5 Measure Words Explained

5 Measure Words Explained

Measure Words are one of Chinese’s deep mysteries, but we’re here to demystify them! In Linguistics, Measure Words are classifiers; they help categorize nouns. They are not only found in Chinese, but can be found in other East Asian Languages .   A measure word is paired with a number to indicate how much of a noun there is. For example, in English we would say 3 Cups of Coffee. In this sentence the noun is coffee, the amount is 3 and the measure is cup. In Chinese this would be Sān bēi kāfēi (三杯咖啡). Bēi (杯) being the word for cup. Seems simple enough right? Wrong. The difficulty with Chinese is that different items have different measure words depending on their properties. We’ve compiled a list of some common measure words to help you get your head around them.

Measure Word: 个

Gè  is the most common measure word in Chinese. Whilst you’re familiarizing yourself with other measure words, Gè is a good substitute. A good rule of thumb is, when in doubt just use Gè . However, as you start learning other  classifiers you will realize that sometimes Gè isn’t the best option. Here are some example sentences:

  1. 我有三个孩子 –  Wǒ yǒu sān háizi –  I have three children
  2. 我有一个问题 – wǒ yǒu yī wèntí – I have a question
Measure Word: 双

This is for items that come In pairs. Chopsticks, shoes, socks are all common nouns that are paired with shuāng. Here are some example sentences

  1. 我要一双筷子- Wǒ yào yī shuāng kuàizi –  I want a pair of chopsticks
  2. 这双鞋很脏 –  zhè shuāng xié hěn zàng –  this pair of shoes are very dirty
Measure Word: 本

This is for items like books. So textbooks, magazines, newspapers and other similar items all use b. běnHere are some example sentences

  1. 老师有三本教科书 –  Lǎoshī yǒusān běn jiàokēshū –  the teacher has three textbooks
  2. 我想买这本杂志 –  wǒ xiǎng mǎi zhè běn zázhì –  I want to buy this magazine
Measure Word: 家

Most people are familiar with the word jiā as the word for family. However, jiā also  functions as a measure word. This is used for families and businesses. So restaurants , shops and bars are paired with jiā. Here are some example sentences:

  1. 我想去这家餐厅 –  Wǒ xiǎng qù zhè jiā cāntīng –  I want to go to this restaurant
  2. 那三家店都有好衣服 –  Nà sān jiā diàn dōu yǒu hǎo yīfú –  those three stores all have nice clothes
Measure Words: 瓶 and 杯

If you want to go to yī jiā cāntīng then these are two useful measure words for you.  Píng is  for bottled items, whilst bēi is  for cups of items. So be careful not to order a bottle of wine when you just want a glass:

  1. 给我一瓶酒 – Gěi wǒ yī  píng jiǔ –  give me a bottle of alcohol
  2. 我要一杯可乐 –  Wǒ yào yī bēi kělè –  I want one cup of cola


Join us next time for more examples on measure words. If you want to exercise your Chinese skills why not try our exercise on similar characters!

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