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Encyclopedia > Japanese counter word

In Japanese, counter words or counters (josūshi 助数詞) are used along with numbers to count things, actions, and events. Measure words, in linguistics, are words (or morphemes) that are used in combination with a numeral to indicate the count of nouns. ... // Basic numbering in Japanese The system of Japanese numerals is the system of number names used in the Japanese language. ...


In Japanese, as in Chinese and Korean, numerals cannot quantify nouns by themselves (except, in certain cases, for the numbers from one to ten; see below). For example, to express the idea "two dogs" in Japanese one must say inu nihiki (犬二匹, literally "dog two-small-animal"). Here inu means "dog", ni is the number 2, and hiki is the counter for small animals. The counters are not independent words and always appear with a number before them. A noun, or noun substantive, is a part of speech which can co-occur with (in)definite articles and attributive adjectives, and function as the head of a noun phrase. ...


Counter words are similar in function to the word "sheet" in "two sheets of paper" or "cup" in "two cups of coffee", but in Japanese, (almost) all nouns require a counter. In this sense, all Japanese nouns are mass nouns. This grammatical feature can result in situations where one is unable to express the number of a particular object in a grammatically correct way because one does not know, or cannot remember, the appropriate counting word. The problem is partially solved for the numbers from one to ten by using the traditional numbers (see below) which can be used to quantify some nouns by themselves. For example, "four apples" is ringo yonko (リンゴ四個) where ko () is the counter, but can also be expressed using the traditional numeral four as ringo yottsu (リンゴ四つ). These traditional numerals cannot be used to count all nouns however; some, including people and animals, require the proper counter. Paper is a thin material produced by the amalgamation of fibres, typically vegetable fibers composed of cellulose, which are subsequently held together by hydrogen bonding. ... A cup of coffee Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. ... It has been suggested that Count noun be merged into this article or section. ... // Basic numbering in Japanese The system of Japanese numerals is the system of number names used in the Japanese language. ...


Counters can also be intentionally misused for humorous, sarcastic, or insulting effects. For example, one might say 男一匹なのに (Otoko ippiki nano ni; "I am only one man..."). Using the counter hiki (匹), the counter for small animals, humorously suggests that the person is overpowered by massive obstacles.


Some of the more common counters may be used instead of less common ones. For example, 匹 hiki (see below) is often used for all animals, regardless of size. However, many speakers will correct themselves and use the traditionally "correct" counter, 頭 , when speaking of, for example, horses. Binomial name Equus caballus Linnaeus, 1758 The horse (Equus caballus, sometimes seen as a subspecies of the Wild Horse, Equus ferus caballus) is a large odd-toed ungulate mammal, one of ten modern species of the genus Equus. ...


Just as in English, different counters for the same thing can be used to convey different meanings. In English, one can say one loaf of bread or one slice of bread, and the referent is different. In Japanese, the same effect is made by saying パン一斤 pan ikkin, literally "bread one-loaf" versus パン一枚 pan ichimai, literally "bread one-flat piece". The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ...

Contents

Table of the traditional numerals

Numeral Japanese Pronunciation (romaji) Pronunciation (hiragana)
1 一つ hitotsu ひとつ
2 二つ futatsu ふたつ
3 三つ mittsu みっつ
4 四つ yottsu よっつ
5 五つ itsutsu いつつ
6 六つ muttsu むっつ
7 七つ nanatsu ななつ
8 八つ yattsu やっつ
9 九つ kokonotsu ここのつ
10 とう
20 二十 hatachi (used for age) はたち

List of counters

This list also includes some counters and usages that are rarely used or not widely known.

