Beginner Level Grammar: Chinese Measure Words

Chinese Measure Words are definitely one of the most intimidating and confusing aspect of the language! But don’t worry, there is actually a logic behind them and once you get it, they won’t seem as intimidating.

If you have started your Chinese studies, you probably have seen the general measure word 个 already.

It is a good way to start, but the more measure word you know, the better.

Chapter #1 – What is a Measure Word?

Chapter #2 – Structure

Chapter #3 – How do I know the right measure word?

Chapter #4 – Common Measure Words

Chapter #5 – FREE PDF DOWNLOAD

What is a Chinese Measure Word?

This isn’t a crazy foreign concept. If you know English, you already know about measure words!  

For example, when I want a sandwich, what will I use to make it? 

  1. Two slices of bread
  2. Two breads

You picked A, right?  Two slices of bread. 

Slice is an example of a measure word in English. Other examples of measure words in English are “a stick of gum” or “a piece of paper.”

The big difference between Mandarin and English is that Mandarin uses measure words way more often than in English. In English measure words are normally used to measure (how much bread? A slice). In Mandarin, this is simply part of how nouns are used.  

At first it may seem odd to use measure words with things like 老师 or 苹果 that do not use measure words in English, but over time saying 一个老师 will feel as natural as saying “a teacher.”

Chinese Measure Words – The Structure

Measure words are always used (at least implicitly) with a number. The structure always looks like this:

Number  +   Measure Word  + Noun

For example, to say “one apple” or “an apple” you will say: 一个苹果. 

Two apples? 两个苹果。Three apples? 三个苹果. 

Your turn: How can I say “Five apples?” No matter what your number, the measure word will never change.  

个gè: 四人 sì  rén – Four people
一个句子 yīgè jùzi一个铅笔 yīgè qiānbǐ一个手 yīgè shǒu
一个地方 yīgè dìfāng一个问题 yīgè wèntí一个表 yīgè biǎo
一个孩子 yīgè háizi一个男人 yīgè nánrén一个女人 yīgè nánrén
一个朋友 yīgè péngyou一个教室 yīgè jiàoshì 一个饭店 yīgè fàndiàn
一个银行 yīgè yínháng一个超市 yīgè chāoshì一个医院 yīgè yīyuàn
一个苹果 yīgè píngguǒ一个西瓜 yīgè xīguā一个香蕉 yīgè xiāngjiāo
一个男朋友, 一个女朋友 yīgè nánpéngyou, yīgè nǚpéngyou一个女儿,一个儿子 yīgè nǚér, yīgè érzi一个爸爸, 一个妈妈 yīgè bàba, yīgè māma
一个房子 yīgè fángzi一个月 yīgè yuè一个篮球 yīgè lánqiú
一个碗 yīgè wǎn一个盘子 yīgè pánzi一个锅 yīgè guō

How Do I Know The Right Measure Word?

This article will list some of the more common measure words and their applications, but it is inevitable that you run into a new noun and will be uncertain which measure word to use.

Luckily, you have dictionaries! 

For example, in my phone’s dictionary (Pleco, which I highly recommend if you are looking for a Chinese-English dictionary app), you can see that there are two acceptable measure words for the word 苹果:

个 (our favourite!) and 颗. 

Measure words are not a matter of opinion, they are a fixed part of the language. 

That being said, you can more easily learn measure words if you can understand what type of object normally is paired with this measure word. 

Common Measure Words

Ideas for how to use this resource:

  1. Read through each group and try to pick up what the unifying feature of each measure word is
  2. Study through doodling – write the measure word and then draw some of the objects around it, to help cement the concept in your memory
  3. Find words you already know on these lists and think of any words you already know in this category

Do not feel obligated to make flashcards and memorize each of these measure word-noun pairings right now. Focus on learning the measure words for the nouns you already know and developing a general understanding of the more common measure words.

– For long, thin objects

– For things you can open, spread, unfold

– For appliances & Performances

– For chunks or pieces of something

只 匹 头 – For animals, shoes & socks, jewellery

辆 列 架 – For transportation objects

座 栋 – For buildings

BONUS – Collective Measure Words

Chinese Measure Word – 条

As you read this list, think of how each object might be classified as long and thin. 

For some, like 狗 (gǒu, dog), this seems like a stretch, but imagining a long, thin dog in your head will help you remember this measure word + noun pairing!

