Hanzi: 量词

Pinyin with tone diacritics: liáng cí

Like many eastern languages, the Chinese (Mandarin or Putonghua) language uses numerary adjuncts (also called classifiers, or more commonly, measure words) for enumerating objects.

We have common use of measure words (followed by the preposition "of") in English, but unlike Chinese, they are not used in the case of every enumeration. We might say, "A piece of bread" but then "a crow".

Here are some examples of numerary adjuncts in English:

  • A head of cattle
  • A loaf of bread
  • A can of spinach
  • A piece of cake
  • A peal of thunder

Regardless of what Chinese textbooks and professors tell you, for the most part, the Chinese spoken on the street uses the general measure word (gè). Use of many of the measure words outlined below in Mainland China could win you any of a number of reactions: First, and most unfortunate, is laughter. The Chinese quite often think it is funny when a foreigner speaks Chinese, especially if he is a beginner. Using more advanced measure words will often bring laughter in a sort of "out of the mouths of babes" vein. Secondly, you might win praise: Many Chinese treasure their language, and as such, will admire you for undertaking to use it correctly. Thirdly, you might find indignation, especially if you use a measure word which is only used by intellectuals. After all, what business is it of a foreign devil's to be speaking better Chinese than a native?

As a rule of thumb, I use only measure words which I have heard others use. At first, this can be restrictive. Nevertheless, since some measure words are used in some areas and not others (or are preferred in some areas and not others), it can be wise to hold off in using vocabulary you are unsure of.

This is true for most of the Chinese language. Because of the relative isolation Chinese communities have, many words from the local dialect carry into what is considered to be the common tongue (Putonghua). For this reason, especially if you have learned Chinese in a Western classroom, you should be prepared for many surprises in terms of vocabulary, for many words you have learned are bound to be unfamiliar or seldom-used in your part of China.

A quick gander at a Chinese dictionary will reveal that there are several measure words on every page. However, take comfort in the fact that the bulk of measure words are used only by the erudite. The important thing is simply to try to adopt them and become comfortable with their use.

Below is a lengthy, but by no means exhaustive, list of Chinese measure words. After all, entire dictionaries are devoted to measure words in Chinese. What is important is to notice patterns and generalities that can be applied when choosing a measure word in writing and speech. Many measure words, as I have noted below, are used because of the shapes, forms or characteristics of the objects they are partnered with.

  1. Measure words for indicating a quantity of people: 个, 位, 条

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个人     (yī gè rén - one person)
    • 一个大人     (yī gè dà rén - one adult)
    • 一个小孩     (yī gè xiǎo hái - one child)
    • 一个女孩     (yī gè nǚ hái - one girl)
    • 一个男孩     (yī gè nán hái - one boy)
    • 一个画家     (yī gè huà jiā - one painter)
    • 一个司机     (yī gè sī jī - one driver)
    • 一个工人     (yī gè gōng rén - one workman)
    • 一个农民     (yī gè nóng mín - one farmer)
    • 一个士兵     (yī gè shì bīng - one soldier)
    • 一个朋友     (yī gè péng yǒu - one friend)

      (wèi) is for polite usage:
    • 一位同学     (yī wèi tóng xué - one fellow classmate)
    • 一位老师     (yī wèi lǎo shī - one teacher)
    • 一位客人     (yī wèi kè rén - one guest)
    • 一位长官     (yī wèi cháng guān - one commanding officer)
    • 一位代表     (yī wèi dài biǎo - one delegate)

      (tiáo) is used for brave, proud or heroic persons:
    • 一条好汉     (yī tiáo hǎo hàn - one true man)

  2. Measure words for indicating a quantitiy of animals: 只, 匹, 头, 条, 峰

      (zhǐ) is used generally:
    • 一只狗     (yī zhǐ gǒu - one dog)
    • 一只鸟     (yī zhǐ niǎo - one bird)
    • 一只猴子     (yī zhǐ hóu zi - one monkey)
    • 一只鸡     (yī zhǐ jī - one chicken)
    • 一只大象     (yī zhǐ dà xiàng - one elephant)
    • 一只羊     (yī zhǐ yáng - one sheep)
    • 一只猫     (yī zhǐ māo - one cat)
    • 一只老鼠     (yī zhǐ lǎo shǔ - one mouse)
    • 一只蝴蝶     (yī zhǐ hú dié - one butterfly)
    • 一只虫     (yī zhǐ chóng - one bug)

