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Chinese Measure Words Posted by on Oct 6, 2020 in grammar, Vocabulary

Measure words (量词liàng cí) indicate an amount of something. They denote a unit or measurement, and are used with count nouns and non-count nouns (such as sugar, or water).

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Measure words are very common in many languages. In English measure words are usually attached to nouns of food, liquid, stationery, and personal items. For example: one piece of paper; two drops of oil; three pairs of scissors; four sticks of chalk; five dishes of spaghetti; six bars of soap; seven slices of pizza; eight cartons of milk; nine cans of Cola; ten tubes of toothpaste; etc.

The biggest difference with measure words in English versus Chinese is that in Chinese each noun will require a measure word. Chinese does not distinguish between singular and plural, nouns are simply abstract in number. The noun 朋友 (péng yǒu), for example, means friend, with context determining whether it is singular or plural (friends). In Chinese, simple numerals cannot quantify a noun by itself. One cannot simply say 三朋友 (sān péng yǒu). To specify a certain number of something, a classifier is needed. Chinese classifiers are served to quantify the noun existence in plurality. For example:  三个朋友 (sān gè péng yǒu, three friends).

Measure words are always used in combination with a numeral and a noun, as in the following pattern: numeral + measure word + noun. They must be used so long as a quantifying numeral or a pronoun is present, preceding the object that’s being quantified. For example:


Wǒ mǎi le yī běn shū, huā le shí kuài qián.

I bought one book for ten RMB.


Zuó tiān wǒ qù le zhè jiā yín háng.

I went to this bank yesterday.


Gōng sī qiān dìng le nà fèn hé tóng.

The company signed that contract.


Fàng mù yī bǎi tóu niú xū yào duō dà chǎng dì?

How much space is needed to graze a hundred cows?


There are hundreds of Chinese classifiers and measure words. The Chinese language has a variety of measure words for various objects and concepts, based on the noun’s shape, characteristic, container, or common use. There are different quantifiers for different types of words. For instance, there are five measure words to classify people:

For more measure words check our previous posts:

10 Must Know Chinese Measure Words

Measure Words (量词)



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