Demonstratives, nouns, and classifiers

Demonstratives, nouns, and classifiers

The next thing you’ll want to talk about is what you see in the environment around you.

One of the most important little words in Mandarin is 这. It’s used to refer to things nearby, much like this is in English. Its counterpart is 那, meaning that. The question form is 哪, meaning which.

This CL person
This person

That CL car
That car

Which CL restaurant
Which restaurant

What does that CL mean? In Mandarin, demonstratives like this and that need to come with classifiers. An example from English might be easier:

We can’t say this pants in English, we have to say this pair of pants. In the same vein, we can say either this paper or this sheet of paper–showing that in this case, the classifier is optional.

We’ve just mentioned two classifiers in English, pair and sheet, and Mandarin does in fact have classifiers that are equivalent to those.

It also has classifiers for vehicles 辆, long thin things 条, small buildings 家, and people 个, among dozens more. Fortunately, the people classifier can also be used as a general classifier when you’re not sure of which one to use.

A road

Four restaurants

Eight people

There’s a plural classifier too, but just one for all cases: 些. It can be translated pretty effectively as “several” or “a few.”

A few watermelons

If you’re talking about two things specifically, you need to use the special “counting” version of the number two: 两

Two houses