What Are Chinese Measure Words?
When I first started learning Chinese, one of the things I found most intimidating was measure words, or classifiers. But if you think about it, we actually use some measure words in English as well—take “a pair of pants” or “a glass of water,” for example. The difference is that in Mandarin Chinese, measure words are used before every noun. In total, there are around 150 measure words (in Chinese, 量词 (量詞) liàng cí). That seems like an insane amount of words to memorize just to qualify nouns. Thankfully though, if you learn just a fraction of these, you’ll be
set for most everyday conversations.
15 Must-Know Measure Words for Beginner Chinese Learners
Below is a list of 15 of the most common and useful measure words to get you started!
1- 个／個 (gè)
This is the most basic of all measure words, and the first one that Chinese learners and even Chinese children learn. It can be used for basically any noun, so you could scrape by with just this one measure word if you really wanted to, although you won’t sound very fluent if you do. Technically, this classifier should be used for people and non-specific items.
|三个人／三個人||sān gè rén||three people|
|两个蘋果／兩個蘋果||liǎng gè píngguǒ||two apples|
|一个想法／一個想法||yī gè xiǎngfǎ||an opinion|
2- 位 (wèi)
This measure word is also used for people, but this one is more polite. It’s useful for more formal settings or when you want to show respect to someone.
|这位教授／這位教授||zhè wèi jiàoshòu||this professor|
|那位老太太||nà wèi lǎotàitai||that elderly woman|
3- 只／隻 (zhī)
While the measure words 个 and 位 are used for people, the measure word 只 is used for most animals. It’s also used for arms, legs, hands, and feet.
|一只狗／一隻狗||yī zhī gǒu||a dog|
|两只腳／兩隻腳||liǎng zhī jiǎo||two feet|
4- 支 (zhī)
This Chinese measure word is pronounced exactly the same as the last one (只) but it’s written and used differently! The measure word 支 is used for objects that are stick-like, such as a pen (笔 bǐ) or a chopstick (筷子 kuàizi).
|一支吸管||yī zhī xīguǎn||a drinking straw|
|这支手機／這支手機||zhè zhī shǒujī||this cellphone|
5- 条／條 (tiáo)
Another measure word used for long items is 条. This one is used with items or things that you would think of as long, skinny, or narrow. Things like rivers (河 hé), roads (路 lù), and pants (裤子 kùzi) are all paired with this measure word. It’s also used for animals that would be considered to be long and slippery, such as fish and snakes.
|那条路／那條路||nà tiáo lù||that road|
|八条鱼／八條魚||bā tiáo yú||eight fish|
6- 双／雙 (shuāng)
This measure word is used for items in pairs, in basically the same way that we use “pair” in English. Note that while we use “pair” for pants in English, 条 is used with pants in Chinese, as mentioned above.
|九双鞋子／九雙鞋子||jiǔ shuāng xiézi||nine pairs of shoes|
|一双眼睛／一雙眼睛||yī shuāng yǎnjīng||a pair of eyes|
|两双筷子／兩雙筷子||liǎng shuāng kuàizi||two pairs of chopsticks|
7- 件 (jiàn)
We’ve already discussed how the measure words 条 and 双 can be used for certain items of clothing. However, the measure word that goes with most clothing is 件. It’s also used for some other things like matters/problems.
|一件衬衫／一件襯衫||yí jiàn chènshān||a shirt/blouse|
|一件事／一件事||yí jiàn shì||a matter|
8- 张／張 (zhāng)
For flat objects like a ticket, a piece of paper, a table, or a CD, the measure word 张 is used. It’s also used for photos, whether physical or digital.
|三张电影票／三張電影票||sān zhāng diànyǐng piào||three movie tickets|
|这张照片／這張照片||zhè zhāng zhàopiàn||this photo|
9- 本 (běn)
This measure word is used for books (书 shū) and other similar items like magazines, notebooks, and newspapers.
|六本书／六本書||liù běn shū||six books|
|一本杂志／一本雜誌||yì běn zázhì||a magazine|
10- 家 (jiā)
You might already know that this Chinese word means “home” or “family,” but it’s also a measure word. It’s used for families, companies, and other business establishments.
|那家餐厅／那家餐廳||nà jiā cāntīng||that restaurant|
|这家公司／這家公司||zhè jiā gōngsī||this company|
11- 瓶／缾 (píng) and 杯 (bēi)
If you’re going out to eat or drink, these two measure words are must-knows. 瓶 means bottle, and 杯 means cup. They’re used the same way in Chinese as they’re used in English!
|一杯水||yī bēi shuǐ||a glass of water|
|一缾啤酒／一瓶啤酒||yì píng píjiǔ||a bottle of beer|
12- 份 (fèn)
Another measure word you may need when ordering food is 份. When it comes to food it basically means “portion.” It’s also used for bundles or batches of things, and multi-page documents.
