Today you are going to learn six measure words that beginners will see a lot. 量词 (liàngcí): 量 (liàng) means to measure, and 词 (cí) means word. A measure word is also called a classifier or quantifier. In many languages, measure words are not necessary. However, it is a crucial part of Chinese. Knowing the rules of Chinese measure words can make learning them a lot easier.


In this article, you are going to learn six measure words that beginners will see quite often. Here is the basic structure of how to use 量词 (liàngcí):


  • Number + 量词 (liàngcí) + noun


You could say that 量词 (liàngcí) are connecting words between numbers and nouns. It is used to indicate the quantity of a noun.


Here is a brief overview of the six measure words:


  • 个 (gè): most commonly used measure word.
  • 位 (wèi): respectful measure word used for people.
  • 辆 (liàng): for vehicles.
  • 只 (zhī): for visible creatures (excluding humans); or for hands and feet of any creature.
  • 本 (běn): for books.
  • 把 (bǎ): for things with a handle (can also mean a handful of).


If you don’t quite understand the brief overview, don’t worry. I will explain with examples.



1. 个 (gè)


The default meaning of 个 (gè) is individual. It is the most commonly used measure word.




yí ge zì

one character


liǎng ge dàrén

two adults


sān ge péngyou

three friends


sì ge xiǎoháir

four kids


wǔ ge xīngqī

five weeks


liù ge yuè

six months


qī ge wèntí

seven questions


I would suggest beginner and elementary students to try to remember these particular measure words paired with different nouns first. If you’re unsure of which correct word to use, you can try 个 (gè) -- in most cases, it works.


Note: For a more natural pronunciation during conversations, 个 (gè) is pronounced with a neutral tone when used as a measure word.



2. 位 (wèi)


The default meaning of 位 (wèi) is position. It is a respectful measure word for people.




yí wèi lǎoshī

a/one teacher


liǎng wèi péngyou

two friends


sì wèi lǎorén

four seniors


wǔ wèi tóngxué

five students


However, you can’t use 位 (wèi) in the phrase 一位人 (yíwèi rén). There is no need to honor 人 (rén), which can refer to anyone.



3. 辆 (liàng)


辆 (liàng) is used as a measure word for vehicles.




yí liàng chē

one car/bus/truck, etc.


liǎng liàng zìxíngchē

two bikes


sān liàng qìchē

three cars


sì liàng gōnggòngqìché

four buses


When you see 一辆车 (yí liàng chē), it usually means a car, but it can still mean other vehicles like buses, trucks, motorcycles, and so on, according to the context.



4. 只 (zhī)


只 (zhī) usually is used as the measure word for visible beings (excluding humans), or it is used as the measure word for hands and feet of any beings.




yì zhī wénzi

a mosquito


liăng zhī dàxiàng

two elephants


sān zhī gŏu

three dogs


sì zhī māo

four cats


bā zhī jiǎo

eight feet


If the creature is not visible, for example bacteria, you can’t use 只 (zhī) as the measure word. Of course we don’t use 只 (zhī) for human beings, so that we separate humans from other creatures. Be aware that there are other niche measure words for some animals. However, you can still use 只 (zhī) as the more generic measure word these animals as well.



5. 本 (běn)


The original meaning of 本 (běn) is the root of a tree. Books are made from paper, and paper is made from wood. I hope this connection can help you remember 本 (běn) as the measure word for books and related items like brochures, dictionaries, and magazines. If it is just one sheet of paper, like a map, a test paper, or a single-page menu, then you can’t use 本 (běn).




yì bĕn shū

a book


liăng bĕn liànxícè

two workbooks


sān bĕn cídiăn

three dictionaries


sì bĕn zázhì

four magazines



6. 把 (bǎ)


The default meaning of 把 (bǎ) is to grab or hold. It is the measure word for things with a handle, but it can also mean a handful or anything that you can grab a handful of, such as peanuts, noodles, or flowers, etc.




yì bă mĭ

a handful of rice


yì bǎ huā

a handful of flowers


liăng bă yàoshi

two keys


sān bă yŭsăn

three umbrellas


sì bă jítā

four guitars


wǔ bă yĭzi

five chairs


Some types of chairs don’t have a handle or back. In those cases, you can’t use 把 (bǎ) for these kind of chairs.



Below are some exceptions to when you can or should use the above mentioned structure for some measure words.



Exception 1


The number can be omitted if it is one (1) and the noun is not used as the subject of the sentence. The difference is that a sentence omitting one (1) is more often spoken than not.


Here are some examples.



问 一个(问题)

wèn yí ge wèntí

ask a question


wèn ge wèntí

ask a question


Here 问题 (wèntí) is not the subject. 问个问题 (wèn ge wèntí) is more spoken than 问一个问题 (wèn yíge wèntí).



măi yí liàng chē

buy a car


măi liàng chē

buy a car


Here 车 (chē) is not the subject. 买辆车 (măi liàng chē) is more spoken than 买一辆车 (măi yíliàng chē).



Exception 2


When the structure is pronoun + 量词 (liàngcí) + noun


Here the pronoun only refers to four pronouns, which are: this, that, these, and those.



zhège rén

this person


nàge rén

that person


zhèxiē rén

these people


nàxiē rén

those people


I hope that after reading this article you will have a clearer understanding of how to use these six measure words. Comment below if you have any questions related to measure words. I will try my best to answer.


Hero image by Denys Nevozhai (CC0 1.0)