Possession and classifiers in Chinese - Lesson 07

In this lesson we will learn to form the possessive in Chinese; we will also address the classifiers.

desactivate pinyinprint

1. Vocabulary

First, memorize the following Chinese vocabulary:

  Word Pinyin Translation  
1 de (use to indicate possession)
2 zhè this
3 yǒu to have
4 méi (negative adv. for the verb "to have" )
5 liǎng (before a classifier) 2 ; two
6 shū book
7 词典 cídiǎn dictionary
8 本子 běnzi notebook
9 pen ; pencil ; paint brush
10 地图 dìtú map

Possessive pronouns

  Word Pinyin Translation  
1 我的 wǒde my; mine
2 你的 nǐde your; yours
3 他的 tāde his
4 她的 tāde her; hers
5 我们的 wǒmende our; ours
6 你们的 nǐmende your; yours
7 他们的 tāmende (for men or mixed groups) their; theirs
8 她们的 tāmende (for women) their; theirs


  Word Pinyin Translation  
1 (general classifier)
2 běn (classifier for books)
3 zhī (classifier for fairly long and not flexible objects. i.e : pencils, candles, guns, etc.)
4 zhāng (classifier for flat objects , i.e: sheets, tickets; maps, photos, etc.)

2. Grammar

A. Particle ‹ de ›

The structural particle ‹ de › in Chinese is also used after an attribute to mark possession or after a pronoun to form the possessive.

Noun / pronoun +
  • 大卫 ‹ Dàwèi de shū ›
    The book OF David
  • 本子 ‹ wǒ de běnzi ›
    MY notebook

B. Classifiers (量词 ‹ liàngcí › )

Classifiers, also sometimes called "Measure words" are used to count in Chinese. They are placed between the numerical values and the object. Basically, instead of saying "two horses" for example, the Chinese will say "two horse units", as we would say "a pair of scissors" rather than "a scissor".

Num.Val. + CL + Object
  • ‹ yī běn shū ›
    ONE book
  • ‹ sān zhī bǐ ›
    Three pencils
  • 地图 ‹ sì zhāng dìtú ›
    FOUR maps
- Failure to place a classifier between the numerical value and the noun is considered as a serious offense in Chinese. - There are dozens of classifiers that apply to each kind of object / noun. In case you do not know the proper classifier, you can get by with 个 which is a catch-all classifier.

C. Use of ‹ liǎng › and ‹ èr ›

We saw in a previous chapter, that "two (2)" in Chinese is written and said " ‹ èr ". However, before a classifier, we use the word ‹ liǎng › instead.

+ CL + Object
  • 个 人 ‹ liǎng gèrén ›
    and not 二个人
  • 本 书 ‹ liǎng běn shū ›
    and not 二本书

D. Negative of the verb "to have" ‹ yǒu

If the negative of most verbs is done with the adverb ‹ bù ›, this is not the case for the verb "to have" ‹ yǒu . In fact the negative form of "to have" is formed when adding the adverb ‹ méi before it.

Subject + + + Object
  • 没有 地图。 ‹ Wǒ méi yǒu dìtú. ›
    I don't have a map.
CAUTION: In negative form, we do not use classifier before the object.
  • 没有 词典。 ‹ Tā méiyǒu cídiǎn. ›
    and not 他没有一本词典

E. Answering "yes" or "no" in Chinese

In Chinese there is no word to say "yes" or "no" like in other languages. Thus, in response to a closed-ended question we answer by directly repeating the verb to mean "yes" and by using its negative form to mean "no."

  • Q: 你的书吗? Zhè shì nǐ de shū ma? ›
    Q: Is it your book ?
    A: 。/ 不是 ‹ Shì./ Bùshì. ›
    A: Yes. / No.
  • Q: 笔吗? Nǐ yǒu bǐ ma? ›
    Q: Do you have a pencil ?
    A: 。/ 没有 ‹ Yǒu./ Méiyǒu. ›
    A: Yes. / No.

F. Tone change for ‹ yī ›

" ‹ yī ›" is usually pronounced in the first tone, however, there are two variations (in spoken only) according to the word before which it is placed.

Placed before a word in 4th tone, ‹ yī › changes to 2nd tone.

+ ˋ + ˋ

Placed before 1st, 2nd and 3rd tones (all the others) ‹ yī › changes to 4th tone.

+ ˇ + ˇ
+ ˊ + ˊ
+ ˉ + ˉ

3. Dialogues

Start by trying to read and listen to these dialogues several times until you understand them pretty much. If you're still struggling, review again the vocabulary and grammar of this lesson and the previous ones.

Dialogue N° 1


- 王丽,这是你的词典吗? Wáng Lì zhè shì nǐ de cídiǎn ma? ›
- 是。 ‹ Shì. ›
- 这是你的书吗? Zhè shì nǐ de shū ma? ›
- 不是。这是大卫的书。 ‹ Bù shì. Zhè shì Dàwèi de shū. ›

Translation :

- Wang Li, is it your dictionary ?
- Yes.
- Is it your book ?
- No. This is the book of David.

Dialogue N° 2


- 大卫,你有本子吗? ‹ Dàwèi, nǐ yǒu běnzi ma? ›
- 有。 Yǒu. ›
- 你有笔吗? Nǐ yǒu bǐ ma? ›
- 没有。 ‹ Méi yǒu. ›
- 王丽有笔吗? ‹ Wáng Lì yǒu bǐ ma? ›
- 她也没有笔。 Tā yě méi yǒu bǐ. ›

Translation :

- David, do you have a notebook?
- Yes.
- Do you have a pen?
- No.
- Wang Li, does she have a pen?
- She doesn't have a pen too.

4. Text & exercise

Try to understand the text below and create your own text : How many pencils do you have? Do you have a dictionary? Etc. (We do not put the translation intentionaly)


王丽有一本词典,大卫有三个本子。 他们没有笔。我有一张地图, 王丽也有一张地图。 这不是我的地图,是王丽的地图。
‹ Wáng Lì yǒu yī běn cídiǎn, Dàwèi yǒu sān gè běnzi. Tāmen méi yǒu bǐ. Wǒ yǒu yī zhāng dìtú, Wáng Lì yě yǒu yī zhāng dìtú. Zhè bù shì wǒ de dìtú, shì Wáng Lì dì dìtú. ›

Introducing your family