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Learn Chinese Grammar: Measurement Words for Nouns

written by: Makoto • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/13/2013

Learn the fundamentals of using numbers or measurement words for counting nouns in Chinese. The examples in this article are a helpful guide.

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    A First Step Into Chinese Grammar

    This article will explain what you need to know about number words with nouns in Mandarin. It may look a bit confusing, but you should simply focus on the examples in this article and try to master them. ''A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step'' and this is especially true when it comes to Chinese grammar.

    Feel free to ask any questions that might come to mind as you are reading this article. Every article is written in a way which is meant to be easily understood but there might still be some bits and pieces which might require clarification. Leave your questions in the ''comment'' section and I will answer them as soon as possible!

    Let's go ahead and explore the Chinese noun- and using measure words!

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    Part 1: Most Nouns Can be Qualified by Measure Type Words

    The formula: Numeral + Measure word + Noun

    A measure word, like “pair" in the phrase of “a pair of glasses" is for counting. Although “measurement words" for counting nouns also exist in English, they are only used with collective nouns, plural nouns and abstract nouns. In Mandarin Chinese, however, most of the time when a numeral is used to define a noun, a measure word comes between the numeral and the noun. What’s more, different measure words are used for different types of nouns.

    (Note: There are measure words for nouns, for time, and for actions. The measure words mentioned in this article are the ones for using with nouns.)

    ♀An individual noun is qualified by an individual measure word.

    Example 1:

    一(yì ) 张 (zhāng) 纸 (zhǐ ) ( a sheet of paper)

    一(yì ) 张 (zhāng ) 桌 (zhuō ) 子(zi ) (a table)

    两 (liǎng ) 张 (zhāng ) 床 (chuáng ) (two beds)

    一(yì ) 张 (zhāng ) 弓 (gōng ) (a bow)

    一(yì ) 张 (zhāng ) 嘴 (zuǐ ) (a mouth)

    一(yì ) 张 (zhāng ) 脸 (liǎn ) (a face)

    (Note: The situations to use the measure word ‘张’are all here.)

    Example 2:

    三 (sān ) 本 (bēn ) 书 (shū ) (three books)

    Example 3:

    五(wǔ ) 位 (wèi ) 同 (tóng ) 事 (shì ) (five colleagues)

    (Description: (wèi ) ‘位’ is a measure word for people which shows politeness.)

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    Part 1: Collective Nouns

    ♀A collective noun is used to qualify a group of objects. Collective quantifiers are: “群、双、套"

    Example 1:

    一 ( ) 群 (qún ) 狮 (shī ) 子 (zi ) (the pride of lions)

    (Description: ‘群’ is used for people and animals)

    Example 2:

    一 ( ) 套 (tào ) 衣 ( ) 服 (fu ) (a suit of clothes)

    一 ( ) 套 (tào ) 邮 (yóu ) 票 (piào ) (a set of stamps)

    一 ( ) 套 (tào ) 房 (fáng ) 间 (jiān ) (a suite of rooms)

    一 ( ) 套 (tào ) 客 ( ) 气 () 话 (huà ) (a lot of polite remarks)

    (Description: ‘套’ is used with books, furniture, rooms, methods and remarks, etc., meaning set, suite, suit (clothes or cards), or group.)

    Example 3:

    一 ( )双 (shuāng ) 筷 (kuài ) 子 (zi ) (a pair of chopsticks)

    (Description: (shuāng ) ‘双’ is for something used as a pair when the pair can be split, such as shoes or gloves. However, scissors cannot be split, so ‘双’ is not suitable for scissors.)

    ♀Measure words which are used to define abstract nouns: 种、门

    “一 ( ) 种 (zhǒng ) 精 (jīng ) 神 (shén )" (a kind of spirit)

    “一 ( ) 门 (mén ) 学 (xué ) 问 (wèn )" (a branch of knowledge)

    ♀Measure words are not used before proper nouns except for emphasis or to compare.

    For example: (世 (shì ) 界 (jiè ) 上 (shàng ) 只 (zhǐ ) 有 (yǒu )) 一 ( ) 个 ( ) 中 (zhōng ) 国 (guó )

    (There is only) one China (in the world.)

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    Part 2: Nouns Acting as Predicates

    A noun mainly acts as the subject, object or attribute. But nouns can be used as the predicate in a sentence sometimes.

    Example 1:

    “今 (jīn ) 天 (tiān ) (today) 晴 (qíng ) 天 (tiān ) (sunny day)。" (It is sunny today.)

    Example 2:

    “今 (jīn ) 天 (tiān ) (today) 国 (guó ) 庆 (qìng ) 节 (jié ) (National Day)。" (Today is National Day.)

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    Part 3: Nouns Repeating or Used in Duplicate

    Noun usually cannot be repeated or doubled or duplicated. But people often say “家 (jiā ) 家 (jiā )" (every family) “人 (rén ) 人 (rén)" (every person). In this way, they act as a measurement word here.

    (Description: Measure words can be repeated or used in duplicate. After reduplication the doubled measure words can act as subject, attribute, adverbial and predicate.)

    Example 1:

    个 (gè ) 个 (gè ) (every one) 是 (shì ) (is) 好 (hǎo ) 汉 (hàn ) (true man/men)。(Every one is a true man.)

    Example 2:

    条 (tiáo ) 条 (tiáo ) 道 (dào ) 路 (lù ) (every road) 通 (tōng ) (lead to) 罗( luó ) 马 (mǎ ) (Rome)。(Every road leads to Rome.)

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    不 (bù) (not) (negating) Nouns

    () means “not" when it’s used before words to negate them.

    不’ cannot qualify a noun except in the form of “A不A、B不B" “不A不B".

    For example,

    “人 (rén ) 不 (bù ) 人 (rén )、鬼 (guǐ ) 不 (bù ) 鬼 (guǐ )"

    “不 (bù ) 人 (rēn ) 不 (bù ) 鬼 (guǐ )"

    (both mean not look like a human, or ghost) and are used to describe an emotional down and a woman who puts make-up on.

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