十一号 / 十一日shí yī hào / shí yī rì11thshyr i haw / shyr i ryh
十二号 / 十二日shí èr hào / shí èr rì12thshyr ell haw / shyr ell ryh
十三号 / 十三日shí sān hào / shí sān rì13thshyr san haw / shyr san ryh
十四号 / 十四日shí sì hào / shí sì rì14thshyr syh haw / shyr syh ryh
十五号 / 十五日shí wǔ hào / shí wǔ rì15thshyr wuu haw / shyr wuu ryh
十六号 / 十六日shí liù hào / shí liù rì16thshyr liow haw / shyr liow ryh
十七号 / 十七日shí qī hào / shí qī rì17thshyr chi haw / shyr chi ryh
十八号 / 十八日shí bā hào / shí bā rì18thshyr ba haw / shyr ba ryh
十九号 / 十九日shí jiǔ hào / shí jiǔ rì19thshyr jeou haw / shyr jeou ryh
二十号 / 二十日èr shí hào / èr shí rì20thell shyr haw / ell shyr ryh
二十一号 / 二十一日èr shí yī hào / èr shí yī rì21stell shyr i haw / ell shyr i ryh
二十二号 / 二十二日èr shí èr hào / èr shí èr rì22ndell shyr ell haw / ell shyr ell ryh
二十三号 / 二十三日èr shí sān hào / èr shí sān rì23rdell shyr san haw / ell shyr san ryh
二十四号 / 二十四日èr shí sì hào / èr shí sì rì24thell shyr syh haw / ell shyr syh ryh
二十五号 / 二十五日èr shí wǔ hào / èr shí wǔ rì25thell shyr wuu haw / ell shyr wuu ryh
二十六号 / 二十六日èr shí liù hào / èr shí liù rì26thell shyr liow haw / ell shyr liow ryh
二十七号 / 二十七日èr shí qī hào / èr shí qī rì27thell shyr chi haw / ell shyr chi ryh
二十八号 / 二十八日èr shí bā hào / èr shí bā rì28thell shyr ba haw / ell shyr ba ryh
二十九号 / 二十九日èr shí jiǔ hào / èr shí jiǔ rì29thell shyr jeou haw / ell shyr jeou ryh
三十号 / 三十日sān shí hào / sān shí rì30thsan shyr haw / san shyr ryh
三十一号 / 三十一日sān shí yī hào / sān shí yī rì31stsan shyr i haw / san shyr i ryh

Couple organise a shopping date in China.

Days of the week in Chinese

Next, we have the days of the week in Chinese. Though these aren’t included when talking about dates, they’re still very useful ways of making plans for the immediate future. There are three ways of talking about the days of the week in Chinese: 周 (zhōu), 星期 (xīng qī), and 礼拜 (lǐ bài). Of the three, 周 (zhōu) and 星期 (xīng qī) are the most common, being suitable for both formal and informal conversations. On the other hand, 礼拜 (lǐ bài) is informal and much less common, often used in spoken language.

Unlike years, months, and days, the days of the week have the number placed after the word for the day of the week. So, simply follow these formulas when you want to use any of the three ways to talk about the days of the week in Chinese:

  • 周[X]
  • 星期[X]
  • 礼拜[X]

Just replace the X with the number of the corresponding day of the week, with one being Monday, two being Tuesday, and so on. The only exception to this rule is Sunday, which uses either 日 (rì) or 天 (tiān) instead of the corresponding seven, such as 星期天 (xīng qī tiān).

Here are all the different ways to say the days of the week in Chinese:

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation
周一zhōu yīMondayjou i
星期一xīng qī yīMondayshing chi i
礼拜一lǐ bài yīMondaylii bay i
周二zhōu èrTuesdayjou ell
星期二xīng qī èrTuesdayxīng qī èr
礼拜二lǐ bài èrTuesdaylii bay ell
周三zhōu sānWednesdayjou san
星期三xīng qī sānWednesdayshing chi san
礼拜三lǐ bài sānWednesdaylii bay san
周四zhōu sìThursdayjou syh
星期四xīng qī sìThursdayshing chi syh
礼拜四lǐ bài sìThursdaylii bay syh
周五zhōu wǔFridayjou wuu
星期五xīng qī wǔFridayshing chi wuu
礼拜五lǐ bài wǔFridaylii bay wuu
周六zhōu liùSaturdayjou liow
星期六xīng qī liùSaturdayshing chi liow
礼拜六lǐ bài liùSaturdaylii bay liow
周日zhōu rìSundayjou ryh
周天zhōu tiānSundayjou tian
星期日xīng qī rìSundayxīng qī rì
星期天xīng qī tiānSundayshing chi tian
礼拜天lǐ bài tiānSundaylii bay tian
礼拜日lǐ bài rìSundaylii bay ryh

Other words related to dates in Chinese

Finally, there are many other auxiliary words that help us easily navigate the calendar in everyday conversations. Most of the time, we don’t really need to know the exact date for a particular event. For example, when asking a coworker out for coffee, a simple “Does tomorrow work?” should do the trick. Here are some helpful words related to date in Chinese.

