Sunday, January 15, 2012

Measure words: 把 (bǎ) and 本 (běn)

Let’s pick up where we left off and look at couple more measure words in Chinese language. We have already learned 个 (gè), 只 (zhǐ), 顶 (dǐng), 张 (zhāng) and 条 (tiáo). Today let’s learn when to use the measure words 把 (bǎ) and 本 (běn).

把 (bǎ)

把 (bǎ) is a measure word most commonly used to quantify objects that can be grasped or objects with a handle. Few examples below:

一把刀 (yī bǎ dāo): a knife
一把椅子 (yī bǎ yǐzi): a chair
一把茶壶 (yī bǎ cháhú): a teapot

It can also be used to quantify a handful of something:

一把米 (yī bǎ mǐ): a handful of rice
一把花 (yī bǎ huā): a bunch of flowers

本 (běn)

本 (běn) is a measure word used for books.

一本书 (yī běn shū): a book
一本小说 (yī běn xiǎoshuō): a novel
一本字典 (yī běn zìdiǎn): a dictionary

It can also be used to quantify bound documents or paper products:

一本相册 (yī běn xiàngcè): a photo album


  1. Thanks for a useful post! I found I have gone through 4 phases wrt measure words, while studying Chinese.
    1. What the hell are measure words? If I close my eyes maybe they'll go away.
    2. Learn a few basic ones, but probably used 'ge' most of the time anyway :-)
    3. Ignored them. They weren't going away, but they didn't really bother me at all. People could understand me anyway.
    4. Realising that because I didn't know many measure words, so when reading a sentence, I would get confused what that word was dong there, until I realised it was a measure word. So now I'm actively learning them again :-)

    Your 把 (bǎ) is a great example. I was reading a sentence about an umbrella (把雨伞), but I was confused that 把 was being used in the usual context to indicate indirect object - and that really confused me!!

  2. Thank you americanepali

    Greg, that is an amazing analysis of four phases of measure words. I clearly remember going through atleast three of them. I tried ignoring them too, but like you said they would appear everywhere and I wouldn't know what it was. Thank you for the comment.

  3. Great post! Besides 个, these are probably the two most useful measure words in Chinese.
    I think it's interesting measure words form such a fundamental part of Chinese, since they ignore a lot of other grammar concepts (e.g. conjugating verbs, articles etc). Of course, from a 'survival Chinese' perspective, measure words are a fairly low priority, since you can make yourself (sort of) understood without them.
    I have my own vocab page with more measure words, if you're interested.