As a student of Chinese, measure words (量词 or liàngcí in pinyin) are one of the first aspects of Chinese grammar you’ll encounter. The fact that almost all Chinese nouns must be preceded by a measure word makes these pesky classifiers hard to avoid.

Luckily, Chinese measure words are one of the easier aspects of the language. Read on to get an idea of what they are and how to use them.


a plate of three rice dumplings sitting on a table with a wooden fork, a flower vase and a paper with Chinese calligraphy on it

What are measure words?

Measure words are words used to quantify nouns. That might sound complicated at first, but the function of these words quickly becomes clear when we examine how they’re used in English.

Measure words in English

Although most English speakers may not have heard the term “measure words,” these words are actually relatively common in English. In fact, most people understand how to use them intuitively.

Words like “pair” and “piece” are English measure words. Whenever you say common phrases like “a pair of pants” or “three pieces of bread,” you’re employing English measure words like a pro!

Nouns like “pants” and “bread” sound odd without measure words. We wouldn’t normally say “three breads” or “a pants.” However, there are many other English nouns, like “house” or “cat,” that don’t take any measure words. Phrases like “a house” or “three cats” sound perfectly natural.

Measure words in Chinese

Measure words in Chinese are similar to those used in English, except easier! While English speakers have to decide whether or not it’s necessary to use a measure word with each noun they encounter, there’s usually no such question in Chinese.

Chinese proper nouns (think names of people or names of countries) don’t need measure words, but every other Chinese noun needs to be accompanied by one.

In Chinese, simple phrases like “a car,” “two cats” or “three buildings”  must be paired with a measure word.

How are Chinese measure words used?

Employ the following structure to use Chinese measure words correctly:

Number + Measure Word + Noun

Imagine that you want to say “a person” in Chinese. To do so, all you need to do is identify the correct vocabulary words and follow the structure outlined above to construct your phrase.

“Person” in Chinese is 人 (rén in pinyin), the measure word that goes with person is 个 (), and since you’re talking about a single person, you’ll need the Chinese word for one, which is 一 (). Thus, your phrase would read: 一个人 (yī gè rén; one person).

Now let’s say you want to make your phrase plural. In English, you’d either add an ‘s’ to the noun or use its irregular plural form, which in the case of “person” is “people.” Your correct plural English phrase would read, “two people.”

Luckily, Chinese nouns don’t have a special plural form. They stay the same no matter whether they’re plural or singular.

To create the Chinese equivalent of the English phrase “two people,” you simply need to replace the Chinese number one (一 ) with the Chinese number two (两 liǎng) to form the phrase 两个人 (liǎng gè rén; two people).


Two Chinese children wear traditional ethnic minority hats and clothes

To talk about the two people in this image, you’ll need to add the measure word 个.


What happens if you want to translate a more complex English phrase that contains an English measure word, like “a piece of cake”?

In this sentence, the English measure word is “piece.” To translate it into Chinese, we must first identify the noun, which is “cake,” or 蛋糕 (dàngāo) in Chinese.

Next, we need to know the specific Chinese measure word that goes with 蛋糕 (dàngāo), which is 块 (kuài). If we want to talk about one piece, we’d also need the Chinese word for “one,” which is 一 . After plugging these words into the number + measure word + noun construction above, our Chinese phrase would read 一块蛋糕 (yī kuài dàngāo; one piece of cake).

If we had two pieces of cake, then we’d write 两块蛋糕 (liǎng kuài dàngāo; two pieces of cake).

Note that in English, measure words are generally used with articles like “a” and the preposition “of.” These are unnecessary in Chinese, however.


four cupcakes with icing sitting next to a plant

The measure word used to talk about pieces of cake in Chinese is 块.

Why measure words matter

There are several reasons why learning measure words is well worth your time.

Bad habits die hard

个 () is the most common Chinese measure word and the easiest to use. It’s a generic, catch-all measure word.

It’s possible to use 个 () with almost any Chinese noun and still be understood. Sometimes, native speakers even default to 个 () after forgetting which measure word to use with a certain noun. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always correct to use 个 ().

After realizing how common 个 () is, many students quickly begin overusing it. This overuse of 个 () as a beginner can lead to bad habits that will be hard to change later on. If you don’t pay attention to learning and using the correct measure words now, it may be difficult to remember to do so in the future.