Chinese characterPinyinEnglishPronunciation
今天jīn tiānTodayjin tian
昨天míng tiānTomorrowming tian
明天zuó tiānYesterdaytzwo tian
前天qián tiānThe day before yesterdaychyan tian
后天hòu tiānThe day after tomorrowhow tian
这个星期zhè ge xīng qīThis weekjeh geh shing chi
这个月zhè ge yuèThis monthjeh geh yueh
今年jīn niánThis yearjin nian
上个星期shàng ge xīng qīLast weekshanq geh shing chi
上个月shàng ge yuèLast monthshanq geh yueh
去年qù niánLast yearchiuh nian
下个星期xià ge xīng qīNext weekshiah geh shing chi
下个月xià ge yuèNext monthshiah geh yueh
明年míng niánNext yearming nian
前年qián niánThe year before lastchyan nian
后年hòu niánThe year after nexthow nian
早上zǎo shànɡEarly morningtzao shann
上午shànɡ wǔMorningshann wuu
中午zhōnɡ wǔNoonjong wuu
下午xià wǔAfternoonshiah wuu
晚上wǎn shànɡEvening or nightwoan shann
半夜bàn yèMidnightbann yeh
日历rì lìCalendarryh lih
阴历yīn lìChinese / lunar calendarin lih
生日shēng rìBirthdaysheng ryh
节日jié rìHoliday/Festivaljye ryh

Important holidays in Chinese

As you likely already know, Chinese culture has many unique festivals and holidays. What’s special about them is that they rely on the Chinese calendar, which means that their actual dates on the Gregorian calendar vary year by year. For example, the Western New Year always falls on January 1st, but the Chinese New Year falls somewhere between late January and mid-February.

Mother and daughter preparing to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Here are some of the most common Chinese and Western holidays in Chinese. For the Chinese holidays that use the Chinese calendar, we’ve entered their corresponding dates for 2023.

Chinese characterPinyinDateEnglishPronunciation
元旦yuán dànJanuary 1stNew Year’s Dayyuan dann
除夕chú xìJanuary 21stChinese Lunar New Year's Evechwu shih
新年xīn niánJanuary 22ndChinese Lunar New Year's Dayshin nian
春节chūn jiéJanuary 22ndSpring Festivalchuen jye
元宵节yuán xiāo jiéFebruary 5thLantern Festivalyuan shiau jye
情人节qíng rén jiéFebruary 14thValentine’s Daychyng ren jye
愚人节yú rén jiéApril 1stApril Fool’s Dayyuh ren jye
清明节qīng míng jiéApril 5thTomb Sweeping Dayching ming jye
复活节fù huó jiéVariesEasterfuh hwo jye
劳动节láo dòng jiéMay 1stLabor Daylau donq jye
五二零wǔ èr língMay 20thChinese Valentine’s Daywuu ell ling
儿童节ér tóng jiéJune 1stChildren's Dayerl torng jye
端午节duān wǔ jiéJune 22ndDragon Boat Festivalduan wuu jye
建军节jiàn jūn jiéAugust 1stPeople's Liberation Army Dayjiann jiun jye
父亲节fù qīn jiéAugust 8thChinese Fathers' Dayfuh chin jye
七夕节qī xì jiéAugust 22ndDouble Seventh Festival
Chinese Valentine's Day
chi shih jye
中元节zhōng yuán jiéAugust 30thGhost Festivaljong yuan jye
中秋节zhōng qiū jiéSeptember 29thMid-Autumn Festivaljong chiou jye
国庆日guó qìng rìOctober 1stNational Daygwo chinq ryh
重阳节chóng yáng jiéOctober 23rdDouble Ninth Festivalchorng yang jye
万圣节wàn shèng jiéOctober 31stHalloweenwann shenq jye
光棍节guāng gùn jiéNovember 11Singles' Dayguang guenn jye
感恩节gǎn’ēn jiéVariesThanksgivinggaan en jye
平安夜píng ān yèDecember 24Christmas Evepyng an yeh
圣诞节shèng dàn jiéDecember 25Christmas dayhenq dann jye

Fun facts about the Chinese calendar

What is the zodiac Chinese calendar?

