Chinese measure wordsTo most Chinese language learners, measure wordsare sure to be a challenge as there is no such thing in English. But in mandarin Chinese, to define the quantity, one must use both the numbers and the measure words.


Say, 一外国人(yī gè wài guó rén) – a foreigner, 一书(yī běn shū) – a book, 一烟(yī bāo yān) – a packet of cigarettes, 一床(yī zhāng chuáng) – a bed, etc.


So, here is a little quiz to test how well you do on Chinese measure words. Say, when you pass by some store, and you hear words as below:






A.羊毛衫   B. 件件   C. 样样   D. 全部


This is a choice question; all you need to do is choosing the right answer. I can provide the Pinyin for it so that you can know how they are pronounced.


羊毛衫大减价了啊(yáng máo shān dà jiǎn jià le ā),件件十元(jiàn jiàn shí yuán),样样十元(yàng     yàng shí yuán),全部十元了啊(quán bù shí yuán le ā)。


Question: What is sold at the price of ten Yuan?


A.羊毛衫(yáng máo shān)   B. 件件(jiàn jiàn)   C. 样样(yàng yàng)   D. 全部(quán bù)


Well, you may have learned the Chinese measure words and know that 件(jiàn) is a measure word matched for coat (一件衣服 yī jiàn yī fu), thing (一件事情 yī jiàn shì qíng), etc. But do you know what “件件(jiàn jiàn)” means in English? Same question for 样(yàng) vs. 样样(yàng yàng).


The key to solving this is you need to know that in Chinese, if a measure word is repeatedly used in the form of “AA” like 件件(jiàn jiàn) and 样样(yàng yàng), it means “every / each”. So the English Chinese translationof “件件十元(jiàn jiàn shí yuán)” can be “each item is sold at the price of ten Yuan”. And for “样样十元(yàng yàng shí yuán)”, it means “the prices of every type of woolen sweaters (羊毛衫- yáng máo shān) are all the same – ten Yuan”. In this context, 件件, 样样, 全部 are all talking about the same thing, the sweaters. So the correct answer is “A”.


In addition, if a measure word is used in the pattern of “一 + AA” like “一个个(yí gè gè)”, “一件件(yí jiàn jiàn)”, then means like “one by one, one after another”.


E.g. 他们一个个都走了 (tā men yí gè gè dōu zǒu le) 。

They all left one after another.


她把衣服一件件地都洗了(tā bǎ yī fu yí jiàn jiàn de dōu xǐ le)。

She washed all the coats one by one.


It’s always hard to memorize all those confusing measure words. However, even though this is difficult on one hand, on the other hand, this makes the dull learning process more interesting.


Chinese Measure words blog post was originally published on Study More Chinese Blogs

("measuring up" by woodleywonderworks)

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Comment by Bob Conrod on January 14, 2013 at 11:36pm
A piece of pie, a slice of cake, a sheet of paper, a slab of brick are they not the English equivilant of measure words?
Comment by horakely on September 19, 2012 at 7:18am

Yes! English has at least words that function like measure words, even if they're not called the same thing.  They are just not used as widely as in Chinese.

Comment by Fearchar I MacIllFhinnein on September 12, 2012 at 4:26am
I don't know where you got the idea that there are no measure words in English, but that isn't right: all nouns in English that cannot be counted use measure words, such as a ton of coal, a spoonful of sugar, a glass of milk or a shower of rain. In addition, some that can be counted always include a measure word, especially the dual: so in English we speak of a pair of trousers or spectacles.

If you are looking for something similar to measure words, you will find it in the genders used so much in most European languages (although they are all but gone from English). As in learning these languages, learn them with the nouns to which they refer, and it will all fall into place in time. (To do things the hard way, don't learn them and then have to go back and pick them up later - bad move!)

Comment by Suray Su on September 10, 2012 at 3:22pm

@  Joseph Alessandro Mati:

Yes, you're absolutely right.

Comment by Suray Su on September 10, 2012 at 3:21pm

@ Thomas Doherty:

Thanks a lot for the correction!

Comment by Batman on September 10, 2012 at 4:28am

She wears a pea green tracksuit top


She wears a pea green full-length skirt.



Two clothes but...

 jiàn for the sports shirt,  条tiáo for the skirt !

Top Member
Comment by Thomas Doherty on September 7, 2012 at 8:54pm

 Instead of saying " However, even though this is difficult on one side, while on the other side, this also makes the dull learning process more interesting. ", a native English speaker would say "However, even though ( or while, but not both in this case ) on one hand this is difficult , on the other hand this also makes the dull learning process more interesting.".

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