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For example, "我有房子", but why not "我有一栋房子"? Why "我有孩子" and not "我有一个孩子"? Why "我不是坏人" and not "我不是一个坏人"?

Thanks

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Your first two examples are not proper ones, since Chinese grammar do not usually use plural or singular form, 我有房子 could mean "I have a house" or "I have houses" ; 我有孩子 could mean " I have a child" or "I have children".

As for the third example, 我不是坏人, since 坏人 is a description word for the subject, no matter the subject is singular or plural, therefore, classifier is not needed.

The subject can be 我,我們 or 我們三個,

我不是壞人

我們不是壞人

我們三個不是壞人

in all three cases, 壞人 does not require a classifier

  • if you write 我們三個不是(三個)壞人 , the second qualifier (三個 ) would be redundant, we know it is three from the subject 我們三個

  • if you write 我不是(一個)壞人, (一個) would also be redundant, we know it is one from the subject 我

  • if you write 我們不是(兩個/一群)壞人 , (兩個/一群 ) would be redundant, we would know the subject is "two people" or "a group of people" from previous context.

Although writing "我不是一个坏人" is not grammatically wrong, keeping your writing as direct and as simple as possible (for example, omitting subject, object whenever possible) is considered good form of writing by most writers.

  • Thanks a lot. I understand the third example much better now. I'm still a little confused about the first two though. Why aren't they proper? I was talking to a Chinese person and he asked “你有房子吗". Why wouldn't he ask ”你有一栋房子吗“? It's much more likely that I only have one house, not more than one. Also, if 我有房子 can mean both a house and houses, what is the point in measure words and words such as 一些 ? – Henny Aug 12 '16 at 15:02
  • if someone ask you “你有房子吗" you can reply: "有" or "我有房子" without stating how many house you have; on the other hand, you can answer in more detail, like " 我有一栋房子" or "我有三栋房子"-- If he ask ”你有一栋房子吗?“ the focus is the number of house you have. This point can be illustrated more clearly if the question was " 你有三栋房子吗?" – Tang Ho Aug 12 '16 at 16:44
  • This point can be illustrated more clearly if the question was " 你有三栋房子吗?" or " 你有栋房子?" – Tang Ho Aug 12 '16 at 17:08
  • Ah! Ok. So questions that like those (that don't include a measure word)are perfectly OK questions, they are simply asking me if I posess a house (or any number of houses), as opposed to asking me if I have a specific number of houses. I think I understand. Thanks a lot for your time! – Henny Aug 12 '16 at 20:58
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Classifiers are not needed when there is no qualifier such as a numeral involved. Compare 有孩子 with 有三个孩子, the numeral 三 justifies a classifier.

Classifiers are also used in some other contexts, such as when a noun is preceded by 这 or 那: 这个, 那本.

  • CL required for numbers(数词) and demonstrative pronouns(指示代词)"这、那" (colloquially(?)CL often omitted) and interrogative pronoun(疑问代词)"哪", – user6065 Aug 12 '16 at 13:19
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  • If no measure words, the sentence will be focus on "是/不是" "有/没有"
  • If have measure words, the sentence will be focus on "measure words"

Sometimes it only omit the number and keep measurement unit , it have little difference with number & unit. Take the three sentences to compare:

  1. "我不是一个坏人" --> I am not a bad man
  2. "我不是坏人" --> I am not a bad man
  3. "我不是坏人" --> I am not a bad man
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There's a slight difference in meaning in those cases. Measure words always indicate a determined quantity. Compare:

我有房子。 I have a house. or I have houses.
我有一栋房子。 I have one house.

我有孩子。 I have a child. or I have children.
我有一个孩子。 I have one child.

我不是坏人。 I'm not a bad person.
我不是一个坏人。 I'm not one bad person. (I might be two or three bad people, whatever that means)

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