II. When and where to use measure words


It is obligatory to use a measure word when a numeral, a demonstrative pronoun, or an interrogative pronoun qualifies a noun.


1. Between a numeral and a noun.



numeral + measure word + noun



1.1     bēi chá 


five cups of tea


1.2     sān běn shū 


three books


1.3     diǎnr jiǔ 


a little bit of wine


1.4     liǎng wèi lǎoshī 


          two teachers

Note that the numeral for ‘two’ of something is ‘liǎng’, not èr.


2. Between a demonstrative pronoun (zhèthis, that) and a noun, when the numeral is (one) but has been omitted. Note that when used before numeral and measure words zhè and are often pronounced as zhèi and nèi in spoken Chinese. 



zhèi or nèi + (one) + measure word + noun



2.1     zhèi běn shū 


          this book


2.2     nèi ge rén 


that person



2.3     zhèi sān běn shū 


these three books

The numeral cannot be omitted if it is greater than one. Also note that the demonstrative pronoun with a measure word is zhèi(this) or nèi(that), not zhèixiē这些(these) or nèixiē那些(those). In other words, in Chinese the singular demonstrative is used with numerals bigger than ‘one’, i.e. ‘this three...’ or ‘that five...’ instead of ‘these three...’ or ‘those five...’ for multiple objects with specified number. See the examples below:


2.4     zhèixiē shū 


these books

When demonstratives are used to point at multiple objects with unspecified number, Chinese uses zhèixiē这些(these) and nèixiē那些(those). When xiē, literally meaning ‘a small amount’, is used, it serves as a measure word and replaces the original measure word of the noun.


2.5     zhèixiē běn shū.


these books

It would be incorrect to use a measure word when you are already using xiē.


3. Between the interrogative pronoun /něi (which) and a noun, when the numeral is one but has been omitted.



nǎ/něi + (one) + measure word + noun



3.1     Něi běn shū 


          Which book?


4. Between the interrogative pronoun (how many; how much) and a noun. is used for numbers smaller than ten. also means ‘several’, ‘a few’, ‘some’ or ‘a couple of’, and it requires a measure word before the noun. If the number is expected to be greater than ten, the interrogative pronoun should be duōshǎo多少 (how many; how much), which does not take a measure word.



+ measure word + noun



4.1     běn shū? 


          How many books? (expecting a number smaller than ten)


Compare with duōshǎo多少 for numbers greater than ten. It does not take a measure word.


4.2     Duōshǎo shū?         (NO MEASURE WORD)


          How many books? (expecting a number bigger than ten)