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Understand Chinese Measure Words in 1 Video

In English, you would say ‘a piece of paper’ or ‘a kilo of apples’

The ‘piece’ and ‘kilo’ are a bit like measure words in Chinese.

In English you wouldn’t say, ‘a piece of phone’ or ‘a piece of shirt’

But in Chinese you need to use measure words like this a lot of the time.

一个苹果 Yī gè píngguǒ
A ‘piece of’ apple (an apple)

一头大象 Yī tóu dàxiàng
A ‘piece of’ elephant (an elephant)

两条鱼 Liǎng tiáo yú
Two ‘pieces of’ fish

You use measure words in Chinese whenever you are saying:

  • a/an something – eg. an apple, a phone, a person
  • A number followed by a noun – eg. 1 man, 2 oranges, 100 flowers
  • With 几 Jǐ or 多少 duōshao (how many/how much) – eg. how many cups
  • With ‘every’ or ‘each’ 每 Měi –
 eg. Every cup, each person
  • After ‘this 这 Zhè’ or ‘that 那 Nà’ 
eg. This pen, that cat
  • After ‘which’ 哪 Nǎ 
Which one, which sweater

Some examples:

An apple 一个人 Yīgè rén
Two oranges 两个橙子 Liǎng gè chéngzi
How many cups? 几个杯子 Jǐ gè bēizi
Each person 每个人 Měi gèrén
This person 这个人 Zhège rén
That idea 那个主意 Nàgè zhǔyì
Which girl? 哪个女孩子 Nǎge nǚ háizi

In all of these sentences 个 is the measure word.

But the measure word changes depending on what kind of thing you’re talking about

把 bă – small objects you can hold in your hand

两把刀 Liǎng bǎ dāo two knives
一把椅子 Yī bǎ yǐzi a chair
一把伞 Yī bǎ sǎn an umbrella

本 bĕn – objects that are like books

一本书 yī běn shū a book

件 jiàn – clothes on the top half of your body, matters

一件衣服 yī jiàn yīfú a piece of clothing
一件衬衣 yī jiàn chènyī a shirt
一件事 yī jiàn shì a matter

张 zhāng – objects made of paper, flat objects

一张纸 yī zhāng zhǐ a sheet of paper
一张地图 yī zhāng dìtú a map
三张桌子 sān zhāng zhuōzi three tables

片 piàn – thin/leaf like objects

四片叶子 sì piàn yèzi four leaves
一片药片 yīpiàn yàopiàn a tablet
一片麦田 yīpiàn màitián a wheat field

枝 zhī – twig-like objects

一支笔 yī zhī bǐ a pen
一支铅笔 yī zhī qiānbǐ a pencil

只 zhī – animals, one of a pair

一只猫 yī zhǐ māo a cat
一只狗 yī zhǐ gǒu a dog
一只袜子 yī zhǐ wàzi a sock

根 gēn – objects that are thin and flexible

一根头发 yī gēn tóufa a hair
一根线 yī gēn xiàn a wire
一根香蕉 yī gēn xiāngjiāo a banana

间 jiān – rooms

一间房间 yī jiàn fángjiān a room
两间房间 liǎng jiān fángjiān two rooms
三间教室 sān jiān jiàoshì three classrooms

家 jiā – establishments like companies, restaurants etc

哪家公司 nǎ jiā gōngsī which company
那家饭馆 nà jiā fànguǎn that restaurant
这家商店 zhè jiā shāngdiàn this shop

棵 kē – trees, plants

一棵树 yī kē shù a tree
99棵玫瑰 jiǔshíjiǔ kē méiguī 99 roses

条 tiáo – something that is narrow, long and winding, also used for trousers/pants

一条河 yī tiáo hé a river
一条线 yī tiáo xiàn a wire/cable
一条裤子 yī tiáo kùzi a pair of trousers/pants

辆 liàng – vehicles with wheels

一辆汽车 yī liàng qìchē a car
一辆自行车 yī liàng zìxíngchē a bicycle

位 wèi – used with certain nouns referring to people in cases where you need to show respect

一位老师 yī wèi lǎoshī a teacher
一位老人 yī wèi lǎorén an old person
一位客人 yī wèi kèrén a guest

个 gè – is used for people, abstract concepts, and any objects that don’t have an obvious other measure word that goes with them

几个人 jǐ gè rén how many people?
一个机会 yī gè jīhuì an opportunity
那个时候 nà gè shíhou at that time

If you don’t know the correct measure word to use with a noun, use 个 and you will generally be understood fine.

Many nouns for containers, units of measures or time are ‘measure words’ on their own so you don’t need another measure word.

一杯 yībēi – a cup of
7点 qī diǎn – 7 o’clock
3块 sān kuài – 3 pieces or 3 yuan
100米 yībǎi mǐ – 100 metres
4岁 sì suì – 4 years old
5天 wǔ tiān – 5 days
一年 yī nián – 1 year
(but 一个月 yīgè yuè – 1 month, 
一个星期 yīgè xīngqí – 1 week)
一点 yī diǎn – a little bit, 1 o’clock
一些 yī xiē – some

Tips on measure words

There are a more measure words than this, I’ve only included some of the most common ones.

Measure words seem *really* complicated but they are not that hard really. You’ll get the hang of which ones to use when over time.

Every time you learn the word for an object, learn the measure word to use with it at the same time. Many dictionaries list the measure words with the definition.

Eg. Don’t just learn flower=花 huā,
learn ‘a flower’ = 一朵花 yī duǒ huā or 一枝花 yīzhī huā.