This morning in Taipei I went to buy a coffee.

I knew how to say 我要一杯咖啡 and I knew the word for big is 大.

But I didn't know where in the sentence to put the 大. Does it go before 杯 to mean "big cup"? Or if 杯 is a classifier rather than a noun here, I guess it can't take an adjective. Unless it can actually function as both noun and classifier at once?

Or alternatively would it go before 咖啡? That sounds odd when I back-translate literally into English "I want one cup of big coffee". But you can never trust literal translations to be idiomatic anyway.

  • @ChristopheStrobbe: Thanks for fixing my dumb mistake in the title! Aug 10, 2016 at 2:32

3 Answers 3


I'm not a linguist, just a native speaker. My opinion is that 大 should go before 杯, i.e. 我要一大杯咖啡, since I have never heard anyone said 我要一杯大咖啡.

Words like 杯 are called 量词(sorry I don't know the exact term), and the adjectives about amount are always placed before 量词. For example, 一大碗饭= a bowl of a lot of rice, 一大把花= a bunch of many flowers.

Maybe this solution is not satisfying; sorry I can't explain it in detail. 量词 is actually quite sophisticated, and is often omitted when translated into English. I hope this article will help (well it's written in Chinese).

  • Wow, I'm back in Taiwan and just asked my host and she said this way sounds childish or sounds like I want a gigantic cup. She gave me the same answer that Cristophe gives. Feb 1, 2019 at 12:19

Personally I've used



I don't know if it's the best way to say it, but I've never had any problem being understood this way...


The adjective is always placed directly before the noun, so it is correct to phrase the sentence as: (我)(要)(一杯)(大)(咖啡 ) (I)(want)(a cup of )(large)(coffee)

  • (a cup of) is the quantity word and classifier,
  • 大 in 大咖啡 is short for "大杯 / 大碼" (large cup/ large size ), it is still functioning as an adjective, but the phrase 大杯咖啡 / 大碼咖啡 is treated as one item on the menu, so you can call it a noun.


so, 一大杯咖啡 or 餃子一小份 is incorrect then?

It is not incorrect, the adjective is just modifying different objects in the phrases:

  1. 大杯咖啡 (one large cup of coffee); 一小份餃子 (one small order of dumplings)

  2. 一杯大咖啡 (one cup of large coffee); 一份小餃子 (one order of small dumpling(s))

  3. 大咖啡一杯 (large coffee, one cup); 小餃子一份 (small dumpling(s), one order)

  4. 咖啡一大杯 (coffee, one large cup); 餃子一小份 (dumplings, one small order)

小 in 小餃子 can be the adjective (small) that modify the noun 餃子(dumpling), meaning "the size of individual dumpling is small; it can also be shorthand for 小份, "小(份)餃子" = "small (order of) dumplings", meaning the number of dumplings is small.

  • After I posted the question here I kept Googling and one site, I think English WIkipedia, said that when the number is 一 there is a special case and the adjective can actually come either before or after the classifier. Is that true? By the way words don't really have a "front" and many people would interpret "in front of" to mean "before", so it's clearer in English to write "before" or "after". Aug 7, 2016 at 4:56
  • 1
    I don't think there's any exception regarding the order of adjective and noun in Chinese grammar. But a classifier can be placed before or after a noun, for example -- 一杯大碼咖啡 (a cup of large coffee) = 大碼咖啡一杯(large coffee, one cup)
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 7, 2016 at 5:21
  • Wouldn't 大碼 be considered "adjective+noun" here or would it be an adjective phrase? Apologies for being such a newbie! Aug 7, 2016 at 5:25
  • 1
    大= large, 碼=size, it is an adjective phrase for " large-sized"
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 7, 2016 at 5:30
  • 1
    So, is 一大杯咖啡 or 餃子一小份 incorrect?!@TangHo I keep hearing these every day!
    – Ludi
    Aug 7, 2016 at 11:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.