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What's the Weirdest Measure Word in Chinese?

Dec.18, 2019

Everyone hates Chinese measure words, I know.


From my point of view, not all measure words are difficult to learn as many Chinese measure words are "container" related, like in English - a "cup" of coffee or a "bowl" of soup. So in this case, you just need to remember these often used nouns like "box", "glass", "plate", "bag" etc. At the same time, you have mastered some very frequently used measure words!


  • bottle - 瓶子 - píngzi

  • box - 盒子 - hézi

  • bowl - 碗 - wǎn

  • basin - 盆子 - pénzi

  • bag - 袋子 - dàizi

  • plate - 盘子 - pánzi


Here you go, remember how to say these "containers" in Chinese, then put them between the number and the noun.  But do remember to drop the "子zi" when you use the words as measure words. For instance, you can't say "一盘子水果yìpánzi shuǐguǒ", instead, you should say "一盘水果 yì pán shuǐguǒ".


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Here are more examples:


  • a bottle of beer - 一瓶啤酒 yì píng píjiǔ

  • two bowls of rice - 两碗米饭 liǎng wǎn mǐfàn(use 两 instead of 二 here!)

  • three basins of water - 三盆水 sān pén shuǐ

  • four boxes of biscuits - 四盒饼干 sì hé bǐnggān

  • five bags of apples - 五袋苹果 wǔ dài píngguǒ


Today I want to tell you about another group of measure words of which the usage may be less obvious, and might even strike you as odd. These expressions might take you some time to get used to and to remember. After reading this article, I hope you won't get stuck with measure words any more!


Let's have a look one by one: 


1. 条tiáo


The textbook tells us that "条" is a measure word for "long" items. You can use "条" for trousers裤子(kùzi) and dress裙子(qúnzi). What else other long items can "条" measure?You can never imagine Chinese people group so many various long things together by using "条"!


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(1) "long" animals

dog - 一条狗  yì tiáo gǒu
fish - 一条鱼  yì tiáo yú
snake - 一条蛇  yì tiáo yú


(2) message (as you can see from the picture, messages appear as long pieces)

a Wechat message - 一条微信 yì tiáo wēixìn


(3) line

a line - 一条线 yì tiáo xiàn

a metro line -  一条地铁线 yì tiáo dìtiě xiàn


(4) river & road

a river - 一条河 yì tiáo lù
a road - 一条路 yì tiáo lù


2. 件jiàn


Take a look at the character of "件": Person radical "亻" on the left with cow "牛" on the right, meaning the person decomposing the cow. This is where the current meaning "piece" came from. But we don't use "件" to measure general pieces nowadays. The textbook says "件" is a measure word for clothes. What I want to remind you here is "件" can also be used to measure "thing/matter".


e.g.:我今天太忙了,手头有七八件事要做。

Wǒ jīntiān tài máng le,shǒu tóu yǒu qībā jiàn shì yào zuò。

I'm too busy today. I have 7-8 things to do on hand.


3. 班bān


We all know "班" means "class, shift", but with the meaning of "regular term", "班" could also be used for measuring flights or other schedules of bus, train and ferry.


e.g.: 上海到北京每天有45班高铁。

Shànghǎi dào Běijīng měitiān yǒu sìshíwǔ bān gāotiě。

There are 45 fast trains from Shanghai to Beijing every day.


4. 把bǎ


Most of you have probably known, "把bǎ" is a measure word for things with handle or amount that you can hold in your hand.


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一把椅子/剪刀/刀/伞/扇子/小提琴

yì bǎ yǐzi/jiǎndāo/dāo/sǎn/shànzi/xiǎotíqín

a(n) chair/scissors/knife/umbrella/fan/violin


一把土/沙子

yì bǎ tǔ/shāzi

a handful of soil/sands


5. 家jiā


Remember, "家jiā" not only means home! "家" is also a measure word for organizations like shop, company, hospital.


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一家店/超市/医院/公司

yì jiā diàn/chāoshì/yīyuàn/gōngsī

a shop/supermarket/ hospital/company


e.g.:

我家附近有3家星巴克。

Wǒ jiā fùjìn yǒu sān jiā Xīngbākè。

There are 3 Starbucks near my home.


You got it? I hope this article has solved you a part of the puzzle about measure words. Now since you know these "secrets", start to practice them in your daily speaking from today!


Many foreign friends have asked me:
Does Chinese really have a specific measure word for every specific type of item?

I have to say…maybe…yes. And certain measure words can have a strong association with the image of items it measures. For example, we use "朵duǒ" to measure "花flower (huā)" and "云cloud (yún)" - these types of beautiful images. Therefore, "朵duǒ" itself also start to convey nice implication. You will see many Chinese girls' nickname is "朵朵".


Chinese measure words


In the same way, there are definitely measure words for weird stuff in Chinese. To answer the question in the title: What's the weirdest measure word in Chinese?


I nominate "坨tuó". Why?

Well, ask your Chinese friends around, to see if they're the same as me, also couldn't help associating this to 一坨.  
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