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 wǔ bēi chá
five cups of tea
1.2 sān běn shū
1.3 yì diǎnr jiǔ
a little bit of wine
1.4 liǎng wèi lǎoshī
Note that the numeral for ‘two’ of something is ‘liǎng两’, not èr二.
2. Between a demonstrative pronoun (zhè这this, nà那that) and a noun, when the numeral is yī一(one) but has been omitted. Note that when used before numeral and measure words zhè这 and nà那 are often pronounced as zhèi这 and nèi那 in spoken Chinese.
zhèi这 or nèi那 + (
+ measure word + noun
2.1 zhèi běn shū
2.2 nèi ge rén
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这(this) or nèi那(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
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些, literally meaning ‘a small amount’, is used, it serves as a measure word and replaces the original measure word of the noun.
zhèixiē běn shū .
It would be incorrect to use a measure word when you are already using xiē些.
3. Between the interrogative pronoun nǎ/něi哪 (which) and a noun, when the numeral is one but has been omitted.
nǎ/něi 哪 + (
one) + measure word + noun
3.1 Něi běn shū？
4. Between the interrogative pronoun jǐ几 (how many; how much) and a noun. Jǐ 几is used for numbers smaller than ten. Jǐ 几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.
jǐ几 + measure word + noun
4.1 Jǐ 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?
How many books? (expecting a number bigger than ten)