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Chinese Grammar: Measure words Part 2: Pick your Classifier

In World 1, we learned about the existence of measure words and their close-knit relationship with nouns. You discovered that there were a bunch of measure words to know in Chinese. No sweat, it’s really quite logical: every noun is different, so it makes sense that lots of different measure words exist. They are used with different nouns based on their size, shape, type, and so on. So, in this part 2, let’s explore these measure words a bit further.

Pick your flavor

In addition to , there are 15 basic measure words you should know. They are very common, and you’ll be running into them a lot in daily conversation in Mandarin. So it’s a great place to start. You'll have time to delve into more specific ones as you journey more into Chinese :)

15 most common measure words in Chinese

The [4 you learned previously]((
* for persons and objects in general
* for parts (half) of a pair (1 sock, 1 ear, 1 eye) and certain animals (such as cats, tigers, birds, dogs, and more).
* is commonly used for elongated objects, such as roads, rivers, long clothing items (such as pants), or news. It is also used to quantify some elongated animals, such as snakes, fish, and dragons, of course.
* for things with mouths (people, family members, etc.)

and 9 more key ones to know:
* for bound items, such as books, magazines.
* for flat things (pieces of paper, tables, CDs) -- as long as it’s flat, the size doesn’t matter, it can be small like a CD or big like a table.
* can be used in a few different ways, for clothes, things, events.
* for people (polite) -- you use this one when referring to people in the proper, polite way.
* for thick, solid pieces of something (watches, stones, wood). It also works for a portion produced by cutting, tearing, or breaking (cake, bread, watermelons). This measure word is also used to talk about money orally.
* a measure word for small numbers and amounts.
* for bottles of liquid, water, milk, beer,...
* for cups of liquid, coffee, water, orange juice,...
* for segments, such as one hour class periods
* for vehicles (such as bikes, buses, trains, cars, trucks).
* for pairs (2 chopsticks, 2 sock shoes, 2 eyes) --- perfect for when you thought you only had 只 sock, but realize you actually have a of socks!
* for bundles and batches (servings of food, documents, jobs).


one person

two books

three kittens

four tables

five pair of shoes

six buses

seven fishes

eight items of clothing (measure word spotted in English too!)

nine teachers

ten documents

eleven pieces of cakes

some eggs

Yes, classifiers can get very specific!

Some nouns don't want measure words

Last but not least, let’s talk about the rebels, those special Chinese nouns that do not need measure words. Most have to do with time: * year, * (age)
* (classes) * and tiān day (including rì).

So you’ll say

几年 and not 二十 and not 二十 and not

Those are the only exceptions.

So if you're being asked how long you've been studying Chinese, what do you answer? ! Two years, no measure words needed. :)

Other time words, such as 月(Months), 星期 (Weeks), 小时(hours), and so on, require a measure word with them when being qualified or counted. They feel safer that way. As do all the other nouns when needing to be counted or classified.

Ready to go practice using these new measure words?

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