(#28) Counters / 个

In this post we are going to discuss counters, or in mandarin, 量词 liang4 ci2.

In the previous posts, littered here and there, the counter 个 ge4 had already appeared, but I didn’t explain much about it. Counters are aplenty in the chinese language, and it is one of the ways that the language is so colourful.

Counters are also present in english, for example “a cup of coffee”, “a piece of paper”, but all in all, they are still not as commonly used as compared to chinese. Okay let’s just get to the lesson.

个 ge4, as you might had noticed, is one of the most frequently used counter in chinese, but even so, I don’t think it made up even 10% of all the counters that are used. 个 ge4 can be used for very general items, and sometimes in replacement of other counters. Unfortunately, there is no rules to it, and you have to try to remember them as you come across them.

Examples of 个 ge4 used for very general items:

   yi1 ge4 ren3   a person
东西   yi1 ge4 dong1 xi1   a thing
地方   yi1 ge4 di4 fang1   a place

Examples of 个 ge4 used for a humble ownself

一个我   yi1 ge4 wo3   a me
自己   yi1 ge4 zi4 ji3   a myself

Examples of 个 ge4 used for (more) intangible things:

想法   yi1 ge4 xiang3 fa3   an idea
影子   yi1 ge4 ying3 zi3   a shadow
吻   yi1 ge4 wen3   a kiss
早上   yi1 ge4 zao3 shang4   a morning

Examples of 个 ge4 used in replacement of other counters:

苹果 yi1 ge4 ping2 guo3 an apple; it can also be 一苹果 yi4 ke1 ping2 guo3/一苹果 yi4 li4 ping2 guo3
老师 yi1 ge4 lao3 shi1 a teacher; it can also be 一老师 yi1 wei4 lao3 shi4
手 yi1 ge4 shou3 a hand; it can also be 一yi1 zhi1 shou3
yi1 ge4 men2 a door; it can also be 一yi1 shan4 men2

Although 个 ge4 can replace some other counters, using the correct counters is a sneaky way to gauge the standard of language when mandarin speakers communicate.

And you probably had noticed that 个 ge4 cannot be directly translated because there is no english equivilent, so it may be a good way to decide if you want to differenciate if you can use 个 ge4 or you have to use some specific counter — if in english the sentence make sense without a counter, you probably can use 个 ge4 in the mandarin sentence.

I wanted to introduce more than one counter in this post, but there are just too much to talk about 个 ge4, so I’ll leave other ocounters to other time.

New Vocabulary:

  • 想法 xiang3 fa3 an idea
  • 影子 ying3 zi3 a shadow
  • 吻 wen3 a kiss
  • 手 shou3 a hand
  • 门 men2 a door
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