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Measure Words in Cantonese

Updated: Jun 18



In Cantonese, as in other Sino-Tibetan languages like Mandarin, measure words (also known as classifiers) are used to specify the quantity of a given noun. For example, we use the measure word 隻 [zek3] to count animals, the measure word 個 [go3] to count inanimate objects, and the measure word 條 [tiu4] to count long, thin objects. Unlike in English, where you would simply say "three dogs" or "five cups" for regular nouns, in Cantonese you use a measure word between the numeral and the noun (regardless of countability). This is similar to saying "three slices of bread" or "a cup of water" in English, where "slices" and "cup" serve as measure words for "bread" and "water," respectively, in order to quantify them.


Measure words are an important part of Cantonese grammar. They are used in a variety of contexts, including when giving directions, ordering food, and talking about the weather. Cantonese learners with an English background may struggle to understand this notion of measure words because it is used far more extensively in Cantonese, than in English, and we don't often think about these points of grammar when speaking.

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