      (pǐ) is used for horses:
    • 一匹马     (yī pǐ mǎ - one horse)

      (tóu) is used for quadrupeds:
    • 一头牛     (yī tóu niú - one cow/one head of cattle)
    • 一头羊     (yī tóu yáng - one sheep)
    • 一头驴     (yī tóu lǘ - one donkey)
    • 一头骡     (yī tóu luó - one mule)
    • 一头豹子     (yī tóu bào zi - one leopard)

      (tiáo) is used for legless creatures:
    • 一条蛇     (yī tiáo shé - one snake)
    • 一条鱼     (yī tiáo yú - one fish)
    • 一条虫     (yī tiáo chóng - one worm)

      (fēng) is used for animals with humps
    • 一峰骆驼     (yī fēng luò tuó - one camel)

  3. Measure words for body parts: 个, 只, 颗, 根, 张, 片, 条

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个脑子     (yī gè nǎo zǐ - one brain)
    • 一个鼻子     (yī gè bí zǐ - one nose)
    • 一个耳朵     (yī gè ěr duǒ - one ear)
    • 一个舌头     (yī gè shé tóu - one tongue)
    • 一个下巴     (yī gè xià bā - one chin)
    • 一个手指头     (yī gè shǒu zhǐ tóu - one finger)
    • 一个拳头     (yī gè quán tóu - one fist)

      (zhǐ) is used for units of a pair:
    • 一只眼睛     (yī zhǐ yǎn jīng - one eye)
    • 一只手     (yī zhǐ shǒu - one hand)
    • 一只脚     (yī zhǐ jiǎo - one foot)

      (kē) is used for seedy-kernely things:
    • 一颗脑袋     (yī kē nǎo dài - one head)
    • 一颗牙齿     (yī kē yá chǐ - one tooth)
    • 一颗心     (yī kē xīn - one heart)

      (gēn) is used for long, slender objects:
    • 一根头发     (yī gēn tóu fā - one strand of hair)
    • 一根眉毛     (yī gēn méi máo - one eyebrow)

      (zhāng) is used for flat, broad parts:
    • 一张嘴     (yī zhāng zuǐ - one mouth)

      (piàn) (you got me on this one):
    • 一片嘴唇     (yī piàn zuǐ chún - one lip)

      (tiáo) is used for long, slender parts:
    • 一条胳臂     (yī tiáo gē bì - one arm)
    • 一条腿     (yī tiáo tuǐ - one leg)
    • 一条尾巴     (yī tiáo wěi bā - one tail)

  4. Measure words for plant life: 棵, 株

      (kē) is often, but not exclusively, used for larger trees
    • 一棵树     (yī kē shù - one tree)
    • 一棵白杨     (yī kē bái yáng - one poplar)
    • 一棵草     (yī kē cǎo - one blade of grass)
    • 一棵松     (yī kē sōng - one pine)

      (zhū) is often, but not exclusively, used for smaller trees and shrubs
    • 一株树     (yī zhū shù - one tree)
    • 一株水稻     (yī zhū shuǐ dào - one rice plant)
    • 一株麦子     (yī zhū mài zi - one wheat plant)

  5. Measure words for fruits: 个, 粒, 根

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个苹果     (yī gè píng guǒ - one apple)
    • 一个橘子     (yī gè jú zi - one tangerine)
    • 一个柿子     (yī gè shì zi - one persimmon)
    • 一个梨     (yī gè lí - one pear)
    • 一个李子     (yī gè lǐ zi - one plum)

      (lì) is used for small, round fruits:
    • 一粒葡萄     (yī lì pú táo - one grape)
    • 一粒龙眼     (yī lì lóng yǎn - one longan)

      (gēn) is used for long, thin fruits:
    • 一根香蕉     (yī gēn xiāng jiāo - one banana)
    • 一根芭蕉     (yī gēn bā jiāo - one plantain)

