Which measure words do they really use?

See also: Top 10 measure words to know

As a friend who recently arrived in China said, “Yes but do they really USE all of those measure words?” I don’t know about all. But yes, unfortunately, they do use a great deal of them.

These are all the measure words I have heard in natural conversation. Maybe not worth memorizing, but as one learns to speak Chinese, and especially for listening, they’re certainly worth being able to recognize (I can get stumped pretty easily when I hear a seemingly out of place word). ll also give the context I heard the word used in.

If you want to know what other things that measure word applies to, I suggest consulting the back of Chubby or some other measure word reference.

Measure word > for what kind of thing

  1. > stuff with handles (knives), chairs
  2. bān > scheduled transportation
  3. běn > bound stuff (books, magazines)
  4. > sums of money
  5. > cell phones, sequels of a book/movie
  6. duàn > sections of long stuff, parts of songs
  7. duǒ > flowers
    • I can’t remember the sentence, but it was definitely about flowers.
  8. fèn > bundles/batches (servings of food, multi-page documents)
    • yào jǐ fèn? 要几份= How many servings (do you) want?
  9. jiā > stores
  10. jiān > rooms, houses (one room)
  11. jiàn > shirts
    • yí cì zuì duō zhǐ néng ná sān jiàn 一次最多只能拿三件= the most you can take at one time is 3 (shirts)
      *what the girl at the fitting rooms said
  12. jiǎng > long (usually 2 hour) class periods that may include a break (as opposed to “jié”)
  13. jié > 1 hour class periods
  14. > sentences
  15. > trees
  16. kǒu > people, family members
  17. kuài > chunks of tofu/yuan money
  18. lèi > kinds of people
  19. > small round stuff
  20. liàng > vehicles with wheels (but not trains)
  21. mén > subjects (academic)
    • nàge kǎoshì yǒu sān mén 那个考试有三门= that test has 3 subjects
      *e.g. math, English, history
  22. miàn > mirrors
  23. pái > rows of seats, lines of people
  24. > horses
    • yì pǐ mǎ gòulái le 一匹马过来了= a horse came over
      *from a children’s story
  25. piàn > slices, expanses (like clouds, beaches)
  26. shēng > utterances, sounds
  27. shǒu > songs, poems
    • zhè shǒu gē shì shéi de? 这首歌是谁的?= Who’s song is this?
      *this is how I ask about the music blasting over the speakers on campus
  28. shuāng > pairs (chopsticks, shoes, eyes)
  29. tái > big electric stuff, pianos
  30. tào > apartments, houses (multiple rooms)
  31. tiáo > roads, long stuff (rivers, snakes, pants)
  32. tóu > pigs, cows
  33. wèi > people (polite)
    • jǐ wèi 几位= How many people?
      *in your party at a restaurant
  34. zhāng > flat stuff (pieces of paper, tables, CDs)
  35. zhī > cats, birds
    • “liǎng zhī lǎohǔ 两只老虎” = “2 tigers” (sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques”)
  36. zhī > one of a pair
    • bā zhī yǎnjing 八只眼睛= 8 Eyes
      *the name of a 4 person singing group
  37. zhī > stick-like stuff (pen, chopstick, shoe, eye)
  38. zhǒng > types of stuff
    • yǒu liǎng zhǒng júzi 有两种桔子= there are 2 kinds of oranges
  39. zuò > mountains

NOTE: There are a few other measure words for “times” and “money” that I left off this list but have been included in my previous post.

24 Replies to “Which measure words do they really use?”

  1. My Chinese friend tells me that classical Chinese did not have or use measure words. Is it possible that measure words have arisen for a similar purpose to your theory of adding “zi ()”, that is, to reduce homonym confusion?

  2. Mitch,

    It’s funny you say that because I just NOW clicked “Publish” for the post on my theories about where they came from post. And yes, predictably, that is one of my ideas.

    Hey, while you’re at it, what’s my next post going to be about? 🙂

  3. Thanks, that’s a useful list to have.

    I’m slightly confused about the measure word for sentences. In your example, it appears to mean a sentence rather than a counting word for them.

    Best, J

  4. jonathan,

    Yes, fair enough. That should probably be categorized as a word that IS it’s own measures word (like “tian” = “day”).

    But, I still thought it worth pointing out because it comes right after the number word and doesn’t need an extra “ge” or anything before you can count it. So in that sense it is a measure word But you’re absolutely right, it means sentence.

