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Both of these two words 条 and 根 in the dictionary are said to be measure words for long and thin objects. What are the differences between them?

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  • can be a measure word for huge things. For example, 一条河, 一条烟囱, 一条船(all long and thin but huge) - you can't use 根 for huge things

  • can be a measure word for living things. For example, 一条蚯蚓, 一条蛇, 一条狗 (all long and thin and alive) - Don't use 根 for living things

  • can be a measure word for thin and long things with flat surface, For example, 一条手帕. 一条毛巾 (both long and thin and have a flat surface) - You can't use 根 for things that have a flat surface

  • can be a measure word for abstract concepts. For example, 一条规矩, 一条题目

  • is more common when used as a measure word for tiny things. For example, 一根绣花针, 一根火柴, 一根松针, 一根头发, 一根汗毛, (all long, thin and tiny)

  • can also replace 根 when used as a measure word for tiny things especially objects from living things. For example, 一根头发, 一根汗毛; 一条头发, 一条汗毛

For things that are not huge, tiny, alive or have a flat surface 條 and 根 are often interchangeable. For example, 一条长棍, 一根长棍, 一条短棒, 一根短棒

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  • 一条题目sounds a little bit weird. I only use道 for 题目. And I don't even know the word 规举, did you mean 规矩? Also the word巾 doesn't sounds like Mandarin to me, I've only seen multi-syllable words using this character. – 炸鱼薯条德里克 Mar 16 '19 at 2:51
  • @炸鱼薯条德里克 Must be a Cantonese thing to say 一条题目 and 一条规矩 – Tang Ho Mar 16 '19 at 3:13
  • Never heard of 一条头发, 一条汗毛. 一条烟囱 is odd too. Maybe, the choices for measure words are regional. – dan Mar 17 '19 at 11:47
  • I have never heard of 一根铅笔 neither – Tang Ho Mar 17 '19 at 11:49
  • How about 一根木头? – 賈可 Jacky Mar 21 '19 at 5:15
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Starting from the essential meanings of these two measure words, 条 is the small branch of tree, and 根 is the root of tree. In daily conversation, 条 is used for things that may be long and wiggly, such as 一条河(river), while 根 is for long, straight objects, such as 一根香菸(cigarette).

Sometimes, 条 and 根 are interchangeable, we can say 一条 or 一根 香蕉(banana), or 香腸(sausage).

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  • 2
    There is an interesting comparison, 一条烟 and 一根烟 are different. – zyy Mar 15 '19 at 13:06
  • 一条烟 is one carton of cigarettes, and 一根烟 is just one cigarette. – Eyton Mar 16 '19 at 0:35
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My experince is that 根 is used for small and hard objects such as 铅笔,香蕉,香烟, etc. Well, 条 is usually for big and soft ones like 蛇,河,船, 围巾,etc.

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  • 一枝铅笔 is more common; and how is 一条船 soft and 一条蚯蚓 big? – Tang Ho Mar 16 '19 at 16:15
  • @TangHo 一根铅笔 is common too. 一支铅笔 sounds a little bit formal maybe. 船 is big and 蚯蚓 is soft. I don't think there is a good hard-and-fast rule for it anyway. – dan Mar 17 '19 at 0:01
  • @TangHo 当我第一眼看到铅笔的时候我第一反应也是,不应该是“一支铅笔”吗?但仔细想想,我们那儿(北方)方言,全是说“根”的。“给我来根儿笔”,“给我来根儿烟”,哈哈 – Zhang Mar 22 '19 at 9:24
  • @dan 论“支”是formal还是normal我也说不清了,反正现在北漂在北京,我家孩子是说“支”的,我跟她也说“支”。都快忘了我原来是说“根”的。 – Zhang Mar 22 '19 at 9:28

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