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Chinese Lesson: Measure Words
Measure words are very important in Chinese grammar as they are needed before every noun. There are more than a hundred Mandarin Chinese measure words, and the only way to learn them is by memorizing them. Whenever you learn a new noun, you should also learn its measure word. Here is a list of the most commonly used measure words in Chinese to kick start your growing vocabulary.
What Is a Measure Word?
Measure words are familiar to English-speakers as a way to classify the type of object being discussed. For example, you would say a “loaf” of bread or a “stick” of gum. Mandarin Chinese also uses measure words for types of objects, but there are many more measure words in Chinese. Measure words in Chinese can refer to the shape of the object, the type of container it comes in, or are simply arbitrary.
The main difference between English (and other Western languages) and Mandarin Chinese is that Mandarin Chinese requires a measure word for every noun. In English we can say, “three cars,” but in Mandarin Chinese, we need to say “three (measure word) cars.” For example, the measure word for car is辆 (liàng) and the character for ​"car" is车. Thus, you would say我有三辆车, which translates to "I have three cars."
Generic Measure Word
There is one “generic” measure word which can be used when the actual measure word is not known. The measure word 个 (gè) is a measure word for people, but it is frequently used for many types of things. The "generic" measure word can be used when referring to items like apples, bread, and light bulbs even when there are other, more appropriate measure words for these objects.
Common Measure Words
Here are some of the most common measure words encountered by students of Mandarin Chinese.
Class Pinyin Measure word
People gè or wèi 个 or 位
Books běn
Vehicles liàng
Portions fèn
flat objects (tables, paper) zhāng
Long round objects (pens, pencils) zhī
Letters and Mail fēng
Rooms jiān
Clothing Jiàn or tào 件 or 套
Written Sentences
Bottles píng
Doors and windows shàn
Buildings dòng
Heavy objects (machines and appliances) tái
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