In linguistics, measure words are words (or morphemes) that are used in combination with a numeral to indicate an amount of some noun. They denote a unit or measurement and are used with nouns that are not countable. For instance, in English, mud is a mass noun and thus one cannot say *"three muds", but one can say "three drops of mud", "three pails of mud", etc. In these examples, drops and pails function as measure words.
Informally, the term measure word is also sometimes used to refer to numeral classifiers, which are used with nouns that are countable in some languages. For instance, in English no extra word is needed when saying "three people", but in many East Asian languages a numeral classifier is added, just as a measure word is added for uncountable nouns in English. While many linguists maintain a distinction between measure words and numeral classifiers, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. (For instance, materials for teaching Chinese as a second language generally refer to Chinese classifiers as "measure words".)
- one litre of water
- three cups of coffee
- four kernels of corn, three ears of corn, two bushels of corn
- Tai, James H.-Y. (1994). "Chinese classifier systems and human categorization". In Willian S.-Y. Wang, M. Y. Chen, and Ovid J.L. Tzeng. In honor of William S.-Y. Wang: Interdisciplinary studies on language and language change. Taipei: Pyramid Press. 2. ISBN 978-957-9268-55-4.
- Cheng, Lisa L.-S.; Sybesma, Rint (1998). "yi-wan tang and yi-ge Tang: Classifiers and mass-classifiers". Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 28 (3).