Word of the day – 闋 (què)

闋 (què) – to close or shut the door after finishing something; to be at rest; to end; the expiry of a period of mourning; a numerical adjunct for songs; empty, blank

In addition to all the above meanings, this character is also used as a measure word (量詞 [量词] liàngcí) for words (詞 [词] cí) and indeed measure words themselves. Measure words or classifiers are used when counting things in Chinese, and also in Japanese, Thai and a number of other languages of East Asia. In English we have a few measure words, such as a box of matches, a sheet of paper, a pint of milk, a can of worms, etc. In Chinese there are about 150 such words and they have to be used when you add a number to a noun.

You can’t just say, for example, two tables, or three letters, instead you have to add a measure word between the number and the noun – for tables the measure word is 張 [张] (zhāng), which means sheet and is used for flat objects (paper, tables, etc.), faces, bows, paintings, tickets and constellations, e.g. 兩張桌子 (liǎng zhāng zhuòzi) – two tables. For letters the measure word is 封 (fēng), e.g. 三封信 (sān fēng xìn) – three letters (the kind you put in an envelope).

Fortunately there is a default measure word 個 [个] (ge) which you can use if you can’t remember the correct one.

This entry was posted in Chinese, Language, Words and phrases.

6 Responses to Word of the day – 闋 (què)

  1. AR says:

    Many Sanskrit based languages have measure words too.

  2. Declan says:

    Is that similar to collective nouns?

  3. Weili says:

    “Is that similar to collective nouns?”

    Yes and no.

    Measure words in Chinese are used for both singular and plural nouns. Actually, in Chinese, nouns themselves generally don’t indicate whether they are singular or plural, the measure words do.

    For example:

    一个人 yi ge ren (a person)
    一群人 yi qun ren (a crowd of people)

    In both sentences, the noun 人 ren (person/people) never changed, but instead, the measure word before the noun indicate whether it’s singular or plural.

  4. Adam says:

    American Sign Language also has measure words. But they are called “classifiers” and are not really used to indicate plurals. They are more like pronouns, (although that’s also a stretch in meaning).

  5. Bill Walsh says:

    Navajo has the most complicated system of these kinds of markers that I’m aware of. They have eleven different classes of nouns which must not only be marked in counting, but which all so require verbs modifying them to change.


  6. Wang Pin says:

    — Somewhat off-topic —

    In Mandarin there is another què that looks very similar to this one.

    It is 闕[阙], meaning: royal palace and residence; stone carving erected in front of temples or cemeteries; a Chinese surname.

    I believe most of native speakers, myself included, have trouble distinguishing between the two.

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