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Lesson Transcript

Vietnamese Teachers Answer Your Questions - Lesson #5 - What Are Classifiers?


Michael: What are classifiers?
Nguyet: And how are they used?
Michael: At VietnamesePod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following scenario, Karen Lee and Duc Do are in a bookstore. Duc says,
"I need a calendar."
Đức Đỗ: Tôi cần một cuốn lịch.
Đức Đỗ: Tôi cần một cuốn lịch.
Karen Lee: Tôi cần một cuốn nhật ký.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Đức Đỗ: Tôi cần một cuốn lịch.
Michael: "I need a calendar."
Karen Lee: Tôi cần một cuốn nhật ký.
Michael: "I need a journal."

Lesson focus

Michael: In English and other languages, a basic distinction is made between which nouns are countable and which ones are not. Countable nouns generally occur with numerals. For instance, "one man, two boys, three girls." On the other hand, uncountable nouns, or mass nouns, do not occur with numerals. Instead, an additional item is used. For instance, "a strand of hair, two kilograms of rice, three pairs of shoes." This additional item is referred to as a "classifier," or
Nguyet: từ phân loại
Michael: In Vietnamese, classifiers are obligatory not only for uncountable nouns but for countable nouns, as well. In English, if you want to tell someone that you have five cars, you simply tell them the number and the noun: "I have five cars." Things are not as simple in Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, classifiers are almost always required. Most Vietnamese classifiers do not translate to English. Instead, they are categorized based on the type of noun they introduce. Later, you will learn that there are classifiers for animate objects and there are classifiers for inanimate objects.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Duc Do says "I need a calendar?"
Nguyet as Duc Do: Tôi cần một cuốn lịch.
Michael: The direct translation of "I need a calendar" in Vietnamese is
Nguyet: Tôi cần một lịch.
Michael: Native speakers would still be able to understand that you need a calendar if you say it this way, but they would also understand that you're still learning Vietnamese! Calendar may be a countable noun, but, in Vietnamese, the numeral you use won't be able to quantify it without the presence of a classifier, which in this case is
Nguyet: cuốn
Michael: This classifier is used when quantifying book-type objects, such as magazines, and calendars. It's interchangeable with another classifier,
Nguyet: quyển
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says "I need a journal?"
Nguyet as Karen Lee: Tôi cần một cuốn nhật ký.
Michael: The word-by-word translation of "I need a journal" in Vietnamese is
Nguyet: Tôi cần một nhật ký.
Michael: Just as with our previous example, native speakers would still be able to understand you even if you formed your sentence this way. But, then again, the correct way to do it is by adding the classifier
Nguyet: cuốn
Michael: before the noun.
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that, unlike in the English language, classifiers are almost always required to accompany both countable and uncountable nouns.
Michael: We have learned one classifier or measure word so far. Why don't we learn some more? Another common classifier in Vietnamese is
Nguyet: cái
Michael: This is used to quantify inanimate objects. Its more formal counterpart is
Nguyet: chiếc
Michael: Another one is
Nguyet: con
Michael: which is used to quantify children or animals. This is known as an animate classifier. However, it is used to classify selected inanimate nouns, such as
Nguyet: dao
Michael: or "knife"
Nguyet: đường
Michael: or "road," and
Nguyet: sông
Michael: Vietnamese for "river." The next classifier on our list is
Nguyet: bài
Michael: This one is used with songs, poems, drawings, writings, and the like. Then, we have
Nguyet: chuyện,
Michael: the classifier we use with a general topic or business. When talking about round objects, we use either
Nguyet: quả or trái
Michael: And, for houses and living spaces, we use the classifiers
Nguyet: ngôi and căn
Michael: Linguists would say that there are as many 200 classifiers in the Vietnamese language, although only a few of them are used in daily conversations.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Nguyet: Tạm biệt!
Michael: See you soon!

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