I've seen this sentence in the book I'm reading (talking about a postman, so not a very rich person):


So, since it would seem strange that a postman could have three houses built, and since 间 is not the normal measure word for "house", it seems to me that this could mean "a three-room house" rather than "three houses".

There are quite a number of web pages where this seems to be the case, for example:

and many others. Although in many cases it would indeed mean "three houses", like in the Chinese translation of "The Three Little Pigs".

One can also find many pages with "一个三间房子" or such sentences.

The problem is, I've asked the question on HiNative and three native speakers have just dismissed those web pages and said there's no way it means anything else than "three houses".

So, what is your opinion? Thanks a lot.

6 Answers 6


No, from the text, it is clear that he has built 3 houses(房子) in the town. Otherwise, it shall say "他在镇里盖了一棟(有)三间房间的房子" - He built a 3 rooms house in the town.

Edit: After reviewing the first link, the original text could be: "他在镇里盖了一棟三開间的房子,还..."

Note: 開间 is a term used to indicate the width and layout of a "single house". See https://www.bieshu.com/news/6088.html for details.

enter image description here

  • Thank you very much. Do you think the examples of "三间房子" that can be found in the links I gave are just mistakes or wrong usages?
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:45
  • @CongWei See the edit.
    – r13
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:55
  • Note, the 2nd link does not work. The 3rd link says "3 rooms in his house with falling wallpapers" with incorrect expressions.
    – r13
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 14:02
  • Yes, I have taken the second link away. Instead of putting another link, I'll cite a sentence found online : "这个小村庄,村里只有几户人家,十来座房屋,大多都是老房子,还有几间老房子的房顶上是用石头片铺盖,村子中央有一个三间房子的老屋,墙上写了“认真读书”几个大字,看来已有很多年头了。" So another example of this strange usage.
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 14:33
  • Or: "小庭院的外边是泥胚子搭成的,里边是一座三间房子的小茅草房"
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 14:35

Yes, it must be "a house with 3 rooms". It's the common way to describe a house in the countryside, the most appropriate translation should be 3-room house.

Individuals can build houses belong to rural self-built house from the perspective of government management,the most common are tile-roofed houses and bungalows before 2000 in my hometown, if there is no additional explanation generally only one floor.

By the way, for rich families, may build small western-style houses which always have more than one floor, people never describe these type of houses whith number of rooms (almost every family can build a multi-foor and more beautiful house after 2010 in my hometown).

For a tile-roofed house or bungalow, the only modifier can be used is the number of rooms because these type of houses mainly to provide the function of living which have no extra decoration also no commercial value. And you may see descriptions like follows in articles and novels about rural life:

  1. 他那么努力做工是为了赶在结婚前盖三间瓦房("He worked hard to build a 3-room tile-roofed house before got married.")。
  2. 老房子已经破到没法住了,他用仅有的积蓄盖了两间平房("The old house was too dilapidated to live in, he built a two-room bungalow with what little savings he had.")

tile-roofed house: 农村瓦房

bungalow: 农村平房

slabstone-roofed house: 农村石板房

And I have read your link to Hinative, the people answered your question seems have never seen tile-roofed houses and bungalows maybe they are living in cities and never heard or seen these type of houses so can not get your point. Tile-roofed houses and bungalows only occured in rural area, with the development of the economy, there are few now. And I happened to go through this process, although I live in the city now, but my hometown is in the countryside, I used to live in slabstone-roofed house, tile-roofed house, also seen neighbors' bungalows when I was child.

  • Thank you very much for this very complete answer. And also for confirming my feeling about it of course!
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 12:18

The answers on Hinative are too strong. It is possible for N间房子 to mean a house of N rooms, but it is uncommon and feels more like a spur of the moment coinage than a set phrase. Not unheard of though and definitely understandable. I agree though that barring other context I would interpret your quote as "three houses."

See e.g.






  • Thanks. That's exactly my point; it does seem that there are quite a few examples on the net where X间房子 means " a house with X rooms", even if it's "grammatically" or "syntaxically" incorrect. Moreover it seems to be a way to describe rural homes, not in cities.
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 6:35
  • The only context in my novel, which started my "quest", it that it's about a basic postman in a small, poor 镇, where it would seem implausible he could have three houses built instead of just one house.
    – Cong Wei
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 6:39
  • > Moreover it seems to be a way to describe rural homes, not in cities. FWIW, I don't personally perceive any rural-ness about it. I think that's just an artifact of cities not having many houses and most houses being in more rural places. But I agree that it doesn't "sound" very standard, but still shows up sometimes and is understandable. If you have a few more paragraphs from your novel it might be nice to share to gauge the context.
    – badcook
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 14:48

For me, "他在镇里盖了三间房子" means three houses. But if says "他在镇里盖了三间的房子" or "他在镇里盖了一套/一个三间(的)房子", it is absolutely a house with three rooms. This sentence "他在镇里盖了三间房子" indeed exists a little bit of ambiguity, especially for people from different regions of China.



A three-roomed house is usually 三居室 which only specify the amount of bedrooms.

You can also expand it by saying something like 三室一厅一卫 which add information about the amount of living room and bathroom.


究竟表达了什么?需要根据上下文。三间房子 mean "a house with three rooms" 也可以 "three houses"。

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.