In Chinese, learning nouns is not enough. The reason is simple: every noun in Chinese has to stick with a measure word. As there are more than a hundred measure words in Mandarin Chinese, the only way to learn them by heart is to memorize them. And it is always a good idea to learn the measure word together with the nouns.
What are Chinese Measure Words
In Chinese, measure words are called 量词. Similar to English, Chinese uses measure words for types of objects. So, for “a cup of water”, it is “一杯水“ in Chinese. However, measure words are used more than that. For example, “An apple” is “一个苹果” and “a book” is “一本书”, etc. Often there are sets of measure words used for certain groups of nouns. In this article, let’s have a look at the common Chinese measures words for animals.
4 Common Chinese Measure Words for Animals
Chinese Measure Word 只 (zhī)
There are 4 common measure words when we describe animals in Chinese. The most common one is a generic measure word – 只 (zhī)， which is the generic measure word for animals.
The animal words that go with 个 are listed below:
yì zhī māo
liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ
sān zhī piáo chóng
sì zhī niǎo
wǔ zhī hú dié
liù zhī jī
qī zhī lǎoshǔ
bā zhī yáng
jiǔ zhī tùzǐ
Note that the measure word 只 (zhī) is normally used with smaller animals. For larger animals (pigs, cows, or elephants, for example), 头 is used.
Chinese Measure Word – 头 (tóu)
头 (tóu) refers to a head of something when used as a measure word. It is used for big animals such as livestock as well as wild animals.
yì tóu zhū
liǎng tóu niú
sān tóu lǘ zi
sì tóu shī zi
wǔ tóu dà xiàng
Chinese Measure Word – 条 (tiáo)
条 (tiáo) is the measure word for things in a long, narrow shape – fish, snakes, for example.
yì tiáo yú
liǎng tiáo shé
Sān tiáo qiū yǐn
Sì tiáo máo mao chóng
Chinese Measure Word – 匹 pǐ
匹 pǐ is used with horses.
yī pǐ mǎ
Different Uses of Measure words
There are some animals that can have two measure words.
一只狗 or 一条狗?
Both are used with dogs. 只 is used in most cases, more often with dogs as pets. 条 is used more for the dogs with a slender shape, and most often wild. 只 implies an emotional attachment; 条 is more indifferent. So, both 一只狗 (yī zhī gǒu) and 一条狗 (is correct.
一只虫 or 一条虫？
虫子 refers to all kinds of insects in Chinese. When we talk about bugs, we use 只; when we talk about worms, we use 条. That means, both 一只虫 yī zhǐ chóng and yī tiáo chóng are correct.
只 is for 老虎 and 头 is for 狮子
Tigers and lions are both wild animals. However, we describe 老虎 (tiger) with 只 and 狮子 （Lion） with 头. The reason is that 狮子 is bigger than 老虎. We should say, 一只老虎 yī zhī lǎo hǔ and 一头狮子 yī tóu shī zi.
Chinese Measure Words For Animals Flashcards
These flashcards are great for kids to use for practicing and mastering the combination of measure words and animals. There are two sets of flashcards: one has an image of an animal and its name in Chinese; the other has an image of the animal, pinyin, and Chinese words. These Montessori 3-part flashcards are effective for kids to learn Chinese vocabulary.
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