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5.8: Lesson 4 Grammar - Measure words for counting

  • Page ID
    65642
  • Chinese uses measure words, a type of word called classifiers in linguistics which are common in East Asian languages. Measure words have a number of important uses, but one of the first ways you'll need to use them is for counting. Chinese learners should master them, starting with the measure word 个 (gè).

    Whenever you talk about the quantity of something in Chinese, you need a measure word.

       Number + Measure Word + Noun

    English does actually have measure words, it's just that most nouns usually don't need them. In English, most nouns are count nouns - they specify one instance of something. "An apple," for example. Some nouns are mass nouns and refer to something without specifying how much of it there is. Examples are "furniture," "paper," "water," etc. You can't say "a furniture"; you need a measure word: "a piece of furniture," "two sheets of paper," "three glasses of water," and so on.

    In Chinese, all nouns are mass nouns so they all need measure words. Just as in English, different nouns are associated with different measure words (e.g. it wouldn't make sense to talk about "a glass of furniture" unless something went horribly wrong in the factory).

    Examples 

    • 一个人
      yī gè rén
      a person
       
    • 两只猫
      liǎng zhī māo
      two cats
       
    • 三条鱼
      sān tiáo yú
      three fish
       
    • 四杯牛奶
      sì bēi niúnǎi
      four glasses of milk
       
    • 五瓶水
      wǔ píng shuǐ
      five bottles of water
       
    • 六块巧克力
      liù kuài qiǎokèlì
      six pieces of chocolate
       
    • 七盒茶叶
      qī hé cháyè
      seven boxes of tea leaves
       
    • 八台电脑
      bā tái diànnǎo
      eight computers
       
    • 九支玫瑰
      jiǔ zhī méiguī
      nine roses
       
    • 十个美女
      shí gè měinǚ
      ten beautiful women

    Also remember that there isn't a one-to-one relationship between nouns and measure words. One measure word can be used with several different nouns:

    • 一条狗
      yī tiáo gǒu
      a dog
       
    • 一条河
      yī tiáo hé
      a river
       
    • 一条路
      yī tiáo lù
      a road
       
    • 一条龙
      yī tiáo lóng
      a dragon
       
    • 一条鱼
      yī tiáo yú
      a fish
       
    • 一条短信
      yī tiáo duǎnxìn
      a text (message)

    And one noun can take different measure words in different situations:

    • 一块巧克力
      yī kuài qiǎokèlì
      a piece of chocolate
       
    • 一盒巧克力
      yī hé qiǎokèlì
      a box of chocolate
       
    • 一颗巧克力
      yī kē qiǎokèlì
      a small piece of chocolate

    [adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

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    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!