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 

五杯茶

five cups of tea

 

1.2     sān běn shū 

三本书

three books

 

1.3     diǎnr jiǔ 

一点儿酒

a little bit of wine

 

1.4     liǎng wèi lǎoshī 

          两位老师

          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 

          这本书

          this book

 

2.2     nèi ge rén 

          那个人

that person

 

 

2.3     zhèi sān běn shū 

三本书

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 

          这些书

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.

          这些本书

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 

          哪本书?

          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? 

          几本书?

          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)

          多少书?

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