|两份炸鸡／兩份炸雞||liǎng fèn zhájī
Taiwan: ~ zhàjī
|two orders of fried chicken|
|一份文件||yí fèn wénjiàn||a document|
13- 块／塊 (kuài)
The measure word 块 will also come in handy when ordering food, as it’s most often used for foods that are cut into pieces, such as cake, bread, or pizza. It can also be used for other things that come in pieces or chunks, such as wood, as well as for money.
|一块蛋糕／一塊蛋糕||yí kuài dàngāo||a piece of cake|
|两块肉／兩塊肉||liǎng kuài ròu||two pieces of meat|
|十块钱／十塊錢||shí kuài qián||ten dollars|
14- 辆／輛 (liàng)
This Chinese measure word is used for vehicles with wheels, like bicycles or cars. One exception to this is trains, which instead use the measure word 列 (liè).
|那辆车／那輛車||nà liàng chē||that car|
|五辆自行车／五輛自行車||wǔ liàng zìxíngchē||five bicycles|
15- 台 (tái)
Our last measure word, 台, is mainly used for machines such as computers and televisions. In Taiwan, this classifier is also colloquially applied to wheeled vehicles in place of 辆.
|一台電腦||yì tái diànnǎo||a computer|
|那台车／那台車||nà tái chē||that car|
There are many more measure words in Chinese beyond this list, but these 15 must-know measure words are a great start for beginner Mandarin Chinese learners. While measure words can seem a bit daunting at first, you’ll get the hang of them in no time!
For More Advanced Learners
Measure Words for Nouns
Individual Items: both 顆 kē and 粒 lì are used for small round objects: 球 ball, 珍珠 pearl, 心 heart, 星 star, 米 (grain of) rice, 種子 seed, 花生 peanut. Not to be confused with 棵 kē used for 樹 trees. 套 tào a set, used in much the same way as in English, for example a set meal: 套餐.
Units of length, weight, volume, and space are also considered measure words: 米 meter (Taiwan: 公尺), 釐米 centimeter (Taiwan: 公分), 里 kilometer (Taiwan: 公里), 公升 liter, 公斤 kilogram, 公克 gram, 噸 ton, 平方尺 square foot, 平方米 square meter (Taiwan: 坪 3.306 square meters), 公噸 metric ton.
Mass nouns: 一些 a few, 點兒 a little, 一點兒 a little bit
Nouns that Take No Measure Words
Nouns of time and jurisdiction typically do not take any other measure words. Instead, you can use a counter (a number) directly with the noun: 年 year, 星期 week, 天 day, 小時 hour, 分 minute, 分鐘 minute, 秒 second, 國 country, 省 province, 市 city, 縣 county. One exception is that 星期 and 小時 can take 個, optionally. 禮拜 always takes 個.
For example: 三年的時間 three years’ time, 五天的功夫 five days’ work.
Compound Measure Words
Advanced learners will need to learn how to put measure words together to create compound structures, such as: 架次 jiàcì frequency of flights, 人次 frequency of people, 秒立方米 cubic meters per second.
Measure Words for Verbs
You may have not realized it before, but many of the words you use to describe frequency of events are in fact measure words as well. And there are a variety of them, depending on the thing you're describing. The most common one you have learned is 一下 after a verb, to do something “for a little bit”.
Other countable events: 次 cì how many times. 回 huí something that can re-occur (怎麼一回事), 頓 dùn frequency of meals/scorning/advising/yelling at (罵了一頓), 陣 zhèn short but continuous action (一陣雨 a downpour, 臺下爆發了一陣熱烈的掌聲 a roar of applause erupted below the stage), 場 chǎng used for arts performance or sports activity (and not surprisingly, crying can be considered a “performance”: 她大哭了一場 she cried a big “scene”), 趟 tàng frequency of round-trip, 遍 biàn the course of an action from beginning to end as a single unit, for example watching the complete movie: 每遍都很感動 it’s so moving every “time” or reading something to completion 從頭到尾念了一遍, 番 fān only used with single instances such as something said: 一番話, 個 ge used with actions that can be repeatable, but the number is often dropped: 洗了個澡 took one shower, 打了個電話 made a call.
It is quite common to borrow nouns as a measure word to count something else. We do this frequently in English, such as: 2 spoons of sugar. 三碗飯 3 bowls-(full) of rice, 兩壺酒 2 pots-(full) of liquor, 一身新衣服 1 full-body of new clothes, 一桌菜 1 table-full of food, 一盆花 1 pot-full of flowers, 一手泥 a handful of mud, 一臉汗 a face-full of sweat. In northern China, it is common to add the -r colored ending to these measure words.
For verbs, put your measure word after the action, as you would with 一下: 砍了一斧子 chopped one axe-full, 切了一刀 cut one knife-full, 放了一槍 let off one gunshot, 踢了一腳 kicked one foot-full, 咬了一口 bit off one mouth-full, 看了一眼 saw one eye-full, 打了一拳 hit one fist-full.
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