  6. Measure words for parts of plants: 朵, 片, 条, 颗, 粒

      (duǒ) is used for flowers:
    • 一朵花     (yī duǒ huā- one flower)
    • 一朵玫瑰     (yī duǒ méi guī - one rose)
    • 一朵红梅     (yī duǒ hóng méi - one plum blossom)

      (piàn) is used for leaves and petals:
    • 一片叶子     (yī piàn yè zi - one leaf)
    • 一片花瓣     (yī piàn huā bàn - one flower petal)

      (tiáo) is used for long, thin parts:
    • 一条茎     (yī tiáo jīng - one stem)
    • 一条根     (yī tiáo gēn - one root)
    • 一条杆     (yī tiáo gān - one shaft)

      (kē) is used for seeds:
    • 一颗种子     (yī kē zhǒng zi - one seed)

      (lì) is used for kernels and grains:
    • 一粒米     (yī lì mǐ - one grain of rice)

  7. Measure words for food-related things: 个, 份, 根, 片, 顿, 块, 道, 粒.

      Containers such as: 杯, 瓶, 罐, 碟, 盘, 碗 are very commonly used:
    • 一杯咖啡     (yī bēi kā fēi - one cup of coffee)
    • 一瓶矿泉水     (yī píng kuàng quán shuǐ - one bottle of water)
    • 一罐可乐     (yī guàn kě lè - one can of cola)
    • 一碟酱油     (yī dié jiàng yóu - one saucer of soy sauce)
    • 一盘茄子     (yī pán qié zi - one plate of aubergine/eggplant)
    • 一碗米饭     (yī wǎn mǐ fàn - one bowl of rice)

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个包子     (yī gè baō zi - one dumpling)
    • 一个馒头     (yī gè mán tóu - one roll)
    • 一个鸡蛋     (yī gè jī dàn - one egg)
    • 一个三明治     (yī gè sān míng zhì - one sandwich)

      (fèn) is used for portions:
    • 一份早餐     (yī fèn zǎo cān - one portion of breakfast)
    • 一份午餐     (yī fèn wǔ cān - one portion of lunch)
    • 一份晚餐     (yī fèn wǎn cān - one portion of supper)
    • 一份中餐     (yī fèn zhōng cān - one portion of Chinese food)
    • 一份西餐     (yī fèn xī cān - one portion of Western food)
    • 一份点心     (yī fèn diǎn xīn - one portion of dim sum)

      (gēn) is used for long, thin foods:
    • 一根油条     (yī gēn yóu tiáo - one fried breadstick)
    • 一根鸡腿     (yī gēn jī tuǐ - one chicken leg)
    • 一根冰棒     (yī gēn bīng bàng - one popsicle)
    • 一根棒棒糖     (yī gēn bàng bàng táng - one lollipop)

      (piàn) is used for flat pieces or slices:
    • 一片肉     (yī piàn ròu - one slice of meat)
    • 一片面包     (yī piàn miàn bāo - one slice of bread)
    • 一片饼干     (yī piàn bǐng gān - one cracker)
    • 一片西瓜     (yī piàn xī guā - one slice of watermelon)

      (dùn ) is used for meals:
    • 一顿饭     (yī dùn fàn - one meal)
    • 一顿早饭     (yī dùn zǎo fàn - one breakfast)

      块 (kuài) is used for chunks or thick pieces:
    • 一块牛肉     (yī kuài niú ròu - one chunk of beef)
    • 一块蛋糕     (yī kuài dàn gāo - one piece of cake)

      (dào) is used for courses of a meal:
    • 一道菜     (yī dào cài - one course)
    • 一道汤     (yī dào tāng - one soup course)

      (lì) is used for small pieces:
    • 一粒糖果     (yī lì táng guǒ - one piece of candy)

  8. Measure words for eating utensils: 根, 把, 张

      (gēn) is used for long, thin things:
    • 一根筷子     (yī gēn kuài zi - one chopstick)

      (bǎ) is used for things with handles:
    • 一把叉子     (yī bǎ chā zi - one fork)
    • 一把汤匙     (yī bǎ tāng chí - one soup spoon)

      (zhāng) is used for flat, broad things:
    • 一张餐纸     (yī zhāng cān zhǐ - one napkin)

