When and when not to use measure words?

December 18, 2009, 04:52 PM posted in General Discussion

I know you would have to use a measure word if you wanted to say something like "I have two pieces of cake" - "我有两块糕" but that kind of example speaks for itself; ie: when we use an "English measure word" (such as "piece" of news, "slice" of bread") you would have to use a Chinese measure word. I totally understand the idea that Chinese measure words do not have direct translations or equivalents in English but I think it's fair to say when you use a measure word (of sorts) in English, you need one in Chinese. Although having said that, it's clear that Chinese uses far more measure words than English does.

So how do we know when to use a measure word in Chinese? I know they come before nouns, but are they always before every noun? That's what I'm getting at. How do I know whether or not I should put a measure word in? Eg: 他吃汉堡包 doesn't use a measure word but 我喜欢巧克力 does. So what is the difference?! On the internet, I found this statement:

"Chinese measure words must be used whenever the noun is used with a numeral or after 'this' or 'that'."

How true is that? Are there exceptions? If it's true, it might just meet another one of my needs of wanting a rule for ever grammar 'subject'! hehe

Emma ^.^

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December 18, 2009, 05:40 PM

First of all: "我喜欢巧克力" doesn't have a measure word.

Second: Yes, that rule is true.

Third: There's a Qing Wen on exactly this subject, though I'm too lazy to look it up for you. I'm sure you can find it yourself.

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December 18, 2009, 06:26 PM

Ah okay, thanks ^.^ That's helped to clear it up. Here's the Qing Wen in question if any passerby readers were interested:


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December 19, 2009, 07:17 PM

Also, in formal writing and speaking, you often don't use measure words before nouns with some level of abstraction.  For example - 就对于这一问题进行广泛讨论。Best not to use 个 before 问题.  Ancient Chinese lacked measure words, and formal Chinese is often heavily influenced by it...

Also, in very colloquial situations, some speakers drop measure words before concrete objects.  I know this is done in informal Beijing dialect, not sure about others...

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December 19, 2009, 08:11 PM

Thank you timslsm ^.^ That's really interesting, the formal/colloquial use of measure words. One of my Chinese friend's is from Beijing so I'll ask her about the use or lack of measure words. Thanks for sharing that; I'll be sure to do a bit of asking around with my Chinese friends.