条 tiáo: 两鱼 liǎng tiáo yú – Two fish, 一领带 yì tiáo lǐngdài – A necktie
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一条带子yì tiáo dàiziA belt
一条路yì tiáo lùA road
一条绳子yì tiáo shéngziA rope
一条河yì tiáo héA river
一条蛇yì tiáo shéA snake
一条狗 yì tiáo gǒuA dog
一条裤子yì tiáo kùziPants
一条线yì tiáo xiànA thread (or subway line!)
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一条床单yì tiáo chuángdānA bedsheet
一条毯子yì tiáo tǎnziA blanket
 一条鱼yì tiáo yúA fish
一条尾巴yì tiáo wěibaA tail
一条小溪yì tiáo xiǎoxīA brook/stream
一条毛巾yì tiáo máojīnA towel
一条腿yì tiáo tuǐA leg
一条街道yītiáo jiēdàoA street

Chinese Measure Word – 张 zhāng

This measure word is typically used with things that you can open, spread, or unfold.

张 zhāng: 两票 liǎng zhāng piào – Two tickets, 一桌子 yì zhāng zhuōzi – A table
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一张纸yìzhāng zhǐA piece of paper
一张床yìzhāng chuángA bed
一张画yìzhāng huàA painting
一张嘴yì zhāngzuǐA mouth
一张日历yìzhāng rìlìA calendar
一张报纸yìzhāng bàozhǐA newspaper
一张脸yìzhāng liǎnA face
一张单子yìzhāng dānzǐA bill
一张白纸yìzhāng báizhǐA piece of white paper
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一张弓yì zhānggōngA bow (weapon)
一张照片yìzhāng zhàopiànA picture
一张桌子yìzhāng zhuōziA table
一张牌yìzhāng páiA playing card
一张床yìzhāng chuángA bed
一张银行卡yìzhāng yínhángkǎA bank card
 一张海报yìzhāng hǎibàoA poster
一张网yì zhāngwǎngA net
一张票yìzhāng piàoA ticket

Chinese Measure Words – 台 tái

This measure word is used for appliances or performances.

台tái: 一电视 yì tái diànshì A television
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一台电脑yì tái diànnǎoA computer
一台电视yì táidiàn shìA TV
一台空调yì tái kōngtiáoAn air conditioner
一台冰箱yì tái bīngxiāngA refrigerator
一台洗衣机yì tái xǐyījīA washing machine
一台机器yì tái jīqìA machine
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一台演出yì tái yǎnchūA performance
一台电扇yì tái diànshànAn electric fan
一台车yì táichēA vehicle
一台照相机yì tái zhàoxiàngjīA camera (pictures)
一台摄影机yì tái shèyǐngjīA camera (film)
一台戏yì tái xìA drama

Chinese Measure Words – 块 kuài

This measure word is used for pieces or chunks of something.

块 kuài: 一百钱 yì bǎi kuài qián – 100 yuan, 一蛋糕 yí kuài dàn gāo – A piece of cake
CharactersPinyinMeaning
 一块蛋糕      yíkuài dàngāoA piece of cake
一块饼干yíkuài bǐnggānA cookie
一块巧克力yíkuài qiǎokèlìA piece of chocolate
一块肉yíkuài ròuA piece of meat
一块点心yíkuài diǎnxinA pastry/dimsum
一块玻璃yíkuài bōliA piece of glass
一块板子yíkuài bǎnzi  A plank
一块布yíkuài bùA piece of fabric
一块木头yíkuài mùtouA piece of wood
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一块手表yíkuài shǒubiǎoA watch
一块皮yíkuài píA piece of skin
  一块药yíkuài yàoA pill
一块糖yíkuài tángA sugar cube
一块石头yíkuài shítouA rock
一块砖头yíkuài zhuāntouA brick
一块钱yíkuài qián1 cent
一块香皂yíkuài xiāngzàoA bar of soap
一块骨头yíkuài gǔtouA bone

Chinese Measure Words – 只 zhǐ,匹 pī,头 tóu

This measure word is typically used for animals and socks, shoes, or jewellery.

