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Mandarin Chinese measure words: never get them wrong again (1)

Pierre Cerchiaro | February 21, 2019 | | 0 Comments

Unlike in English, quantifying common names or actions in Chinese is quite complex. There is no equivalent in Chinese to defined articles such as ‘the','a','an'). In order to quantify something, the Chinese language uses numbers/demonstratives followed by a measure word. There are different measure words for different categories of names/actions.  


We use measure words:

  • Between a number and a noun to quantify
  • Between "this" (这 zhè), "that" (那 nà) "each" (每 měi) or “some” (几 jǐ) and a name to designate something
  • Between "which" (哪 nǎ) or "how many" (几 jǐ, 多少 duō shǎo) and a name when asking a question
  • After a verb to indicate the number of times the action represented by the verb is performed

In this article, we will first talk about the measure words we use to quantify nouns. To learn measure words in Chinese, it is easier to organize them according to their category. They can be structured as specifiers of persons, animals, human bodies, plants, fruits, food, cooking tools, household objects, clothing and accessories, manufacturing, vehicles, items, etc. There are a lot of measure words in Chinese, but don’t be afraid, commonly used ones are not so many.


The most common measure words to quantify words:  

个 gè is the most commonly used measure word in the Chinese language and defines general nouns or people. It is a useful quantifying word for many words when speaking Mandarin.

一个问题 / Yī gè wèntí / A problem

几个人 / Jǐ gè rén / Some people

三个东西 / Sān gè dōngxī / Three things

If you are at a restaurant, looking at the menu and don’t know how to call a dish, just show the picture to the waiter/waitress with your finger and tell them “I want this: 我要这个Wǒ yào zhège, I want that:我要那个Wǒ yào nàgè”.



本 běn means root. When used as a measure word, it defines things with pages. It is one of the first measure words people studying Chinese learn, because when they go to class they need all their studying materials.

一本笔记本 / Yī běn bǐjìběn / A notebook

那本词典 / Nà běn cídiǎn  / That dictionary

几本书?  / Jǐ běnshū? / How many books?



When you think about张 zhāng, think about something flat. A lot of flat object such as cards, tickets, tables, photos, etc, are related to this measure word (not books though).

一张桌子 / Yī zhāng zhuōzi / A table

五张火车票 / Wǔ zhāng huǒchē piào / Five train tickets

几张纸 / Jǐ zhāng zhǐ / Some piece of sheets



家 / jiā means home or family. We use it as a measure word to define family or business establishments.

一家商店 / Yī jiā shāngdiàn / A store

两家餐厅 / Liǎng jiā cāntīng / Two restaurants

這家酒吧 / Zhè jiā jiǔbā / This bar 



While 个 / gè is used for people, 只 / zhī is generally used for animals. We also use it for some parts of the body such as the legs, feet, hands, (basically the ones that come in pairs.)

这只猫 / Zhè zhī māo / This cat

两只脚 / Liǎng zhī jiǎo / Two feet

一只眼睛 / Yī zhī yǎnjīng / An eye



件 / jiàn is connected to clothing (except pants), furniture, luggage etc. It is also connected to general matters which is really similar to 个 / gè. If you hesitate between these two measure words, always use 个 / gè. It is the one that works most of the time if we don’t know which measure word to use.

几件衣服? / Jǐ jiàn yīfú? / How many piece of clothing?

一件事情 / Yī jiàn shìqíng One matter/problem

七個件生日礼物 / Qī gè jiàn shēngrì lǐwù / Seven birthday gifts



The best way to remember how to use this important measure word is that it is often connected with long, narrow, or skinny objects – fish, roads, pants, rivers, and so on.

多少条鱼? / Duōshǎo tiáo yú? / How many fishes?

一条河 / Yītiáo hé / A river

那条裤子 / Nà tiáo kùzi / That pair of jeans (noting that 条 doesn’t not actually mean “pair”. There is another word for that. You’ll see below.)



Here come the measure word for “pair”. Remember that we don’t use it for a pair of pants.  

两双筷子 / Liǎng shuāng kuàizi /  A pair of chopsticks

那双袜子 / Nà shuāng wàzi / That pair of socks

一双手套 / Yī shuāng shǒutào / Two pairs of gloves


辆 liàng

We use this measure word for every type of vehicle that has wheels such as cars, motorcycles, bikes, etc (but not trains).

