This evening at my Chinese class we were discussing once again the various ‘measure words’ used when speaking of different objects. These words typically go in between a number and the object being numbered. To make things even more puzzling for someone learning the language, the specific ‘measure word’ used changes depending on the category of the object being numbered. For instance, different measure words are used for things with wheels, pieces out of a collection, long and winding things – obviously quite logical.

The one I like is zhāng (张), which is for flat things, such as tickets, maps, pieces of paper, and so. So ‘a photograph’ is yī zhāng zhàopiàn (一张照片), literally ‘one [flat] photograph’.

My question for the teacher was: ‘what if I run over a cat and it becomes quite flat?’

Would I then say yī zhāng māo (一张猫), literally ‘one flat cat’?

This would be instead of the usual ‘measure word’ if the cat were more rounded and still active, yī zhǐ māo (一只猫).