Chinese classifiers (量词[量詞])

Classifiers or measure words (liàngcí) are used in Chinese with nouns when specifying number. They have similarities to English expressions like a pack of cards, a piece of paper, and a bottle of beer. While such words are often optional in English - you can say "a beer" or "a bottle/glass of beer", in Chinese you have to use the classifier, e.g. 一杯/瓶啤酒 (yībēi/píng píji), whether you're talking about one or many things.

Measure words may be used for specific objects, shapes, people, animals, vehicles, events, groups, collections of objects or people, time, weight or money.

The most common classifier is 个 [個] (gè), which originally meant bamboo stalks. It became used as a classifier for things with vertical, individual or upright qualities, and eventually became a general classifier for common nouns. It is the only classifier used in Dungan. In other varieties of Chinese, such as Shanghainese and Shanxi and Shandong dialects of Mandarin only one classifier is used.

The table below shows the some of the classifiers used in Mandarin and Cantonese. Traditional characters are shown in [brackets].

Common classifiers in Mandarin and Cantonese

Classifier
量词
[量詞]
Mandarin
普通话
[普通話]
Cantonese
广东话
[廣東話]
Meaning and use
意义和用法
[意義和用法]
ba2 "handful" - used for long, flat objects and things with handles, such as knives 刀 (dāo), scissors 剪刀 (jiǎndāo), swords 剑 [劍] (jiàn), keys 钥匙 [鑰匙] (yàoshi) and also chairs 椅子 (yǐzi)
bān baan1 "team, class, squad" - used for groups of people, 人 (rén), classes of pupils, 学生 [學生] (xuésheng), and sceduled services,e.g. trains and buses
笔 [筆] bat1 "pen, pencil, brush" - used for large quantities of money, 钱 [錢] (qián), and funds 资金 [資金] (zījīn)
běn bun2 "volume" - used for books, 书 [書] (shū), and other printed material
bou6 "unit, part, section" - used for novels, 小说 [小說] (xiǎoshuō), films, 电影 [電影] (diànyǐng), and TV dramas. Also used for machines and vehicles in Cantonese.
册 [冊] chaak3 "copy - used for volumes of books
层 [層] céng chang4 "storey, layer" - used for storeys in buildings
场 [場] chǎng cheung4 "field, place" - used for public spectacles, games, 比赛 [比賽] (bǐsài), dramas, 戏 [戲] (xì), films, 电影 [電影] (diànyǐng), etc.
duǒ do2/deu2 "flower, earlobe" - used for flowers, 花 (huā), clouds 云 [雲] (yún)
fèn fan6 used for portions, copies, bundles, batches and servings of food
jiā ga1 "home, family" - used for gatherings of people (families, 人家 (rénjiā), companies, 公司 (gōngsī), etc.), establishments (shops, 商店 (shāngdiàn), restaurants, 酒店 (jiǔdiàn), hotels, 饭店 [飯店] (fàndiàn))
间 [間] jiān gaan1 "room" - rooms, 房间 [房間] (fángjiān), kitchens, 厨房 [廚房] (chúfáng) and offices, 办公室 [辦公室] (bàngōngshì), and for stores and companies in Cantonese
jiàn gin6 "matter" - used for matters, clothing, etc.
geui3 "sentence" - used for sentences, etc
po1 used for trees, 树 [樹] (shù), cabbages, plants, etc.
kǒu hau2 "mouth" - used for things with mouths: people, 人 (rén), domestic animals, 家畜 (jiāchù), wells, 井 (jǐng), etc.
块 [塊] kuài faai3 "chunk, limp, piece" - used for pieces/slices of cake, 蛋糕 (dàngāo), pieces of cloth, 布 (bù), soap, 肥皂 (féizào), etc, and slang wod from currency
辆 [輛] liàng leung2 used for vehicles, 车 [車] (chē)
門 [门] mén mun4 "door" - used for courses, 课程 [課程] (kèchéng), specialities, 专业 [專業] (zhuānyè), languages, 语言 [語言] (yǔyán), etc.
miàn min6 "surface" - used for flat and smooth objects: mirrors, 镜子 [鏡子] (jìngzi), flags 旗子 (qízi), drums, 鼓 (gǔ), etc.
pái paai4 "row" - used for objects grouped in rows; chairs 座位 (zuòwèi), etc.
pat1 "mate, one of a pair" - used for hourse, 马 [馬] (mǎ)
piàn pin3 "slice" - used for flat objects, cards, slices of bread, 面包 [麵包] (miànbāo)
shǒu sau2 "head, chief" - used for poems, 诗 [詩] (shī), songs, 歌 (gē), etc.
双 [雙] shuāng seung1 "pair" - used for pair of objects which naturally come in pairs, chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi), shoes, 鞋 (xié), etc.)
tào tou3 "set" - used for sets and collections, e.g. books 书 [書], clothes, 衣裳 (yīshang), etc.
wèi wai2 used for people (honorific)
张 [張] zhāng jeung1 "sheet" - used for flat objects: paper 纸 [紙] (zhǐ), tables 桌子 (zhuōzi), faces 脸 [臉] (liǎn), paintings 图画 [圖畫] (túhuà), tickets 票 (piào), bedsheets 床单 [床單] (chuángdān), etc
只 [隻] zhī jek3 one of a pair, e.g. hands, 手 [shǒu], legs, 脚 [腳] (jiǎo); animals, 动物 [動物] (dòngwù), birds, 鸟 [鳥] (niǎo), cats 猫 [貓] (māo), etc.
zhī ji1 used for fairly long, stick-like objects: pens, 笔 [筆] (bǐ), candles, 蜡烛 [蠟燭] (làzhú), chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi), rifles, 枪 [槍] (qiāng), etc.
种 [種] zhǒng jung2 type, kind sort
zuò jo6 "seat, base, stand" - used for buildings, 大楼 [大樓] (dàlóu), cities, 城市 (chéngshì), bridges, 桥 [橋] (qiáo), mountains, 山 (shān) and other immovable objects

Links

Information about Chinese classifiers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_classifier
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_classifiers
http://laowaichinese.net/top-10-measure-words-to-know.htm
http://laowaichinese.net/which-measure-words-do-they-really-use.htm


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