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].
|Meaning and use
|把||bǎ||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)|
|班||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]||bǐ||bat1||"pen, pencil, brush" - used for large quantities of money, 钱 [錢] (qián), and funds 资金 [資金] (zījīn)|
|本||běn||bun2||"volume" - used for books, 书 [書] (shū), and other printed material|
|部||bù||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]||cè||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.|
|朵||duǒ||do2/deu2||"flower, earlobe" - used for flowers, 花 (huā), clouds 云 [雲] (yún)|
|份||fèn||fan6||used for portions, copies, bundles, batches and servings of food|
|家||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|
|件||jiàn||gin6||"matter" - used for matters, clothing, etc.|
|句||jú||geui3||"sentence" - used for sentences, etc|
|棵||kē||po1||used for trees, 树 [樹] (shù), cabbages, plants, etc.|
|口||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.|
|面||miàn||min6||"surface" - used for flat and smooth objects: mirrors, 镜子 [鏡子] (jìngzi), flags 旗子 (qízi), drums, 鼓 (gǔ), etc.|
|排||pái||paai4||"row" - used for objects grouped in rows; chairs 座位 (zuòwèi), etc.|
|匹||pǐ||pat1||"mate, one of a pair" - used for hourse, 马 [馬] (mǎ)|
|片||piàn||pin3||"slice" - used for flat objects, cards, slices of bread, 面包 [麵包] (miànbāo)|
|首||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.)|
|套||tào||tou3||"set" - used for sets and collections, e.g. books 书 [書], clothes, 衣裳 (yīshang), etc.|
|位||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.|
|支||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|
|座||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|
Information about Chinese classifiers
Akkadian Cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian (Demotic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieratic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), Chinese, Chữ-nôm, Cuneiform, Japanese, Jurchen, Khitan, Linear B, Luwian, Mayan, Naxi, Sawndip (Old Zhuang), Sui, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)
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