I know every classifier in Chinese has its own usage and place. For example 头(tou2) is for domesticated animals, and should not be used for a "refrigerator". What has become a question for me, is, some classifiers have "definitions and uses" which overlap that of the others.

For instance, the classifier for 猫(mao1):cat is 只(zhi1). On the other hand, 头(tou2) is the classifier for domesticated animals. Considering this, is it correct to say 一头猫 instead of 一只猫? How would it sound? Do Chinese classifiers have such flexibility? (In a way that a single noun can fall into different categories of classifiers)

Other examples are: the classifier for 镜子(jing1zi):mirror is 面(mian4):classifier for flat objects On the other hand, 台(tai2) is a classifier for heavy objects. So if a mirror is heavy, is it correct to say 一台镜子

Or, the classifier for 桌子(zhang1zi):table is 张(zhang1):classifier for flat objects. On the other hand we know that both 片(pian4) and 面(mian4) are also classifiers for flat objects. So, how would it sound if we say 一面桌子 or 一片桌子.

2 Answers 2


Classifiers for Animals:

"头" - is used when counting warm-blood, breast/milk-feeding animals with relatively large body sizes, such as cow/ox, goat, wolf, bear. Note the exception that the classifier for the horse is "匹".

"隻"(只) - is used for counting birds, and domesticated small animals such as dogs, and cats, but can be used for the larger sized animals as well - 三隻老虎, 兩隻豬...etc.

"條" - is used for counting fish and snakes. Another classifier "尾" is often used for counting small fish, such as fish that can be kept in fish bowls or bought (as a whole) from the neighborhood market.

Classifiers for Lifeless Items:

張 or 片?

"張" - is used for counting furniture, usually include desks, chairs, couches, and beds. But the counting of handheld mirrors (鏡子) is an exception, for which "面" is the proper classifier, occasionally "個" or "片" are used as well. However, for a makeup table with a mirror, both "張" and "台" are used interchangeably, as 一張鏡櫃(劃妝台) = 一台鏡櫃(化妝台). Note that the classifier "組" is to be used for the featured furniture accompanied with other pieces of furniture sold as a whole unit, such as "一組床" - bed plus nightstands, and "一組化妝台" - mirror, table plus chair.

"片" - is a descriptive word that refers to a vast flat area, such as 一片湖水, 一片叢林, 一片蔚藍的天空大海, and 一片死寂(沉寞).

Note for heavy items, such as piano, refrigerator, machine, the classifiers "台", "架", "部", or "組" are to be used, such as:

  • 一台冰箱, 一台(部)電視, 一台(部)洗衣機 or 一組洗衣機 (washer plus dryer).
  • 一架(台,部)鋼琴, 一架(台,部,組)車床.

The best way to learn the proper use of each "classifier" is to listen, listen and more listen.

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