  9. Measure words for household items: 个, 条, 把, 根, 块, 张, 盘, 台, 盏, 帖, 服, 面, 只, 部

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个灯泡     (yī gè dēng pào - one light bulb)
    • 一个脸盆     (yī gè liǎn pén - one wash basin)
    • 一个桶     (yī gè tǒng - one bucket/barrel)
    • 一个冰箱     (yī gè bīng xiāng - one refrigerator)

      (tiáo) is used for long, narrow things:
    • 一条绳子     (yī tiáo shéng zi - one rope)
    • 一条板凳     (yī tiáo bǎn dèng - one bench/stool)
    • 一条沙发     (yī tiáo shā fā - one sofa)
    • 一条棉被     (yī tiáo mián bèi - one comforter)
    • 一条毛巾     (yī tiáo máo jīn - one towel)
    • 一条牙线     (yī tiáo yá xiàn - one strand of dental floss)

      (bǎ) is used for things with handles:
    • 一把椅子     (yī bǎ yǐ zi - one chair)
    • 一把伞     (yī bǎ sǎn - one umbrella)
    • 一把牙刷     (yī bǎ yá shuā - one toothbrush)

      (gēn) is used for long, thin things:
    • 一根火柴     (yī gēn huǒ chái - one faggot of firewood)
    • 一根蜡烛     (yī gēn là zhú - one candle)
    • 一根香     (yī gēn xiāng - one stick of incense)

      (kuài) is used for chunks or large pieces:
    • 一块香皂     (yī kuài xiāng zào - one bar of soap)
    • 一块桌布     (yī kuài zhuō bù - one tablecloth)
    • 一块手表     (yī kuài shǒu biǎo - one wristwatch)
    • 一块香     (yī kuài xiāng - one block of incense)

      (zhāng) is used for broad, flat things:
    • 一张桌子     (yī zhāng zhuō zi - one table)
    • 一张床     (yī zhāng chuáng - one bed)

      is used for reels, coils and plates:
    • 一盘录像     (yī pán lù xiàng - one videotape)
    • 一盘录音带     (yī pán lù yīn dài - one audiocassette)
    • 一盘碟子     (yī pán dié zi - one small plate)
    • 一盘香     (yī pán xiāng - one coil of incense)

      (tái) is used for certain machines:
    • 一台电视     (yī tái diàn shì - one television)
    • 一台录影机     (yī tái lù yǐng jī - one tape recorder)

      (zhǎn) is used for lamps:
    • 一盏灯     (yī zhǎn dēng - one lamp)

      (tiè) is used for plasters (adhesive bandages):
    • 一帖膏药     (yī tiè gāo yào - one plaster)

      (fú) is used for doses of medication:
    • 一服药     (yī fú yào - one dose of medicine)

      (miàn) is used for smooth flat things:
    • 一面镜子     (yī miàn jìng zi - one mirror)

      (bù) is used for certain machines:
    • 一部电话     (yī bù diàn huà - one telephone)

  10. Measure words for garments and accessories: 个, 只, 件, 条, 枚, 顶

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个口袋     (yī gè kǒu dài - one pocket)

      (zhǐ) is used for units of a pair:
    • 一只手套     (yī zhǐ shǒu tào - one glove)
    • 一只袜子     (yī zhǐ wà zi - one sock)
    • 一只鞋     (yī zhǐ xié - one shoe)
    • 一只眼镜     (yī zhǐ yǎn jìng - one pair of eyeglasses)
    • 一只耳环     (yī zhǐ ěr huán - one earring)

      (jiàn) is used for garments worn on the torso:
    • 一件衣服     (yī jiàn yī fú - one article of clothing)
    • 一件上衣     (yī jiàn shàng yī - one jacket)

      (tiáo) is used for long, thin garments:
    • 一条裤子     (yī tiáo kù zi - one pair of pants/trousers)
    • 一条围巾     (yī tiáo wéi jīn - one scarf)

      (méi) is used for jewelry not found in pairs:
    • 一枚胸章     (yī méi xiōng zhāng - one badge)
    • 一枚戒指     (yī méi jiè zhǐ - one ring)

      (dǐng) is used for headcoverings:
    • 一顶帽子     (yī dǐng mào zi - one hat)

