In the following sentence:


The sentence mean something like the following:

Except math books, I also like books about history and literature. When I have time, I often keep reading for several hours.

The sentence likely have the following missing structure, if I understand it correctly:


But then I don't understand how 头 works here. It is clear (for me) that it means "read", or at least work as a verb, but according to my dictionary 头 does not work as a verb.

So how does 头 work here? And is my understanding correct here?

  • 鐘頭 is a colloquial word for hour, more properly expressed as 小時. Some topolects use this word more than others.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 6:40
  • bkrs:待 5) used to express short duration of an action (in Russian), 一 here, each, all, thus "each time for several hours"
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 6:47
  • 1
    @droooze Then 几个钟头 should be packed into one phrase (several hours) and the verb is totally omitted here, right? Later I will edit and add more context if it is insufficient.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 6:55
  • @Blaszard you got it. The last part is trying to express something like the time commonly flies by when I get into this reading mode.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 6:57
  • 2
    how can there be any doubt about the meaning of 钟头 #11332, are there any online dictionaries w/o it? Also see previous Q, How does 鐘頭 come to mean hour?
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 7:28

3 Answers 3


As the comments have pointed out, 鐘頭 is a colloquial word which means hour, used in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Wu (e.g. Shanghainese). Other topolects may have their own colloquialisms, the most prominent being 點鐘 (used in Hakka, Min Dong and Min Nan). Mandarin also uses the word 點鐘, but more commonly for the meaning o'clock rather than hour.

The word 鐘頭 comes from an old word for hour, 鐘點 [1], where 點 refers to the hourly divisions in a day. 點 was replaced with 頭, which is a diminutive suffix. For reference, similar words which use this suffix:

  • 木頭
  • 老頭

The word 鐘頭 was likely popularised by modern Chinese literature, e.g. in the work 《日出》 by 曹禺, which was written in the 1930s.

曹禺 《日出ㆍ第四幕》: “那就看您這幾個鐘頭的本事吧。 我福升實在不能再替你擋這門賬了。”

  1. 李六如 《六十年的變遷ㆍ第二卷ㆍ第九章》: “‘錢就少啦。 ’ 方維夏 把中學待遇略微講一點。 ‘也是按鐘點計算。 公立的一塊錢一點鐘, 私立的八角。 ’”

钟 = clock; 头 = unit

'钟头' is a compound word for 'hour' , if you take the term 钟头 apart, 钟 would simply mean 'clock' and 头 would simply mean 'head'. They have to be joined together to form a single term 'hour'

Somewhat related notes:

We use 头 as a classifier for decent sized animals. For example: "一头牛" = a head of cow (头 is a unit for counting cow)

In Cantonese, we have a dim sum item called '盅頭飯' (rice in a cup/bowl). '盅頭' in '盅頭飯' is a adjectival phrase for 'comes in cup/bowl or with dish as unit'

Similarly '碟頭' in '碟頭飯' means 'comes in dish or with dish as unit'

  • 1
    previous Q, How does 鐘頭 come to mean hour? chinese.stackexchange.com/…
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 9:07
  • 頭 (unit) on the 鐘(clock)
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 9:13
  • Comment #1is not a question, "How does 鐘頭 come to mean hour? " is the title of previous relevant Q (=post)
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 11:19

Figuratively, think about the clock (钟) and 头 -> head, 钟头 the head of clock. When the minute hand points to 12 o'clock(the beginning of an hour), the new hour starts. So, that's why we use 钟头 to indicate hour.

For example, 三个钟头 indicates that the minute hand passed the beginning of an hour (that is 12 o'clock) 3 times, which indicates 3 hours has passed.

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