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Mandarin Chinese Measure Words

What Are Measure Words?

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Measure words are familiar to English-speakers as the type of object being discussed, as in a “loaf” of bread, or a “stick” of gum.

Mandarin Chinese also uses measure words for types of objects, but there are many other measure words that refer to the shape of the object or the type of container it comes in. Some measure words are 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.”

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.

Generic Measure Word

There is one “generic” measure word which can be used when the actual measure word is not known. The measure word 個 (gè) is a measure word for people, but it is frequently used for many types of things (such as 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 Measure Word (pinyin) Measure word (traditional Chinese Characters) Measure word (simplified Chinese Characters)
People gè or wèi 個 or 位 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 件 or 套
Written Sentences
Trees
Bottles píng
periodicals
Doors and windows shàn
Buildings dòng
Heavy objects (machines and appliances) tái
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