  11. Measure words for structures: 座, 栋, 扇, 条, 幢, 面, 堵, 间

      (zuò) is used generally for larger structures:
    • 一座城     (yī zuò chéng - one city)
    • 一座桥     (yī zuò qiáo - one bridge)
    • 一座别墅     (yī zuò bié shù - one villa)
    • 一座高楼     (yī zuò gāo lóu - one high-rise)
    • 一座塔     (yī zuò tǎ - one tower)
    • 一座庙     (yi zuò miào - one temple)

      (dòng) is used generally for smaller structures:
    • 一栋房子     (yī dòng fáng zi - one house)

      (shàn) is used for things that open and close on hinges:
    • 一扇窗     (yī shàn chūang - one window)
    • 一扇门     (yī shàn mén - one door)

      (tiáo) is used for long, thin things:
    • 一条路     (yī tiáo lù - one road)

      (zhuáng) is used for multi-story buildings:
    • 一幢楼房     (yī zhuáng lóu fáng - one multi-story building)

      (miàn) is used for walls and panes of glass:
    • 一面墙     (yī miàn qiáng - one wall)

      (dǔ) is used for walls without roofs:
    • 一堵墙     (yī dǔ qiáng - one wall)

      (jiān) is used for rooms, shacks and small houses:
    • 一间房     (yī jiān fáng - one room)

  12. Measure words for vehicles: 辆, 架, 列, 枚, 艘, 条

      (liàng) is used generally:
    • 一辆车     (yī liàng chē - one car)
    • 一辆汽车     (yī liàng qì chē - one bus)
    • 一辆自行车     (yī liàng zì xíng chē - one bicycle)

      (jià) is used for airplanes and helicopters:
    • 一架飞机     (yī jià fēi jī - one airplane)
    • 一架直升机     (yī jià zhí shēng jī - one helicopter)

      (liè) is used for long, connected vehicles:
    • 一列火车     (yī liè huǒ chē - one train)

      (méi) is used for rockets and missiles:
    • 一枚火箭     (yī méi huǒ jiàn - one rocket)

      (sōu) is used for ships:
    • 一艘军舰     (yī sōu jūn jiàn - one warship)

      (tiáo) is used for smaller boats:
    • 一条船     (yī tiáo chuán - one boat)

  13. Measure word for hand tools:

      (bǎ) is used for things with a handle:
    • 一把锤子     (yī bǎ chuí zi - one hammer)
    • 一把锁     (yī bǎ suǒ - one padlock)
    • 一把剪刀     (yī bǎ jiǎn dāo - one pair of scissors)

  14. Measure words for writing supplies:
    • 一支笔     (yī zhī bǐ - one pencil/pen)
    • 一枝笔     (yī zhī bǐ - one pencil/pen)
    • 一张纸     (yī zhāng zhǐ - one sheet of paper)
    • 一块墨     (yī kuài mò - one block of ink)
    • 一方砚台     (yī fàng yàn tái - one inkstone)
    • 一瓶墨水     (yī píng mò shuǐ - one bottle of ink)
    • 一台电脑     (yī tái diàn nǎo - one computer)

  15. Measure words for art and art supplies: 个, 篇, 幅, 首, 支, 封, 张, 则, 台, 道

      is used for written entities:
    • 一个字     (yī gè zì - one character/letter)
    • 一个词     (yī gè cí - one word)
    • 一个句子     (yī gè jù zi - one sentence)

      (piān) is used for small writings:
    • 一篇文章     (yī piān wén zhāng - one essay)
    • 一篇报告     (yī piān bào gào - one report)

      (fú) is used for pictoral objects:
    • 一幅照片     (yī fú zhào piàn - one photograph)
    • 一幅画     (yī fú huà - one drawing/painting)

      (shǒu) is used for poetic verse:
    • 一首诗     (yī shǒu shī - one poem)
    • 一首歌     (yī shǒu gē - one song)

      (zhī) is used for more humble song:
    • 一支曲子     (yī zhī qū zi - one ditty)

      (fēng) is used for correspondence:
    • 一封信     (yī fēng xìn - one letter)

      (zhāng) is used for more humble photographs:
    • 一张照片     (yī zhāng zhào piàn - one snapshot)

      (zé) is used for journals, daylogs and diaries:
    • 一则日记     (yī zé rì jì - one diary)