Measure words are an integral part of Chinese

Measure words are an important part of the Chinese language. If you don’t learn to use them correctly, you won’t ever be able to claim real fluency.

Just because Chinese speakers can understand what you mean to say when you use 个 () instead of the correct measure word doesn’t mean that your speech sounds grammatically correct. If you want to be taken seriously by Chinese speakers, you’ll need to get the details right.

Measure words help with understanding

Using measure words correctly can also help people understand you better. This is because Chinese is full of homophones, which are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings.

Since different nouns take different measure words, using the right measure word-noun pairing can help clarify your meaning.


a hand pouring traditional Chinese tea from a gaiwan teapot

Using measure words correctly can help make your Chinese easier to understand.

Ten common measure words to learn today

In addition to the very commonly used 个 () and 块 (kuài) discussed above, here are ten common Chinese measure words that every Chinese language learner should know.

1. 只 (zhī)

只 (zhī) is a common measure word used for birds and certain animals. It can also be used for one of a pair, usually when referring to certain parts of the human body that come in pairs, like eyes and hands. Less commonly, it’s used with objects like boats and suitcases.


三只鸟                                                  three birds

sān zhī niǎo

一只手                                                  a hand

yī zhī shǒu


a rooster and a chicken outdoors

The measure word 只 is used for birds, including chickens.

2. 本 (běn)

本 (běn) is used with books, textbooks and other similar book-like bound objects, such as photo albums.


一本书                                          a book

yī běn shū

两本词典                                      a dictionary

liǎng běn cídiǎn

3. 辆 (liàng)

辆 (liàng) is another common measure word you’ll need to use when talking about vehicles like cars and buses.


五辆车                                       five cars

wǔ liàng chē

一辆公交车                                a bus

yī liàng gōngjiāo chē

4. 瓶 (píng)

瓶 (píng) is similar to the English measure word “bottle,” but can also be used to refer to jars, flasks and vases.


一瓶水                                      a bottle of water

yī píng shuǐ

两瓶葡萄酱                               two jars of grape jelly

liǎng píng pútáo jiàng


a teacher talks to her student about Chinese measure words while they hold bottles of juice in a supermarket

The measure word 瓶 is used for drinks that come in bottles, like soda or juice.

5. 杯 (bēi)

Like 瓶 (píng), 杯 (bēi) is another Chinese measure word with a close English equivalent. It’s used as a classifier for containers of liquids, much like “glass” and “cup” in English.


一杯水                             a cup of water

yī bēi shuǐ

三杯啤酒                         three cups of beer

sān bēi píjiǔ

6. 碗 (wǎn)

碗 (wǎn) is used like the English measure word “bowl.” It comes in handy when ordering food that comes in bowls, such as rice or noodles.

一碗米饭                       a bowl of rice

yī wǎn mǐfàn

两碗面条                        two bowls of noodles

liǎng wǎn miàntiáo

7. 双 (shuāng)

双 (shuāng) is roughly equivalent to the English measure word “pair.” It’s used with words for things that come in pairs like shoes, socks and chopsticks.


一双筷子                        a pair of chopsticks

yī shuāng kuàizi

一双鞋子                        a pair of shoes

yī shuāng xiézi


a pair of chopsticks sitting on a wooden table

The Chinese measure word 双 is used for things that come in pairs, like chopsticks.

8. 件 (jiàn)

件 (jiàn) is a super useful measure word that’s most commonly used with clothing. It also works with certain items of furniture and luggage, as well as with abstract events.


一件衣服                      a piece of clothing

yī jiàn yīfú

一件事                          a matter

yī jiàn shì

9. 张 (zhāng)

张 (zhāng) is a measure word that’s most commonly used with flat objects like paper, cards, tickets, desks and tables.


一张桌子                       a table

yī zhāng zhuōzi

两张票                           two tickets

liǎng zhāng piào

10. 种 (zhǒng)

种 (zhǒng) is used when talking about a sort, kind or type of thing. It can be used with nouns that refer to either objects or abstract concepts or feelings.


一种动物                       a type of animal

yī zhǒng dòngwù

一种感觉                       a kind of feeling

yī zhǒng gǎnjué


a red chili pepper sitting on top of a paper with the Chinese word for chili pepper written on it

Learning measure words will allow you to talk about almost any Chinese noun with ease.

Chinese measure word learning strategies

So what’s the best way to learn Chinese measure words? We’ve outlined two useful paths to measure word mastery below.


