One of the first things you probably learned when studying Mandarin is how to count to 10. But did you know that the number “1” actually has another, special pronunciation?
In most cases you will just pronounce the number “1” as “一 (yī)” when wanting to say “one.” There is just one exception, when you are telling a phone number. So why do phone numbers get a special sound? The reason is very much the same as in the US military, who created another way of pronouncing the letters in the alphabet to avoid miscommunication. The word “一 (yī) one” sounds very much like the number “7 七 (qī)” because they both end in “i.” So, it can be very hard to distinguish between these two words, especially if you are in high stakes such as a battle.
Actually, the sound “yāo” can replace “yī” when discussing phone numbers or room numbers. For example, when telling someone the number of the police in China, they would say “yāo yāo líng” instead of “yī yī líng” to read “110.” Or when you go to a hotel, the staff might say your room number is “105 (yāo líng wǔ).”
The reason the sound “yāo” was chosen was because, in Chinese, “幺 (yāo)” means youngest and, in numbers, one is also the smallest.
So, what happens if you are giving someone your phone number and you say “yī” instead of “yāo?” Nothing really. It might cause some minor miscommunication, but really using the word “yāo” stands to make your Chinese sound more fluent. Saying “yī” can make you stand out as a non-native Chinese speaker. Give using “yāo” a try to send your Chinese to the next level!
Jenny: Nǐ de diànhuà hàomǎ shì shénme?
Jenny: 你 的 电话 号码 是 什么？
Jenny: What is your phone number?
Lisa: Yāo, wǔ, bā, jiǔ, líng, jiǔ, jiǔ, wǔ, liù, yāo, yāo
Lisa: 1 – 5 – 8 – 9 – 0 – 9 – 9 – 5 – 6 – 1 – 1
Wǒ zhù zài zhè dòng lóu de sān yāo wǔ hào fáng.
我 住 在 这 栋 楼 的 3 1 5 号 房。
I live in this building’s room 315.
The number 2 in Chinese also has a special usage. That is to say, there are two words for saying 2 in Chinese. Do you know them?
Check this related post for the 2 different 2’s in Chinese:
The Two Two’s of Chinese : “二 (èr)” and “两 (liǎng)”