      (tái) is used for performances and scripts:
    • 一台戏     (yī tái xì - one play)

      (dào) is used for orders, questions and memos:
    • 一道命令     (yī dào mìng lìng - one order)

  16. Measure words for events, matters and actions: 个, 场, 顿, 阵, 通, 件

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个事件     (yī gè shì jiàn - one incident)
    • 一个动作     (yī gè dòng zuò - one action)
    • 一个案例     (yī gè àn lì - one case)

      (cháng) is used for conflicts and catastrophes:
    • 一场球赛     (yī cháng qiú sài - one ballgame)
    • 一场风波     (yī cháng fēng bō - one crisis)
    • 一场战争     (yī cháng zhàn zhēng - one war)
    • 一场大火     (yī cháng dà huǒ - one conflagration)

      (dùn) is used for interpersonal conflicts:
    • 一顿毒打     (yī dùn dú dǎ - one beating)
    • 一顿吵架     (yī dùn chǎo jià - one quarrel)
    • 一顿臭骂     (yī dùn chǎo mà - one scolding)

      (zhèn) is used for loud outbursts:
    • 一阵骚动     (yī zhèn sāo dòng - one uproar)
    • 一阵掌声     (yī zhèn zhǎng shēng - one peal of applause)

      (tōng) is used for conversations and addresses:
    • 一通电话     (yī tōng diàn huà - one phone call)
    • 一通报告     (yī tōng bào gào - one lecture)

      (jiàn) is used for matters:
    • 一件事     (yī jiàn shì - one matter)

  17. Measure words for all things martial: 支, 把, 面, 张, 发

      (zhī) is used for large missiles:
    • 一支箭     (yī zhī jiàn - one arrow)
    • 一支枪     (yī zhī qiāng - one spear)
    • 一枚炮弹     (yī méi páo dàn - one artillery shell)
    • 一枚导弹     (yī méi dǎo dàn - one missile)

      (bǎ) is used for things with handles:
    • 一把刀     (yī bǎ dāo - one knife)
    • 一把手枪     (yī bǎ shǒu qiāng - one pistol)
    • 一把步枪     (yī bǎ bù qiāng - one rifle)

      (miàn) is used for flat, smooth things:
    • 一面盾     (yī miàn dùn - one shield)

      (zhāng) is used for bows:
    • 一张弓     (yī zhāng gōng - one bow)

      (fā) is used for bullets:
    • 一发子弹     (yī fā zǐ dàn - one bullet)

      (mén) is used for artillery:
    • 一门大炮     (yī mén dà páo - one cannon)

  18. Measure words for things in nature: 个, 条, 道, 座, 轮, 颗, 朵, 阵, 场

      (gè) is used generally:
    • 一个池子     (yī gè chí zi - one pond)
    • 一个湖     (yī gè hú - one lake)
    • 一个海     (yī gè hǎi - one sea)
    • 一个月亮     (yī gè yuè liàng - one moon)
    • 一个太阳     (yī gè tài yáng - one sun)
    • 一个响雷     (yī gè xiǎng léi - one peal of thunder)

      (tiáo) is used for long, thin things:
    • 一条江     (yī tiáo jiāng - one river)
    • 一条河     (yī tiáo hé - one river)

      (dào) is used for long, crooked things:
    • 一道梁     (yī dào liáng - one mountain ridge)
    • 一道闪电     (yī dào shǎn diàn - one flash of lightning)

      (zuò) is used for mountains:
    • 一座山     (yī zuò shān - one mountain)

      (lún) is used for the moon:
    • 一轮明月     (yī lún míng yuè - one bright moon)

      (kē) is used for distant heavenly bodies:
    • 一颗星星     (yī kē xīng xīng - one star)

      (duǒ) is used for clouds:
    • 一朵云     (yī duǒ yún - one cloud)

      (zhén) is used for winds:
    • 一阵风     (yī zhèn fēng - one gust of wind)

      (cháng) is used for precipitation:
    • 一场雨     (yī cháng yǔ - one rainshower)
    • 一场雪     (yī cháng xuě - one snowshower)


  1. 量词
  2. 新世纪汉英大词典 ISBN-7-5600-4324-0

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