Unfortunately, learning Chinese measure words requires a certain amount of rote memorization. Eventually, you’ll need to memorize which measure words go with which nouns.

Luckily, the use of measure words in Chinese isn’t random. There are definitely some patterns which can help Chinese learners memorize them more efficiently.

When learning Chinese measure words, it helps to remember that they contain clues about the nouns they classify. Measure words can indicate whether the noun is an animal, an object, a person or a concept. They can also tell you something about the noun’s size and shape. Therefore, it’s helpful to memorize the types of things measure words usually describe.

For example, 张 (zhāng) is usually used to describe flat objects. If you memorize this fact, next time you’re talking about something flat, you can try using 张 (zhāng) as your measure word. Chances are, you’ll have used it correctly.

Some students find it helpful to learn groups of measure words based on the qualities of the objects they usually classify. For example, a student might make a list of the most common measure words used to describe animals, including 只 (zhī), 匹 (), 头 (tóu), 条 (tiáo) and 峰 (fēng). Then, they might memorize them all together. This makes it easier to make educated guesses about which measure words to use for animals.

This method certainly narrows the field of choices, but you’ll still need to know which measure word to use with which animal. Unfortunately, knowing to use 匹 () with horses, 只 (zhī) with chickens and 峰 (fēng) with camels still requires memorization.


a traditional Chinese painting of a group of horses galloping

Knowing that 匹 is the Chinese measure word used for horses usually requires rote memorization.


Even if you’ve spent a long time memorizing measure words, they won’t come naturally unless you immerse yourself in a Chinese-speaking environment. Immersion can help you develop an almost subconscious understanding of which measure words go with which nouns.

One tricky aspect of Chinese measure words is that individual nouns can sometimes be used with more than one measure word depending on which aspect of the noun the speaker wants to highlight. This sort of nuanced usage is easiest to grasp through repeat exposure to the language being used in context.

Full language immersion in China is definitely the most effective way to improve your understanding of measure words as well as your overall Chinese fluency.

If studying Chinese in China isn’t possible, however, you should still make every effort to listen to Chinese frequently. Even passive listening can be amazingly effective. Try checking out our list of excellent Chinese podcasts for some ideas on what to listen to. You should also seek out native Chinese speakers to practice with, whether in your community or online.

With a bit of determination, you’ll soon be using measure words like an old China hand.



There are many different measure words in Chinese. Some are used more frequently than others. Check out our list of 100 of the most common measure words that you’re likely to encounter below.