  5. > Hey, while you’re at it, what’s my next post going to be about? 🙂

    It’s going to be about situations where you’ve been caught out by homonyms. 🙂

    Jonathan wrote:
    > I’m slightly confused about the measure word for sentences. In your example, it appears to mean a sentence rather than a counting word for them.

    I think with “” it’s a sentence, and without, the MW for sentences. See chapter 29 of the New Practical Chinese Reader:


    (In particular, 29.2.5)

  6. Thank you so much for putting this list up! I have an asignment due tomorrow and I completely forgot the measure word for film 🙂

  7. I know it’s a while ago – but just for the record, i’ve heard used for buildings as well. 他盖了座房子 is a direct quotation from my chinese “3 little pigs”-book.. And my kindergarten-kids have used it as well.
    Otherwise thanks a lot for the list – it’s handy 🙂

  8. Eva,

    Does that mean “He built a house”? If so, I find it strange that right before the measure word there isn’t a number or a “zhe,” or “na” or “ji.” Can you explain the grammar of that sentence?

  9. I saw this on a vehicle the other day:


    There are pretty frequent cases like this where a noun can be excluded because the measure word and the context makes it obvious.

    (200 “horse”power in this case, I believe)

  10. This is a great post and a great website. I recently learned the measure word for, of all things, a single french fry, which I had never heard before.
    一根暑条 (yi gen shu tiao)
    also for antennae, and matches (?)…. The guy was Cantonese and for 2 hours I thought he was mis-pronouncing “” before someone clarified it for me.

    Now this really had/has me fascinated as (tiao) is already a measure word. So why give something that has been named using one measure word a different measure word? 🙂

    Can anyone think of any other examples of this?

  11. What are the measure words for the following things?
    flower vase (I know is already a measure word for drinks that come in a bottle. So what is the mw for 花瓶?)

    The lists of measure words and their nouns are instructive, but the opposite would be even more useful. Does anyone know of a website where you can look up measure words by the noun?

  12. Albert Nov 20 2007

    How you going?

    我吃了个面包, 又喝了瓶啤酒。 看了个电影。 出门碰见个同学。
    I ate a bread, drank a beer, watched a movie and ran into a classmate.

    Actually the number is ‘one’. For most of the time, the number 1 before the measure word can be omitted.

    And if you want to omit most of the measure words, it is not impossible. In fact in my area, measure words are not used so frequently. We use different number words.
    As one is already omitted, we start from two.

    TWO: lia 3
    THREE: sa 1
    FOUR: se 4
    FIVE: N/A
    SIX: liu’o 4
    SEVEN: N/A
    EIGHT: N/A
    NINE: jiu’o 2
    TEN she 2

  13. Bruce,

    Very interesting indeed. So lia3 is just one of a whole family of contracted (number + ge ) words? A few questions:
    1) where exactly are you in China (if you don’t mind saying)?
    2) are there hanzi characters for those?
    3) do you think people in other parts of China understand all of those?

  14. There’s definitely huge regional variation!

    Random notes from my personal use and experience:

    In Taiwan, people tend to use bu4 for vehicles.

    I’ve also heard being used (although I use chang3 more often) for movies or performances, e.g. 一部电影, 一场歌剧.

    dong4 for buildings, esp. with Cantonese speakers: 一栋高楼

    dui4 for pairs, esp. for couples, 一对夫妇

    dun4 for meals, e.g. 一顿饭

    feng1 for mail/letters, e.g. 一封信

    fu2 for art, e.g. 一幅画

    fu4 for a set, e.g. spectacles 一副眼镜, deck of cards 一副扑克牌

    In Singapore, ge4 () is used for just about everything, even though everyone knows it’s not always “correct” usage.

    gu3 for burst of smell or emotion, e.g. 一股勇气,一股花香

    jia4 for planes, e.g. 一架飞机

    jie2 means period; it doesn’t necessarily mean a one-hour period, as long as it’s regular and the length is known, e.g. on a school timetable.

    ju2 for one round in a game, eg. 一局麻将

    ke1 is also used for round objects like pearls or fruit or stars.

    A friend of mine from Kunming uses men2 for classes/course, while another friend of mine from Fujian uses tang2 .

    pian1 for essays/articles一篇文章

    sou1 for boats, e.g. 一艘船

    zhan3 – I only use it for lamps as in “一盏灯”.

    zhi1 – interchangable with , as far as I can tell.

  15. (simp: , pinyin: zhǎn) is also quite useful as a measure word for lamps. I got stuck once when I was indicating a lantern but didn’t know which MW to use…

  16. Pingback: Chinese measure words: complete list, common measure words, top ten measure words and measure words flash cards

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