I'm having trouble locating a grammatical rule that explains if I should use counters in certain situations, I'll give you some examples

这个是什么 (What is this?) 

Do I need the counter in that sentence? Would it be grammatical without it?

那是我的自行车 (That is my bicycle)

Does this sentence make sense even though there is no counter?

Can anyone explain this rule for me?

  • what is "counters"? – Yves May 22 '20 at 8:09
  • @Yves 量词, 个, 只, 瓶, 头 etc... Also known as measure words. – hamsolo474 - Reinstate Monica May 22 '20 at 8:12
  • It can be omitted. 这个 = 这,那个 = 那 – Yves May 22 '20 at 8:26

The answer lies in the difference between a ''Specifier'' and a ''Demonstrative''.

In English the words ''this'' and ''that'' can each function as specifiers or demonstratives.

The same goes for the Chinese words 这 and 那.

Specifiers occur as part of a noun phrase. This/That book is mine.

Demonstratives are used to point out an item. This/That is my book.

A simple heuristic is that demonstratives are followed by the verb ''to be'' or the ''copula''.

This is / 这是 Demonstrative. No counter used.

This book / 这本书 Specifier. Counter must be used.


For specifiers 这 and 那 must be followed by a counter or a number+counter.

This book. 这本书。

These three books. 这三本书。

这是什么? What is this ? (This is what ?) Verb ''to be'' follows ''this'', therefore it is a demonstrative and doesn't require a counter.

这个是什么? What is this thing/one/item ? Here the word ''this'' is part of the noun phrase ''this thing'', therefore it is a specifier and requires a counter.

那是我的自行车。 That is my bicycle.

那个是我的自行车。 That one is my bicycle.


Specifiers can be pronounced as nei and zhei, but demonstratives can not.

Specifier. You must say: 这(zhe)是什么?You can't say 这(zhei)是什么?

Demonstrative. You can say both: 这(zhe)个是什么? or 这(zhei)个是什么?


这儿/那儿 and 这里/那里 are neither specifiers nor demonstratives and can't be pronounced as zhei or nei.


For the plural These/Those , demonstratives take 些 (这些/那些) while specifiers do not. Specifiers simpy specify using number+counter.

Demonstrative. These are mine. 这些是我的。

Specifier. These three are mine. 这三个是我的。


If the English starts with ''This/That + is'' or ''These/Those + are'' then no counter is required.

  • So if I am understanding correctly, let's say I was at the baggage claim at an airport and I wanted to say "That's my bag" just as a general statement I would say, 那是我的包. but if someone else tried to collect my bag and I protested I would say "That bag is my bag" 那个是我的包 which is much more specific. Is that right? – hamsolo474 - Reinstate Monica May 23 '20 at 6:53
  • 1
    @hamsolo474-ReinstateMonica Exactly. (That is my bag.) 那是我的包。(That is mine.) 那是我的。(That bag is mine.) 那个包是我的。(That one is mine.) 那个是我的。(That one is my bag.) 那个是我的包。(That bag is my bag.) 那个包是我的包。 – Kantura May 23 '20 at 15:12

You don't necessarily need a counter or classifier in that case. 這個是什麼 is ok, it's like "What is this thing?" 這是什麼 is also ok, probably more common. "What is this?"

那是我的自行車 is perfectly fine, just a generic "that's my bicycle" 那個是我的自行車 is like "that one is my bicycle." (Not this one or those other ones) The counter word just emphasizes that you're talking about that particular thing.

It's not mandatory here because there is already 我的 that classifies the bicycle.

It's also unnecessary if you're talking about a general class of object, rather than a particular object. 這是什麼?這是自行車. Or 我要買自行車 "I want to buy a bicycle" (not any specific one, just one in general)

If you said something like 給我那個自行車, then the classifier would be mandatory, because you're talking about a particular one, so you need to specify it. But 給我你的自行車 has 你的, so it doesn't need a counter word.




It is ok to write this way. You don't have to use words like 輛 in 那是我的自行車. If you want you can but you don't need to. 那輛是我的自行車 is also acceptable.


Just different about distance, if very close to you, called "這" this , have distance called "那" that .

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