100 Commonly Used Chinese Measure Words

HànzìPīnyīnUsed for:Example Chinese PhraseTranslation
people or objects一个人 (yī gè rén)a person
kuàipieces of cloth, cake, soap, etc.; money and currency units (colloquial)一块蛋糕 (yī kuài dàngāo)a piece of cake
zhībirds and certain animals, one of a pair, some utensils, boats, etc. 一只鸟 (yī zhī niǎo)a bird
běnbooks, parts of a serial, etc.一本书 (yī běn shū)a book
liàngvehicles一辆车 (yī liàng chē)a car
píngquantity contained in a bottle, vase, jar or flask一瓶啤酒 (yī píng píjiǔ)a bottle of beer
bēicertain containers of liquids: glass, cup一杯水 (yī bēi shuǐ)a glass of water
shuāngpairs (of shoes, socks, chopsticks, etc.)一双袜子 (yī shuāng wàzi)a pair of socks
jiànclothes, events, things, etc.一件衣服 (yī jiàn yīfú)a piece of clothing
zhāngflat objects and sheets (bed, desk, paper, etc.); certain body parts (face, mouth)一张纸 (yī zhāng zhǐ)a piece of paper
wǎnmeasurement of food and drink (bowl)一碗饭 (yī wǎn fàn)a bowl of rice
zhǒngtypes, kinds, sorts一种动物 (yī zhǒng dòngwù)a type of animal
horses, mules; bolts of cloth一匹马 (yī pǐ mǎ)a horse
tóucertain domestic animals (cattles, mules, pigs, etc.); garlic 一头猪 (yī tóu zhū)a pig
tiáolong, narrow or thin objects (ribbon, river, road, trousers, etc.)一条鱼 (yī tiáo yú)a fish
wèipeople (courteous)一位女士 (yī wèi nǚshì)a lady
xiàngitemized things (clauses, tasks, research projects, etc.)一项项目 (yī xiàng xiàngmù)a project
míngpeople一名学生 (yī míng xuéshēng)a student
xiēa small amount or small number (greater than one)一些东西 (yī xiē dōngxī)some things
jiāfamilies or business establishments一家公司 (yī jiā gōngsī)a company
点(儿)diǎn('er)a little; a bit; some一点(儿)纸 (yī diǎn(er)zhǐ)some paper
chángrecreational, sports or other activities一场球赛 (yī chǎng qiúsài)a ball game; a match
sentences一句话 (yī jù huà)a sentence
duànstories, periods of time, lengths of thread, etc. (a section, segment or part)一段时间 (yī duàn shíjiān)a period of time
fènspoken form of fractions and percentages; minutes; various units of measure三分之一 (sān fēn zhī yī)one-third
chùplaces, occurrences or activities in different places; items of damage (spot, point) 两处错误 (liǎng chù cuòwù)two mistakes
piànslices, tablets, tracts of land, areas of water; CDs, movies, DVDs; scenes, feelings, atmospheres, etc.一片土地 (yī piàn tǔdì)a stretch of land
tàobooks, furniture, rooms, methods, remarks (a set, suit or suite)一套书 (yī tào shū)a set of books
zuòmountains, buildings and other immovable objects 一座山 (yī zuò shān)a mountain
works of literature, films, machines, etc. 一部电影 (yī bù diànyǐng)a film
written items一则广告 (yī zé guǎnggào)an advertisement
cénglayers, stratums (a storey, a floor)一层灰尘 (yī céng huīchén)a layer of dust
yàngkind, type两样点心 (liǎng yàng diǎnxīn)two types of pastries
qúnpeople or animals (a group, herd, flock or pack)一群人 (yī qún rén)a crowd of people
jièevents, meetings, elections, sporting fixtures, years (of graduation)一届论坛 (yī jiè lùntán)a forum (for discussion)
zhīlong, thin, inflexible objects (pens, guns); rods; army divisions; songs or compositions一支笔 (yī zhī bǐ)a pen
batches, lots, groups一批学生 (yī pī xuéshēng)a group of students
piānpaper, book leaves, written items, articles, etc. (sheet, leaf, piece)一篇文章 (yī piān wénzhāng)an article
fānactions, deeds; occurances (of an event, action or speech utterance); situations (kind, sort)一番功夫 (yī fān gōngfū)a lot of effort
smells, smoke, etc. (puff, whiff); sudden, forceful actions; long winding things (ropes, rivers); bands of people一股香味 (yī gǔ xiāngwèi)a whiff of fragrance
shǒusongs and poems一首歌 (yī shǒu gē)a song
shēngsounds一声炮响 (yī shēng pào xiǎng)the sound of a canon
roundish objects (small spheres, pearls, corn grains, teeth, hearts, satellites, etc.)一颗星星 (yī kē xīngxīng)a star
sets, series, groups of people, batteries一组学生 (yī zǔ xuéshēng)a group of students
zhǎnlamps一盏灯 (yī zhǎn dēng)a lamp
kǒuthings with mouths (people, domestic animals, cannons, wells, etc.)一家三口人 (yī jiā sān kǒu rén)a family of three
objects with handles; small objects (a handful); certain abstract concepts一把刀 (yī bǎ dāo)a knife
