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Chinese Measure Words (Part 1): People, Animals, Plants


measure words people


person, thing 人 (yī gè rén) “a person”

小孩 (wǔ gè xiǎohái) “five children”

The character actually contains the symbol for person, but this measure word is used not only for people, but any other thing that doesn’t have a more appropriate measure word (or it does but we cannot remember it).

东西 (yī gè dōngxī) “a thing”

例子 (jǔ gè lìzi) “give an example”

解决问题 (jiějué gè wèntí) “resolve a problem”

wèi person More respectful than 个, and used only for people.

女生 (yī wèi nǚshēng) “a woman”

男生 (yī wèi nánshēng) “a man”

老師 (sān wèi lǎoshī) “three teachers”

míng person, professional 名 means “name”.  Typically used when naming a person’s occupation.

医生 (yī míng yīshēng) “a doctor”

律師 (sān míng lǜshī) “three lawyers”

When used as a measure word,名 can always be substituted with 位.

kǒu dependent 口 means “mouth”.  As a measure word, it is rarely used in speech.

家眷 (liù kǒu jiājuàn) “six dependents”

corpse 具 here describes something concrete or stiff.

尸体 (yījù shītǐ) “a corpse”

household 人家 (shí hù rénjiā) “ten households”


measure words animals


zhī animal 鸟 (yī zhī niǎo) “a bird”

狗 (yī zhǐ gǒu) “a dog”

象 (yī zhǐ xiàng) “an elephant”


tóu livestock 猪 (yī tóu zhū) “a pig”

牛 (yī tóu niú) “a cow”

头 means “head”, you can think of it as “a head of cattle”

horse 马 (yī pǐ mǎ) “a horse”


tiáo fish, snakes 鱼 (yītiáo yú) “a fish”

蛇 (yī tiáo shé) “a snake”

In contrast to the above measure words, 条 refers to the shape of the animal.  We will see条in the Size & Shape category.


measure words plants

tree 树 (yī kē shù) “a tree”

The character’s left side is the symbol for “wood”

zhū plant, flower still in the ground 花 (yī zhū huā) “a flower”
duǒ flower bulb or stem 玫瑰 (yī duǒ méiguī) “a stem of rose”

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Joe Varadi

Joe Varadi lived and studied in Shanghai and Taiwan, in a simpler time before blogs and smartphones got big. He is the creator of Trasee! for Chinese Trasee, a mobile app for Chinese reading and handwriting that incorporates many of the techniques he developed while learning Mandarin.

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