Chinese (Mandarin)/Lesson 5

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Lesson 5: Measure words[edit]

Measure Words/量词(liàngcí)[edit]

In Chinese, most specified or numbered nouns must be preceded by measure words, also known as classifiers, according to the type of object. Consider the English phrase, "two pairs of pants." Like the word "pair," Chinese measure words are placed between the noun and the preceding number.

1. 这本书里没有一个汉字。

Zhè bĕn shū lǐ méi yŏu yí gè Hànzì.
This book doesn’t contain one Chinese character.

2. 那间宿舍有六十个学生。

Nà jiān sùshè yŏu liùshí ge xuésheng.
That dorm has sixty students.

The phrase 一朵花 (yī duǒ huā) means "one flower," but how would you say "a pile of flowers?" It's simple: just change the classifier. The phrase 一堆花 (yī duī huā) means "a pile of flowers." You could also say 一把花 (yī bǎ huā; a handful of flowers), 一桶花 (yī tǒng huā; a bucket of flowers), or 一种花 (yī zhǒng huā; a kind of flower). You can see that measure words act as adjectives.

In Chinese, like in English, you can omit the noun if it's already known, leaving only the classifier. 你看到那种(花)吗? (Nǐ kàn dào nà zhǒng (huā) ma?) means "Did you see that kind (of flower)?" You can see that measure words also act as nouns.

Measure words are also used with demonstrative pronouns (this, that). For example, 这朵花 means "this flower," and 那朵花 means "that flower."

You might also encounter something like this: 书架上有书本。 (Shūjià shàng yǒu shūběn.) which means "The bookshelf has books on it." Note that the classifier is after the noun. This signifies multiple books where the exact number is not important, here translated "books." The sentence 书架上有书。, means the same as above, but is without the classifier.

Some Common Measure Words[edit]

Column key: Trad. is Traditional, Simp. shows changes made for the simplified variant (if any).

Trad. Simp. Pinyin Main uses Example
ge individual things, people — usage of this classifier in conjunction with any noun is generally accepted if the person does not know the proper classifier. 一个书包 yí ge shūbāo, a schoolbag
"handful", "fistful" — objects that can be held or grabbed (knives, scissors, keys; also chairs) 一把刀 yì bă dāo. One knife.

一把盐 yì bă yán. A handful of salt.

bāo "package", "bundle" 一包纸巾 yì bāo zhǐ jīn. A package of paper towels.
bēi "cup" — drinks 一杯水 yì bēi shuǐ. A cup of water.
běn "volume" — any bound print or written matter (books, etc.) 一本书 yì běn shū. A book.
slimmer volumes of books
"time" — opportunities, accidents 两次 liǎng cì. Twice. 三次 sān cì. Three times.
"droplet" — water, blood, and other such fluids 一滴水 yì dī shuǐ. A drop of water.
diǎn ideas, suggestions, can also mean "a bit" 你睡一点。 Nǐ shuì yīdiǎn. Sleep a bit.
duī "pile" — anything in a pile 一堆书 yī duī shū. A pile of books.
duǒ flowers, clouds 一朵花 yì duŏ huā. One flower.
fèn newspapers, jobs 一份报 yì fèn bào. A newspaper
gēn thin, slender objects, lit. "a root of a..." (needles, pillars, grass, vegetable roots etc.) 一根针 yì gēn zhēn. A needle
jiā gathering of people (families, companies, etc.) 一家人 yī jiā rén. A family of people.
jià objects with a "frame" or structure; generally used for machines or mechanical objects (esp. cars, planes, etc.) 一架飞机 yī jià fēijī. One plane.
jiàn matters, clothing, etc. 一件衣服 yí jiàn yī fù. An article of clothing.
jié "a section" — of bamboo, tutorials and classes, etc.
liàng automobiles, bicycles, vehicles, etc. 一辆车 yí liàng chē. One car.
miàn any flat and smooth objects, lit. "a surface of a..." (mirrors, flags, walls, etc.) 一面镜子 yí miàn jìng zi. One mirror
horses and other mounts, or rolls/bolts of cloth 一匹马 yì pǐ mă. One horse.
piàn "slice" — any flat object, like cards, slices of bread, tree leaves, etc. 一片叶子 yì piàn yè zi. One leaf.
píng "bottle" — drinks
shàn objects that open and close (doors, windows) 一扇门 yì shàn mén. One door
sōu ships 一艘船 yì sōu chuán. One ship.
suǒ any buildings, apartment
tái heavy objects (TVs, computers, etc.) and performances (esp. in theatre, etc.) 一台电脑 yī tái diànnǎo. One computer.
tiáo long, narrow, flexible objects (fish, trousers, etc.) 一条鱼 yì tiáo yú. One fish.
tóu "head" — herd animals (pigs, cows, sheep etc., never for fowls or birds), hair 一头牛 yì tóu niú. One head of cattle (Literally translated into English, "头" means head).
wèi polite classifier for people (e.g. gentlemen, professors, customers) 几位?Jǐ wèi? How many (people)?
xiē "some" — anything that's plural 一些书 yī xiē shū. Some books. Never 两些书
zhāng "sheet" — squarish or rectangular flat objects (paper, tables, etc.), faces, bows, paintings, tickets, constellations 一张纸 yì zhāng zhǐ. One piece of paper.
zhī stick-like objects (pens, chopsticks, etc.) 一支笔 yì zhī bǐ. One pen.
zhī one of a pair (e.g. hands, limbs), animals (birds, cats, etc.) 一只狗 yì zhī gŏu. One dog.
zhǒng types or kinds of objects, ideas, etc. 一种书 yì zhǒng shū. One type of book.
dǒng building object 一栋房子 yí dòng fáng zí. One house

See Chinese measure words on Wikipedia for a more complete reference.

Lessons: Pron. - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 Search inside this book using Google
Subpages: Examples - Exercises - Stroke Order