只 zhī: 一狗 yì zhī gǒu – A dog, 一手 – yī zhī shǒu – A hand
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一只狗yì zhǐ gǒuA dog
一只猫yì zhǐ māoA cat
一只鸟yì zhǐ niǎoA bird
 一只鸡yì zhǐ jīA chicken
一只鸭yì zhǐ yāA duck
一只猴子yì zhǐ hóuziA monkey
一只大象yì zhǐ dàxiàngAn elephant
一只虫子yì zhǐ chóngziA bug
一只老鼠yì zhǐ lǎoshǔA mouse
一只蝴蝶yì zhǐ húdiéA butterfly
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一头羊yìtóu yángA sheep
一头牛yì tóuniúA cow
一头老虎yìtóu lǎohǔA tiger
一头狮子yìtóu shīzǐA lion
一只青蛙yì zhǐ qīngwāA frog
一匹马yì pī mǎA horse
一只兔子yì zhǐ tùziA rabbit
一只鞋子yì zhǐ xiéziA shoe
一只耳环yì zhǐ ěrhuánAn earring
 一只袜子yì zhǐ wàziA sock

Chinese Measure Words – 辆 liàng,列 liè,架 jià

This measure word is typically used for transportation objects.

辆 liàng: 一汽车 yí liàng qìchē – A car
CharactersPinyinMeaning
一辆出租车yí liàng chūzūchēA taxi
一辆轿车yí liàng jiàochēA carriage
一辆自行车yí liàng zìxíngchēA bike
一列火车yí liè huǒchēA train
一列高铁yí liè gāotiěA bullet-train
 一架飞机yí jià fēijīA plane
chinese measure words

Chinese Measure Words – 座 zuò,栋 dòng

This measure word is used for buildings.

CharactersPinyinMeaning
一座楼yī zuò lóuA building
一座桥yī zuò qiáoA bridge
一座大厦yī zuò dàshàA large building
一座别墅yī zuò biéshùA villa
一栋大楼yí dòng dàlóuA big building
一栋房子yí dòng fángziAn apartment
一座庙yīzuò miàoA temple
一栋楼房yí dòng lóufángA building (2+ stories)
一座城堡 A castleyīzuò chéngbǎoA castle

BONUS – Collective Measure Words

Some measure words aren’t referring to individual objects, they’re referring to groups.

For an English example: A herd of elephants.  Herd is referring to the collective group.

Some more examples from Mandarin:

一副对联
A rhyming couplet
一双鞋子
A pair of shoes
一打鸡蛋
A dozen eggs
一批衣服
A lot of clothing
一套餐具
A set of silverware
一帮坏人
A gang of bad guys
一副手套
A set of gloves
一班人
A team/class of people
一群孩子
A group of kids

Chinese Measure Words – FREE PDF DOWNLOAD

We spent a number of hours on this so we hope you like it!

As there’s a lot to take in when it comes to measure words we thought we’d create a one-stop graphic that you can print and use at your own free will!

Our FREE Measure Words PDF is 8 pages in total and includes the most commonly used measure words in Mandarin.

The good thing, remember, is there is no pressure to learn all these.

Level up as and when you want. Perhaps study 5 new ones per day and start filtering them into conversation!

We hope you find it useful. Do share it, print it, and utilise it!

Preview of our Measure Words PDF – It’s Free to Download!

Chinese Measure Words – FAQ’s

What is a Measure Word?

The concept of measure words actually exist in other languages! Like in English for certain nouns such as three glasses, or a bar of chocolate for example.

The only difference in Chinese is that all nouns must have a measure word before them.

How to use a Measure Word in Chinese?

Measure words are always used (at least implicitly) with a number. The structure always looks like this:

Number  +   Measure Word  + Noun

For example: 一个苹果.

What are the most common Chinese Measure Word?

The most common measure words are 个, 张,本,杯, 条,只 and 辆. Some you will find on this page, but you can find many other more specific Chinese Measure Words here.

I don’t know what Measure Word to use, what now?

If you don’t know what measure word to use in a Chinese sentence, go with 个 gè. It’s a very general keyword and people will still understand what you are trying to say.

Better use this one than none!

How to say “Measure Word” in Chinese?

Measure Word in Chinese is 量词 liàng cí.

Any other Chinese Grammar I should know about?

The Chinese Grammar is not as difficult as other people might think.

There are indeed some key grammar points to learn early in your studies, and the more you study more complicated they are, but it is the case in any other languages.

Some Chinese Grammar to look for in the early steps of your studies are the use of the three “de”, the 是 sentence and the 有 sentence.

Chinese Grammar Bank

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  • LTL Avatar Johan Brandal
    Johan Brandal, Student Advisor

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