一辆自行车 / Yī liàng zìxíngchē / A bike

十辆公车 / Shí liàng gōngchē / Ten buses

这三辆摩托车 / Zhè sān liàng mótuō chē  / These three motorcycles




If you already know these or want to learn even more, here are some others often used in daily life:

把bǎ (chair, knife, umbrella, toothbrush; objects with handles )

這把椅子 / Zhè bǎ yǐzi / This chair

一把刀 / Yī bǎ dāo / A knife

一把扇子 / Yī bǎ shànzi / A fan

包bāo ( pack of cigarettes; packets of objects )

六包香烟 / Liù bāo xiāngyān / Six packets of cigarettes

两包大米 / Liǎng bāo dàmǐ / Two sacks of rice

一包衣服 / Yī bāo yīfú / A bundle of clothes


一杯水 / Yī bēi shuǐ / A glass of water

六灌可乐 / Liù guàn kělè / Six cans of coke

一瓶酒 / Yī píng jiǔ / A bottle of alcohol

封fēng ( letter (written document))

一封信 / Yī fēng xìn / A letter


根gēn ( bananas; other long, slender objects )

一根烟 / Yī gēn yān / A cigarette

八根香蕉 / Bā gēn xiāngjiāo / Eight bananas

塊kuài ( soap; piece of land; Olympic medals; other things that come in hunks, chunks, or lumps; a measure of currency )

一块蛋糕 / Yī kuài dàngāo / A piece of cake

两块肥皂 / Liǎng kuài féizào / Two cakes of soap

一千块钱 / Yīqiān kuài qián / A thousand yuan

群qún ( crowd; group (of people); flock (of birds, sheep); swarm (bees); herd (animals) )

一群人 / Yī qún rén / A group of people

一群学生 / Yī qún xuéshēng / A group of students

首shǒu ( poems and songs )

一首歌 / Yī shǒu gē / A song

这首诗 / Zhè shǒu shī / This poem

台tái ( computers; televisions; radios; other machines )

那台电脑 / Nà tái diànnǎo  / That computer

一台平板 / Yī tái píngbǎn / An electronic tablet

套tào (set (of furniture, stamps) )

一套书 / Yī tào shū / A set of books

一套规章制度 / Yī tào guīzhāng zhìdù / A set of rules and regulations

种zhǒng ( kind,sort,type )

一种花 / Yī zhǒng huā / A kind of flower

一种狗 / Yī zhǒng gǒu / A kind of dog

这种人 / Zhè zhǒng rén / This kind of person

- 个 gè is the only measure word you can use when you actually don’t know which one to use. It will never be 100% correct if you say一个狗Yī gè gǒu, but it can still be understandable. However, if you say 一件狗Yī jiàn gǒu, then it wouldn’t make sense anymore.

- Thanks to measure words, you can even ommit the noun in some circumstances. For example, you’re celebrating a birthday and would like to eat a piece of cake. You can of course say “I would like a piece of cake我想要一块蛋糕”, but you can directly say “我想要一块”. Once you know which object you are talking about, you can ommit the noun. Here is an example:

这件(衣服)很好看 / Zhè jiàn (yīfú) hěn hǎokàn / This piece of clothing looks good

这本(书)好无聊 / Zhè běn (shū) hǎo wúliáo / This book is boring

我买了两张(地铁票) / Wǒ mǎi le liǎng zhāng (dìtiě piào) / I bought two metro tickets

他喝了兩瓶(啤酒) / Tā hē le liǎng píng (píjiǔ) / He drank two bottles of beer

你买了几根(香蕉)? / Nǐ mǎi le jǐ gēn (xiāngjiāo)? / How many bananas did you buy?

Measure words may be scary for beginners when learning Chinese. However, they are really easy to learn once you practice Chinese on a daily basis. Try to learn them with sentence examples that you use frequently, and make sure to remember them as soon as possible. And if when you talk you suddenly forget which measure word to use, don’t forget to say 个 gè ;)




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Pierre Cerchiaro

Pierre Cerchiaro

Pierre Cerchiaro is a contributing writer at TutorABC Chinese. He is a French expat working in Taiwan and has had both studying experience in China and Taiwan. He is passionate about the Chinese language and is a foodaholic.

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