The Chinese zodiac is made up of a cycle of 12 zodiacs that are represented by a different animal. Each year becomes the year of an animal, such as “the year of the rabbit.” Everyone born during this year will become that zodiac, as opposed to the West where zodiacs vary from month to month.

The 12 animals of the zodiac are:

  • 鼠 (shǔ) - Rat
  • 牛 (niú) - Ox
  • 虎 (hǔ) - Tiger
  • 兔 (tù) - Rabbit
  • 龙 (lóng) - Dragon
  • 蛇 (shé) - Snake
  • 马 (mǎ) - Horse
  • 羊 (yáng) - Goat
  • 猴 (hóu) - Monkey
  • 鸡 (jī) - Rooster
  • 狗 (gǒu) - Dog
  • 猪 (zhū) - Pig

Each of the twelve zodiacs, or animals, interact differently with each other. So, once you know your Chinese zodiac, you’ll want to check every year how your sign interacts with the current year. For example, the year of the rabbit will have a different impact on horse and dragon signs. In general, your zodiac year brings nothing but bad news and poor fortune, so watch out around your 12th, 24th, 36th, etc. birthdays!

What is the biggest holiday in China?

Chinese New Year is by far the largest holiday in China, with hundreds of millions of people traveling across the country to be with their families. In fact, it’s such a massive holiday that the travel rush period has its own name — 春运 (chūn yùn). In 2019, over 421 million passengers traveled by rail, air, and road in mainland China alone for Chinese New Year, showing just how important this holiday is in China.

How to calculate Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is calculated according to the Chinese calendar. As opposed to the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar, the Chinese calendar uses the moon to calculate the days and months of the year. This means that a new month begins the day a new moon rises.

To keep track of when the Chinese New Year is in a given year, you’ll have to keep track of the lunar cycle for a long period of time. That’s because Chinese years have anywhere from 353 to 385 days, depending on moon cycles and whether or not you’re dealing with a leap year.

The easiest way to check for the date of the Chinese New Year is to simply look it up. Here are the dates for the following ten years:

  • 2024: February 10
  • 2025: January 29
  • 2026: February 17
  • 2027: February 6
  • 2028: January 26
  • 2029: February 13
  • 2030: February 3
  • 2031: January 23
  • 2032: February 11
  • 2033: January 31

The Legend of Nian

If you’re wondering about the origins of the Chinese New Year, you’ll surely want to listen to the Legend of Nian. According to this legend, there used to be a giant monster with fangs that came out of the bottom of the sea at the end of the year to hunt for food and people. The terrified villagers called this beast Nian and escaped to the tops of mountains every New Year to avoid its deadly attacks.

The origins of the Chinese New Year begin with the legend of Nian.

All that changed when a strange old man showed up right when the entire village was getting ready to flee to the mountains. An old lady tried to convince the old man to flee with them, but he refused. In fact, the old man asked to be allowed to stay in this old lady’s house for the night. In exchange, he would expel Nian from the town.

The old lady wasn’t convinced, but, seeing that she wasn’t going to change the old man’s mind, reluctantly agreed to let him stay while she fled for the mountains. Later that night, Nian made its way into town and found complete darkness as the town was devoid of villagers — except for one house. Nian went to the one house with the lights on and found that every wall and door in the house was covered in red paper.

By this point, Nian was getting more and more frightened as it started seeing more red paper and candles inside the house. Suddenly, a large noise went off that startled Nian, and at that exact moment, the old man jumped out roaring in a red gown. This finally scared Nian enough to flee back into the ocean, leaving the town fully intact.

The next morning, the villagers came back to find that their town was in pristine condition. The old lady was happily surprised that the old man had kept his promise and, better yet, that they now had a way to defend themselves from Nian. Thanks to the wisdom of this strange old man, the villagers now knew that bright lights, the color red, and loud noises could scare Nian away.

That’s why Chinese new year celebrations today involve firecrackers, countless iterations of the color red, and no shortage of bright lights and loud noises. There’s even a demonstration of Nian chasing through the villagers and running away in sheer terror as the firecrackers start to go off!

Time to get booked and busy thanks to this Chinese calendar vocab

There you have it! Now you know 121 words related to dates in Chinese that will allow you to book important meetings and fun soirees with your friends and colleagues. Now you’ve got no excuse to take your Chinese to the next level by making plans to chat outside of the classroom and practice even when you’re not studying.

If you enjoyed this elementary Mandarin Chinese guide, make sure to check out the rest of our free content in our Mandarin Chinese blog. We regularly upload easy-to-digest and beginner-friendly guides to help you casually improve your Chinese language skills. For example, check out our guide to all 214 Chinese radicals and our beginner’s guide to pinyin!

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