jiānrooms; sections of rooms一间卧室 (yī jiàn wòshì)a bedroom
sums of money, financial accounts, debts, deals, etc.一笔钱 (yī bǐ qián)a sum of money
suǒhouses, small buildings, institutions, etc. (schools, hospitals, etc.)一所学校 (yī suǒ xuéxiào)a school
duìpair, couple一对夫妇 (yī duì fūfù)a married couple
gēnlong, thin objects (cigarettes, guitar strings, etc.)一根头发 (yī gēn tóufǎ)a strand of hair
textiles or pictures一幅画 (yī fú huà)a painting
chūdramas, plays, operas, etc.一出戏 (yī chū xì)a play; an opera
dàolong, narrow objects; doors, walls; orders, questions; courses in a meal, stages in a procedure, etc. 一道题 (yī dào tí)a question (on a test)
people (group; batch)一拨人 (yī bō rén)a group of people
duìfiles, lines or rows一队战士 (yī duì zhànshì)a file of soldiers
duīheaps or piles; crowds一堆垃圾 (yī duī lājī)a pile of rubbish
zhènevents or states of short duration一阵掌声 (yī zhèn zhǎngshēng)a burst of applause
miànflat things or surfaces (drums, mirrors, flags); the number of times people meet each other一面镜子 (yī miàn jìngzi)a mirror
táimachinery, apparatus, instruments, etc.; a complete stage performance一台电脑 (yī tái diànnǎo)a computer
games (match, set, round, etc.)一局棋 (yī jú qí)a game of chess
plants一棵树 (yī kē shù)a tree
small box, case一盒糖果 (yī hé tángguǒ)a box of candy
households or families一户人家 (yī hù rénjiā)a household
dònghouses or buildings一栋楼 (yī dòng lóu)a building
jiésegments (lessons, train wagons, biblical verses, etc.)一节课 (yī jié kè)a class (period)
fēngsealed objects (letters or other things in envelopes)一封信 (yī fēng xìn)a letter
bāna group of people; a trip by bus, boat, etc. 下一班火车 (xià yī bān huǒchē)the next train
pánfood (dish, helping); coils of wire; games of chess一盘菜 (yī pán cài)a plate of food
pairs, sets of things and facial expressions一副笑脸 (yī fù xiàoliǎn)a smiling face
tàngtimes, round trips or rows这趟火车 (zhè tàng huǒchē)this train
kuǎnversions or models (of a product)一款新鞋子 (yī kuǎn xīn xiézi)a new style of shoe
tuánlumps or soft masses (wad of paper, ball of wool, cloud or smoke)一团面 (yī tuán miàn)a lump of dough
shùbunches, bundles, beams of light, etc.一束花 (yī shù huā)a bunch of flowers
ménsubjects of study or fields of technical training一门外语 (yī mén wàiyǔ)a foreign language
jiàmachines, airplanes and instrument which rest on a tripod or stand一架飞机 (yī jià fēijī)an airplane
dùnmeals, beatings, scoldings, etc. (time, bout, spell, meal)一顿饭 (yī dùn fàn)a meal
walls一堵墙 (yī dǔ qiáng)a wall
bottled liquid (kettle, pot, bottle, flask)一壶茶 (yī hú chá)a pot of tea
duǒflowers and clouds一朵花 (yī duǒ huā)a flower
páilines, rows一排椅子 (yī pái yǐzi)a row of chairs
fènshares, parts or portions (of a whole); copies (of documents, newspapers, periodicals, etc.)一份报纸 (yī fèn bàozhǐ)a newspaper
devices, coffins or dead bodies一具尸体 (yī jù shītǐ)a corpse
bāopackages, bundles or sacks一包大米 (yī bāo dàmǐ)a sack of rice
guànjars, pots or tins一罐葡萄酱 (yī guàn pútáo jiàng)a jar of grape jam
grainlike things; small round things (peas, bullets, peanuts, pills, grains, etc.)一粒米 (yī lì mǐ)a grain of rice
juànsmall rolled things (wad of paper money, movie reel, spool, etc.)一卷卫生纸 (yī juàn wèishēngzhǐ)a roll of toilet paper
tángclasses, lectures, etc.; sets of furniture一堂课 (yī táng kè)a class
occurrences or unpredictable events (case, instance); groups (batch, group)一起交通事故 (yī qǐ jiāotōng shìgù)a car accident
zhīflowers with stems intact; sticks, rods, pencils, etc. 一枝梅花 (yī zhī méihuā)a spray of plum blossoms
zhūplants and small trees; seedlings一株树苗 (yī zhū shùmiáo)a sapling
lúnbig round objects (disk, sun, moon); recurring events (round, turn)一轮会谈 (yī lún huìtán)a round of talks
zhuōtables of guests at a banquet; table; tableful两桌客人 (liǎng zhuō kèrén)two tables of guests
tǒngbuckets, pails, cans, barrels, tubs, kegs一桶油 (yī tǒng yóu)a barrel of oil
drops一滴水 (yī dī shuǐ)a drop of water
chuàna string of things (string, bunch, cluster)一串珠子 (yī chuàn zhūzi)a string of beads
lièa series or row of things一列火车 (yī liè huǒchē)a train
xiānglarge boxes, cases, trunks一箱纸 (yī xiāng zhǐ)a box of paper
shàndoors and windows一扇门 (yī shàn mén)a door