The myth about countless Chinese measure words has long been a nightmare for Mandarin learners. I believe all of you have experienced or are about to see this bewildering problem. So, to clear things off, I write this post to list the 10 most common Chinese measure words for you.
For speaking, I know “gè 个” is the first measure word you learn, and truth is when the Chinese kids start to learn the language, it is also the first measure word they learn. And before knowing the other measure words, they would also stick to this default “gè 个”. But as they gained years of experience with the language, they’ll learn more and more measure words, both really common ones and rarely used ones. Altogether the measure words are important to be fluent with because if you just use “gè 个”, people would either look at you in a confusing way and might actually correct your measure word.
gè 个: refers to human being, as in one person is “yí ge rén”, also you can add the nationality or sex, for example: yí ge Zhōngguó rén一个中国人 (a Chinese), liǎng ge Měiguó rén 两个美国人 (two Americans), wǔ ge nán rén/ shí ge nǚrén五个男人/十个女人 (five men/ ten women)
Besides "gè 个", there are the ones I suggest you learn to make your daily life easier in the following three aspects:
1. fèn 份: refers to one portion of food or multi-page documents. 一份文件 a document
2. bēi 杯/ píng瓶 = cup, glass/ bottle, yì bēi /píng shuǐ 一杯/瓶水(1 glass/bottle of water)
3. zhāng 张：refers to flat thing that are made of wood. (piece of ticket, paper, tables, chair, CDs) 一张桌子 a table
4. shuāng 双: refers to things come in pairs (pair of chopsticks, pair of shoes, etc.) 一双鞋子 A pair of shoes
5. jiàn 件: is usually used for any kind of clothing. Here are some examples: yí jiàn chènshān一件衬衫 A shirt, yí jiàn máoyī 一件毛衣 a sweater
6. tiáo 条: is the measure word for long, narrow, or skinny objects – fish, roads, pants, rivers, and so on. Check these examples: Two pairs of pants (两条裤子 –liǎng tiáo kù zi), ten fish (十条鱼 – shí tiáo yú)
This is probably the most common one in everybody’s life.
7. kuai 块: is the unit for RMB. 一块钱 One yuan
8. Jiā 家: Its original meaning "home" or "family", and it can also be used as a measure word. In this context, it is related to household of people, or establishments (shops, restaurants, etc.) This company (这家公司 zhè jiā gōngsī), four restaurants (四家饭店 sì jiā fàndiàn), a bar (一家酒吧 yī jiā jiǔbā).
9. Nián 年：refers to year. sān nián 三年 (three years)
10. tiān 天: refers to day. liǎng tiān 两天 (2 days)
But for month and week, we are using "gè 个" for month and week, as in yí ge yuè一个月 (1 month) and sān gè xīng qī 三个星期 (three weeks)