Plurals in Chinese: The Right Way

You might have noticed some Chinese people have trouble using the plural form of English nouns. This is because nouns in the Chinese language never change form. Here are the most common ways to denote two or more of something in Chinese.

1. Add 们

Use 们 (men) after pronouns or nouns that refer to  people.

Examples

  • pronouns:你们,我们,他们,她们 
  • Other nouns:老师们,学生们,老人们,妈妈们

However, there are some exceptions: 

  • “您们” and “谁们” are not correct. There is still controversy about “您们”. It’s better not to use it.
  • When preceded by numbers, nouns cannot be followed by 们
    • 五个学生们  (✖ WRONG)
  •  们 can be used in the personification of something non-human e.g. animals or plants.

Examples

  • 小狗们喜欢玩游戏 (Xiǎogǒumen zuì xǐhuan wán yóuxì - Puppies like playing games)
  • 花儿们在风中跳舞 (Huārmen zài fēngzhōng tiàowǔ - Flowers are dancing in the wind)

2. Use a Measure Word

Below are three situations where the number + measure word + noun structure is used.

1. More Than One of a Noun

Any time you know the quantity of a noun and the quantity is more than one you can use this structure: Number (>1) + normal measure word + noun

Examples

  • 三只狗 (sānzhī gǒu - Three dogs)
  • 五个杯子 (wǔgè bēizi - Five cups)
  • 六杯啤酒 (liùbēi píjiǔ - Six glasses of beer)

2.  A Special Quantity of a Noun

Sometimes you might need to refer to one of a special quantity of a noun (ie. pairs, dozens, several, batch, etc.). In these cases you can use a special measure word. These are some special measure words, which can denote a defined or undefined quantity that follows this structure: 一 + special measure word + noun

Examples

  • 双 shuāng / 对 duì - pair
    • 一双手 (yìshuāng shǒu - A pair of hands)
    • 一对花瓶 (yíduì huāpíng - A pair of vases)
  • 些 xiē - several
    • 一些书 (yìxiē shū - Several books)
  • 打 dǎ - dozen
    • 一打啤酒 (yìdǎ píjiǔ - A dozen of beer)
  • 批 pī - batch
    • 一批货物 (yìpī huòwù - A batch of goods)
  • 群 qún - group
    • 一群鸭子 (yìqún yāzi - A group of ducks)

3) An Ambiguous Quantity

If you don’t know the specific quantity, you can use ambiguous number words. When using an ambiguous number follow the following structure: ambiguous number word + measure word + noun

Examples

  • 几 (jǐ - Several)
    • 几家很好的饭店 (jǐjiā hěn hǎochī de fàndiàn - Several good restaurants)
  • 很多 (hěnduō - Many, a lot)
    • 很多(间)(教室 hěnduō (jiān) jiàoshì - Many classrooms)
  • 不少 (bùshǎo - Many, not few)
    • 不少学生 (bùshǎo xuésheng - Many students)
  • 数 (shù - Several)
    • 数月不见  (shùyuè bújiàn - Haven’t met for several months)

Alice writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese and Chinese language. She completed her MA in Chinese language and literature at Nankai University.