Chinese Measure Words I

  • A measure word 量词 ((liàng cí), also known as a classifier, is used along with numerals to define the quantity of a given object or with words such as “this” and “that” to identify specific objects. e.g.:
    一张纸  。(a piece of paper)
    那张纸。(that paper)
    那一张纸。(that piece of paper)
  • In terms of measure words, the main difference between English and Chinese is that Chinese requires a measure word for most objects. In English, one can say “two books”. In Chinese, we do not say “两书”, but “两本书”.  (本 is a measure word for book 书)
  • However, when a noun is not counted or introduces with “this” or “that”,  a measure word is not necessary. e.g. : We do not say “我的本书”, but “我的书”.
  • Most nouns have one or more particular measure words associated with them. The usage depends on personal preference and dialects. e.g:
    For car, some people use 那辆车 and others may use 那部车 or  那台车 to mean three cars.
  • There is a general measure word 个 which can be used when the actual measure word is not known. It is frequently used for many types of things (such as apples, bread, and light bulbs).  In informal and spoken language, native speakers tend to use this measure word far more than any other, even though they know which measure word is “correct” when asked.
  • There are more than a hundred Chinese measure words. Here are some of the common measure words that we have learnt so far:
Measure Word Pinyin Main Uses Example

individual things, people, catch-all measure word (usage of this measure word in conjunction with any noun is generally accepted if the person does not know the proper classifier) 一个人 (person)
两个哥哥 (elder brother)
那个学生 (student)
十个亲戚 (relative)
一个想法 (thinking)
这个问题 (question)
一个国家 (nation)
2 jiān

rooms, spaces 一间房间 (room)
那间卧室 (bedroom)
两间教室 (classroom)
三间房子 (house)
一间学校 (school)
一间公司 (company)
两间教堂 (chapel)
3 jiàn

matters (affairs), clothing (tops), furniture 一件衣服 (clothing (top))
三件内衣 (undershirt)
两件衬衫 (shirt)
这件大衣 (coat)
一件床单 (bed sheet)
一件行李 (luggage)
那件礼物 (present)
两件事 (matter/thing)
4 zhāng

“sheet” — flat or paper objects 两张纸 (paper)
那张桌子 (table)
三张床 (bed)
五张卡 (card)
两张沙发 (sofa)
一张光碟 (CD/DVD)
十张照片 (photograph)
两张票 (ticket)
三张图画 (painting)
一张脸 (face)
一张嘴 (mouth)
5 wèi

polite, respectful classifier for people 三位老师 (teacher)
一位顾客 (customer)
两位同事 (colleague)
6 tiáo

long, narrow, flexible objects 三条鱼 (fish)
两条蛇 (snake)
一条龙 (dragon)
三条虫 (worm)
五条狗 (dog)
这条路 (road)
一条河 (river)
四条线 (stem)
一条绳 (rope)
那条毛巾 towel
一条裤子 (pants)
两条领带 (necktie)
那条裙子 (skirt)
一条好汉 (heroic person)
一条船 (a boat)
7 běn

“volume” — bound print matter 一本书 (book)
八本杂志 (magazine)
九本小说 (novel)
这本经文 (scripture)
那本字典 (dictionary)
三本笔记本 (notepad)
两本课本 (textbook)
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6 thoughts on “Chinese Measure Words I”

  1. Sorry, I’m leaving a lot of comments..
    I have a question, number six and number four.
    For number six, it says long, flat items however it says dog, dragon, and heroic person. I don’t understand how this fits the term, would you clarify it for me?

    Same thing with number four, face and mouth don’t fit the terms in my view.

    Also, if these words had some “exception” to them, is it necessary? Can I just use gè?

    1. Hi Hsiao-yuen,
      It is ok for you to leave comments as you like. But I may not reply promptly.

      For #6, 条, is normally used for long and narrow thing. For dog, “狗”, we do say “一只狗” and sometimes we say “一条狗” too. For dragon (Chinese dragon), which look alike snake, is long and narrow. Thus we use “条” too.
      一条好汉 is a special case here. It is hard to explain why we use “条” for 好汉.

      The measure word for both 脸 (face) and 嘴 (mouth) are “张”. It is hard for me too to explain why we use “张”.

      Yes. You are right. In most of the cases, we can use 个 as measure word for most of the objects.

    1. Hi riyadh,
      You can try to zoom the page by pressing “ctrl” and “+”.
      I will look into it to increase the font size.

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