Apparently both are measure words for flat objects, are they interchangeable or is there a difference to the types of flat objects they are used for?

  • see dictionaries, e.g. bkrs: classifier for flat objects, sheet(用于纸、皮子等): 一张纸 a piece (sheet) of paper 两张画 two pictures 一张银狐皮 a silver fox fur 五张铁板 five iron plates (用于床、桌子等): 一张床 a bed 四张桌子 four tables 七张犁 seven ploughs (用于嘴、脸): 一张笑脸 a smiling face classifier for flat surfaces such as drums, mirrors, flags etc 一面镜子 三面红旗 见过一面 (met once)
    – user6065
    Oct 24, 2017 at 10:07

3 Answers 3


张 literally means 'extend'. It is a classifier for something with a thin, flat surface , typically in rectangular shape

Typical objects with 张 as classifier:

一张纸 = a sheet of paper

一张刀 = a knife (refer to the broad side of the knife)

一张桌子 = a table (refer to the surface of the table)

一张照片 = a photograph (which has a flat surface)

面 literally means 'face'. It is a classifier for something with a 'face-side'. It can be in rectangular, oval, circular or other irregular shapes.

Typical objects with 面 as classifier:

一面镜子 = a mirror (only the face-side reflects image)

一面奖牌 = a medal plate (which has a face-side)

雷达 (radar) has a 'face side', but due to its huge size , 座 is used for its classifier, as in 一座雷达.

硬币 (coin) has a 'face side' but due to it's small size, 枚 is used for its classifier, as in 一枚硬币

  • We say 一 奖章.
    – dan
    Oct 24, 2017 at 9:02
  • Some objects can use different classifier according to other factors, 一面奖章 and 一枚奖章 are both acceptable, 一 枚奖章 is probably a small medal, I would change the example to 一面奖牌 to illustrate the point more specifically
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 24, 2017 at 9:28
  • If a 奖牌 is very big and has a stand, the classifier can be changed to 一座. If a 奖章 is as big as a hand, it has to be called 一面奖章
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 24, 2017 at 9:36
  • 奖章/奖牌 are just small ones, so 一枚奖章/奖牌. The bigger ones could be 奖杯,奖状, which is 一座奖杯 and 一张奖状 respectively.
    – dan
    Oct 24, 2017 at 9:46
  • I agree with @dan on 一枚奖牌 / 奖章
    – blackgreen
    Oct 24, 2017 at 12:38

张 (zhang1) is used for different objects, that may or may not be related with each other, e.g. sheets and flat furniture. If we really want to find a common denominator, I think that would be objects that are spread open [1]:

  • 纸 paper (一张纸 a sheet of paper)
  • 地图 map
  • 照片 photo, picture
  • 桌子 table
  • 床 bed
  • 木板 plank
  • 脸 face (一张脸)
  • 嘴 mouth (一张嘴)
  • 弓 (gong1) bow (一张弓)

面 (mian4) is used for flat objects with a face or a surface:

  • 镜子 mirror
  • 旗子 flag
  • 墙、墙壁 wall
  • 鼓 drum
  • 锣 (luo2) gong
  • 盾 (dun4) shield

[1] that's not a dictionary definition. It's personal advice that hopefully makes enough sense to you to work as a reasonable rule of thumb.

  • I think this is the best distinction we could possibly get. There is no perfect rule of thumb for this indeed.
    – dan
    Oct 24, 2017 at 23:20

面 as a measure word is used for only a handful of objects, 墙 镜子 鼓 and 旗 are all I can come up with. It stresses that the object has a flat surface.

张 indicates that the object is flat and thin (usually can be held with two fingers, like paper or cards), while 面 doesn't.

Usually they are not interchangeable.

  • 张 for thin objects overlooks 床 and 卓 which are very common occurrences
    – blackgreen
    Oct 24, 2017 at 12:41
  • You are right. I forgot them. Oct 25, 2017 at 2:00

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