In the book titled "Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide", the author writes the following:

In mainland China, in informal speech, 个 can be used as the classifier for almost any noun, even those with an established classifier. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as 个化 "ge-ization.".

It also shows some examples:

一个车 (not 一辆车)

一个房子 (not 一所房子)

Now I wonder if it is permissible to use 个 in any nouns. What kind of impressions do you get if people use 个 in any nouns? Is it considered rude or looks childish? In what kind of "informal" situations is it OK to use 个 in any nouns?

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    If I heard someone saying 一个车, or 一个房子, I would think he is a new learner of the Chinese language. I usually would try to correct him or her. If it is in a casual conversation, and I don't want to get off topic, I would just let it slide.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 21:15
  • @TangHo So don't natives use it? At least since the word 个化 is invented, I guess some natives use it.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 21:18
  • Native speakers would use correct classifiers, I think 个化 is just a sign of native speakers tolerate beginning learners misuse of classifiers during conversation. If we try to correct every mistake a new learner made, the conversation would get off tracked.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 21:23
  • "外国人实用汉语语法"汉语里有丰富的量词。很多事物都可以计量,而且都有自己的量词,不能乱用。因此需要记住每个量词的用法,这是外国人学习汉语时不可忽视的。
    – user6065
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 21:54
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    @TangHo, there are studies about native speakers doing this, so it's unlikely that it's the result of "tolerat[ing] beginning learners". Also, the question of how common it is is independent of how prescriptively correct it is (or how it relates to formality). In my own experience, adults seem to very consistently use productive classifiers (e.g., the shaped-based classifiers, 辆 for vehicles, etc.), even in casual conversation. The only specific case of adult-native 个化 that I can recall from my personal experience was for the word 电脑. Maybe I'd have more if I knew more MWs used w/few nouns? Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


I would say somehow it's true in informal circumstances.

But I don't quite agree with the definition of 个化 above in which 个 as a classifier is going with nouns. When you say 一个车 or 一个房子 alone, it definitely sounds odd and ignorant.

My take to this, instead, is 个 goes with a verb, being the form of "verb+个". Then it becomes the casual way to express the action of verbs. For example, 我去提个车, 我去打个水, 我去玩个电脑, 我去乘个车,我打个游戏, 我推个车, 我骑个马 ....... Those sentences sound definitely natural to a native ear. If you say 我去提一辆车,我去打一盆水......, it sounds more formal than the sentences above.

Almost everything can express like that. Again, the point is that it has to go with a verb, instead standing alone. 一个车,一个水,一个电脑,一个马,those terms alone sounds ignorant. 一个游戏 sounds ok because 个/款 are right classifiers for it.

I suggest you carefully use this rule in informal situations before you get the hang of it.

  • Thanks. Is it neither correct nor natural to say 我去提辆车 or 我去打盆水 (without 一)?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 11:11
  • Yeah, both are correct.
    – dan
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 12:26
  • Which sounds more natural?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 15:29
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    我去提辆车, 我去打盆水, 我去提个车,我去打个水,我去打一盆水,我去提一辆车, they're all natural and idiomatic.
    – dan
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 0:41

A lot of students (like me, for quite a long time) are under the (mistaken) impression that each noun has its particular measure word, and if we forget that the measure word for 灯 is 盏 (*gasp*), the stuck-up grammar police officer will tell us off.

However, the reality is that measure words measure things, and furthermore, different measure words measure things differently, such as:

水 = "a bottle of water"
水 = "a glass of water"
水 = "a tonne of water"

Yes, often it is harmless to blindly use 个, but it's sometimes not so simple:

  1. Changing the measure word to 个 sometimes changes the meaning to something quite different:

    人 = "three people"
    人 = "three groups of people"
    人 = "three families"

    蛋糕 = "a (whole) cake"
    蛋糕 = "a slice of cake"

    手机 = "a mobile phone"
    手机 = "a model of mobile phone"

  2. The measure word 个 simply doesn't work for non-countable nouns, like:

    水 = "a water" (x)
    豆腐 = "a tofu" (x)

  3. Sometimes there are multiple natural ways of measuring something, and it's not clear what 个 would replace:

    玉米 = "a cob of corn"
    玉米 = "a kernel of corn"

  4. When there are multiple nouns, distinct measure words can eliminate ambiguity, such as in:

    三位老师不喜欢的学校 = "the schools disliked by three teachers"
    三所老师不喜欢的学校 = "three schools disliked by teachers"

    In this way, being aware of the appropriate measure words is especially helpful in parsing long sentences.

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    I think sometimes the wrong usage happened when at the spur of the moment in a casual conversation the correct classifier / measure word just slipped the mind and so the almost universality and non-specific nature of "个" comes in as a handy default, rather than having to pause mid-sentence to rack up the appropriate one. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 14:12

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