"She has four older sisters."


November 21, 2017

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I still don't get the concept of 个 to be honest. I wrote "他有四姐姐。". How is that wrong exactly?


Um, In modern Chinese (and many other similar languages in East Asia), you need a "measure word" after the number when you count objects.

The requirement of "measure word" is due to the fact that there is no "countable" and "uncountable" nouns in Chinese. A countable noun has a default unit of measurement. When you say "four sisters", you are actually counting the "number of identities" of sisters. And you can't say "four water" because there isn't a default way to measure the amount of water.

But in Chinese, you need to declare the measurement unit explicitly:


He has four (identities of) sisters.


Thank you very much!


She must be very old because China has had a one-child policy for generations. It would have been very illegal to have >= 5 children.


That law is not in place anymore and even back in the 80 if you lived in a village or small town that law was less strict as you most likely needed more help to farm and maintain the town.


what about 她有四口姐姐? Is 口 not right here?


It's not right.

口 is used for counting the number of people in small groups, like a family, a clan or a village. People in these groups are supposed to rely on each other for livelihood. And "sisters" do not form such a group.

This quantifier gives a feeling like "well you see, I've got these mouths to feed". But it is not considered vulgar or overly colloquial. You can use this quantifier in formal texts.


An example of 口 as a measure word is 你家有几口人 "How many people are in your family?"




is it not more accurate to use 四位 instead of 四个 since we are talking about humans here?


Both is valid, but 四位 would be a bit strange here.

Just as you know, 位 is a more polite measure word for human, but the politeness is not required everywhere. For family members, 位 is commonly used for elders in formal occasions.

我曾经有一位母亲。In the past I had a mother.

Note I use 母亲 instead of 妈妈 to add some solemnity.

But for people in the same generation, this becomes a bit weird:

我有一位弟弟。I have a younger brother.

Acceptable, but uncommon. If the family member is younger, it could be hilarious:

我有一位孩子。I have a child.

Definitely uncommon.

Besides, using 个 instead of 位 would not be considered as disrespectful except in some idioms like 各位 (ladies and gentlemen).


when I pressed the English words in the sentence to see the translations, except for the words "she" and "has" all the other translations suggested didn't exsist in the words given to translate the sentence so I could only guess, what's going on?


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