This paper aims to show that Chinese measure words, a grammar category traditionally described as semantically empty and untranslatable, in fact are a powerful tool for the creation of metaphorical images and are used by Chinese writers in the same way as any other literary resource at hand. Translators are not beyond this reality and have to do their best to transfer the semantic and poetic content of measure words in the translating process. To illustrate this proposition we will carry out a descriptive analysis of the different translation techniques used by literary translators into Spanish and Catalan. We will group the found translation techniques into four main categories: literal translation, omission, explanation and the creation of new metaphorical images. This paper represents a contribution to sinology because it studies a Chinese grammar category from a literary and Translation Studies approach, which is not only innovative, but has also called into question some linguistic assumptions and has broadened perspectives in this field. The use of a methodology and approach belonging to Translation Studies in studying the use of measure words provides Translation Studies with a practical example of how it can help other disciplines to progress. © 2009 Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) Revue Babel.