Pronunciation Japanese Use
ba Sections of a play
ban Nights
ban Sumo matches, (Sports) matches
bi Small fish and shrimps (used in the fish trade; most people say hiki instead)
bu Copies of a magazine or newspaper
bun Sentences
byō Seconds
chaku , Suits of clothing (see also: mai)
chō Guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws
chō Tools, scissors, saws, pistols, cakes of tofu, servings of noodles, town blocks, bread (about six slices)
chō Town blocks
chō Measures of powdered medicine
dai Generations, periods, reigns
dai Cars, machines, mechanical devices, household appliances
danraku 段落 Paragraphs
do, also tabi Occurrences, number of times (see also: kai). Only do: degrees Celsius
fuku Bowls of matcha (powdered green tea); packets or doses of powdered medicine
fuku Hanging scrolls (kakejiku)
fun Minutes
furi Swords
gatsu, also tsuki Months of the year. Month-long periods when read tsuki (see also: kagetsu)
go Words, languages
gōsha 号車 Train cars (see also: ryō)
gon, also koto Words
gu Suits of armour, sets of furniture
gyō Lines of text
haku Nights of a stay
hai Cups, glasses, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats (slang)
hai losses (sumo bouts)
hari Umbrellas, Parasols
hashira Gods, Memorial tablets
hatsu Gunshots
heya 部屋 Rooms
hiki, piki Small animals, insects, fish
hin, pin Parts of a meal, courses (see also: shina)
ho, po Number of (foot)steps
hon Long, thin, cylindrical objects: ties, pencils, bottles, guitars; also, metaphorically, telephone calls, movies (see also: tsūwa). Although 本 also means "book", the counter for books is satsu.
ji Letters, kanji, kana
ji Hours
jikan 時間 Hour-long periods
Tatami mats. The kanji 畳 is also read tatami and is the same one used for the mats. The room size of a washitsu in Japan is given as a number of mats, for example 4½
ka Chapters of a book
ka Frames
kabu Stocks; nursery trees
kagetsu ヶ月, 箇月 Month-long periods (see also: gatsu). 箇 is normally abbreviated using a small katakana ヶ in modern Japanese. Alternatively 個, hiragana か, small katakana ヵ and full-size katakana カ & ケ can also be seen, although only か is similarly frequent.
kakoku ヶ国, 箇国 Countries
kakokugo ヶ国語, 箇国語 (National) languages
kaku strokes in kanji
kai Occurrences, number of times (see also: do)
kai Number of floors, storeys
kan Warships
ken Abstract matters and cases
ken Houses
ki Aircraft, machines
ki Graves, wreaths, CPUs, reactors
kire 切れ Slices (of bread, cake, etc.; pieces of sushi)
ko ,,, or General measure word, used when there is no specific counter. 個 is also used for military units.
ko Houses (戸 means "door")
Schools
稿 Drafts of a manuscript
koma , コマ Frames, panels. 齣 is virtually unused nowadays.
ku Sections, city districts
ku Haiku, Senryu
kuchi (Bank) accounts, donations (口 means "opening" or "entrance")
kumi Groups
kurasu クラス School classes
kyaku Desks, Chairs
kyoku Pieces of music
kyoku Board game matches (chess, Igo, Shogi, Mahjong); radio stations
mai Thin, flat objects, sheets of paper, photographs, articles of clothing (see also: chaku)
maki Rolls, scrolls
maku Theatrical acts
mei People (polite) (名 means "name")
men Mirrors, boards for board games (chess, Igo, Shogi), stages of computer games
mon Cannons
mon Questions
nen Years, school years (grades); not years of age
nichi Days of the month (but see table of exceptions below)
nin People (but see table of exceptions below)
pēji ページ, Pages
rin Wheels, Flowers
ryō Railway cars (see also: gōsha)
sai or Years of age
sao Chests of drawers, flags
satsu Books
seki Seats, Rakugo shows, (drinking) parties
seki Ships
shina Parts of a meal, courses (see also: hin)
shō Wins (sumo bouts)
shu Tanka
shū Weeks
shurui or shu 種類 or 種 Various types of things
soku Pairs of footwear or pants
tai Images, person's remains
tawara Bags of rice
teki Drops of liquid
ten Points, dots
Large animals, cattle, elephants (頭 means "head")
tsū Letters
tsūwa 通話 Telephone calls (see also: hon)
toki Time periods, a sixth of either day or night (in the traditional, obsolete way of telling time). See also: jikan
tsubo Commonly used unit of area equal to 3.3 square metres.
wa Birds, rabbits* (because of their ears); 羽 means "feather" or "wing".
wa Bundles
zen Pairs of chopsticks; bowls of rice

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Exceptions

*Japanese Buddhist monks weren't allowed to eat any meat other than birds', but liked rabbit meat so much they came up with contrived evidence that rabbits are actually birds, their ears unusable wings. Nowadays hiki is the usual counter.


The traditional numbers are used by and for young children to give their ages, instead of using the age counter sai.


Some counters, notably nichi 日 and nin 人 use the traditional numerals for some low numbers, usually one through three; exceptional cases for these counters are given in the table below.


Others include 月, 言, 品 and 度 and are usually restricted to certain phrases. Futatabi (two times, another time), although normally written 再び instead of 二度, is very common though.


Counters beginning with h~ (including fu~) undergo (almost) regular changes in sound, when preceded by the numerals 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10. The table below illustrates the process for hon 本 but the same changes apply to fun 分, hai 杯, hiki 匹 etc.

Numeral nichi 日 nin 人 hon 本 kai 階
1 tsuitachi* hitori ippon ikkai
2 futsuka futari
3 mikka sanbon sangai
4 yokka yonin
5 itsuka
6 muika roppon
7 nanoka shichinin
8 yōka happon
9 kokonoka
10 tōka juppon/jippon** jukkai/jikkai**
14 jūyokka
20 hatsuka
24 nijūyokka

* But when counting number of days rather than days of the month, ichinichi is used. Ippi is also heard.


** is replaced by either ju- or ji- (じゅっ/じっ) followed by a doubled consonant before the voiceless consonants (i.e., /t k s/); furthermore, p is used instead of h, as noted above. Ji- is the older form, but it has been replaced by ju- in the speech of recent generations.


Note that 三階 ("third floor") can be read either sankai or sangai, while 三回 ("three times") can only be read sankai.


Ordinal numbers

In general, the counter words mentioned above are cardinal numbers, in that they indicate quantity. To transform a counter word into an ordinal number that denotes position in a sequence, me (目) is added to the end of the counter. Thus "one time" would be translated as ikkai (一回), where as "the first time" would be translated as ikkaime (一回目). Alternative meaning: number of pitch classes in a set. ... Commonly, ordinal numbers, or ordinals for short, are numbers used to denote the position in an ordered sequence: first, second, third, fourth, etc. ...


This rule is inconsistent, however, as counters without the me suffix are often used interchangeably with cardinal and ordinal meanings. For example, sankai (三階) can mean both "three floors" and "third floor."


Periods of time

To express a period of time one may add kan 間 to the following words byō 秒, fun 分, ji 時, nichi 日(and its irregular readings aside from tsuitachi), shū 週, kagetsu 箇月 and nen 年. Usage varies depending on the word, though. For example, omitting kan in the case of jikan 時間 would be a grave mistake, whereas shūkan and shū are both in frequent use. What's more, kagetsukan is rarely heard due to essentially being superfluous, the ka already functioning to express the length.


See also


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