What are Chinese measure Words?

Measure words (a.k.a. classifiers) are used with numbers for counting nouns (e.g. 三 条 鱼 three fish),counting verbs or used with this/that (这 or 那) for identifying objects. (e.g. 那 瓶 啤酒 是 我 的 。 That bottle of beer is mine.)

When are they used?

In Chinese, measure words are used whenever counting nouns (though there are some exceptions). When saying "three books" in Chinese (三 本 书), one would put the measure word for books (本) after the number 3 (三) and before book (书).

Here's the pattern for using measure words with nouns:

number + measure word + noun translation
+ + three books
+ + four glasses of water

Measure words can also be used for counting actions (i.e. used with verbs). If you wanted to say "please say that one more time." (再 说 一 遍。), the number (一) and the measure word (遍) come after the verb (说).

Here's the pattern for using measure words with verbs:

verb + number + measure word translation
+ + say it once
+ + go three times

What measure words should you learn?

The first measure word you should learn is 个, the generic measure word. 个 can be used for almost everything, but it shouldn't be over-used. (How to Use 个)

The next set of measure words you should learn are those based on shape (like 条 or 张, ). Learn these and you'll often be able to guess the mw when you encounter a noun with that shape.

For other nouns, it's most useful to learn the measure word the same time you learn when the noun. Chinese dictionaries like 3000 Hanzi's can help in this regard. Definitions of words you search will often have lists of measure words that can be used with the word you are searching for.

Chinese Measure Words in Everyday Life

Some Chinese students try to get by learning as few measure words as possible. that's a mistake. Measure words occur all the time in everyday life. By learning and using measure words, you're Chinese will sound a lot smarter.

Measure Words in Detail

Measure words can be separated into different types:

  1. Noun measure words or Nominal measure words (名 量词)
  2. Verb measure words or Verbal measure words (动 量词)

Noun measure words are used for counting nouns. There are 2 type of noun measure words (dedicated measure words and "part-time" measure words). Dedicated noun measure words can also be divided into 4 sub-types: individual measure words, mass measure words, units of measure, and universal noun measure words.

Verb measure words are used for counting the times an action occurs, and there are 2 types of verb measure words (dedicated verb measure words and "part-time" verb measure words).

Noun Measure Words

Dedicated noun measure words

  1. Dedicated individual measure words (个体 名 量词):

    These are used for individual people or things. Individual Measure Words are used for things with a particular shape or property. e.g. long,thin objects often use 条 and flat objects often use 张

  2. Mass measure words (集合 量词): are used for groups of two or more people or objects.
  3. Units of Measure (length, time, etc.)
    1. Units of length, volume, time, area, currency, degrees etc. (度量 名 量词、计量 名 量词): seconds and minutes, kilometers and miles, pounds and kilograms are units of measure that are classified as measure words.
    2. Combination measure words(复合 量词): combination measure words combine nouns and other measure words (e.g. 人次 、 架次) or combine multiple measure words (e.g. 秒 立方米 、 吨 公里, etc.) to create a separate unit of measure.
    3. Universal noun measure words(通用 名 量词): These include common measure words that can be used for any noun like 种 、 类 、 些 、 点.
      • Indefinite noun measure words (不定 量词): include 些 and 点. These measure words can only be used with the number 一 (e.g. 一些 or 一点儿) or without any numbers (买 点儿 水).

Part time noun measure words

  1. Individual part-time noun measure words(借用 名 量词 、 临时 名 量词): as opposed to dedicated measure words, temporary measure words are essentially nouns that act like measure words. Many of the measure words one encounters on a day-to-day basis fit into this category , some examples include measure words for cups (一 杯 牛奶), bowls (一 碗 粥), and bottles (一 瓶 可乐).
  2. Container noun measure words : Container noun measure words are similar to mass measure words. Both are used to count two or more objects, but container noun measure words are generic containers of objects. Some examples include "a box of books" (一 盒 书) or a bag of clothes" (一 包 衣服)

Verb measure words

Dedicated verb measure words (专用 动 量词)

These include the following: 次 、 回 、 遍 、 趟 、 下 、 顿 、 阵 、 场 、 番.

Part-time verb measure words ( 借用 动 量词 or 工具 动 量词 )

Examples: 看 一 眼, 打 一 针 etc.