中級日本語ー Counters in Japanese

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Counters In Japanese

If I say “I drank one sake,” you don’t know whether I drank one glass or one bottle, although my brain function would differ dramatically depending on the answer.

And if I eat two dozen eggs instead of two eggs every day, I won’t live as long as I should. Words like glasses, bottles, and dozens express an amount or quantity. Other unit words include pieces, sheets, and pairs (as in a piece of cake, a sheet of paper, and a pair of shoes).Unless you’re reciting numbers or doing arithmetic, you need to place a counter right after a number. You use counters to specify the time and date, talk about your age, chat about your test score, or count days, cars, students, money, fish, and a ton of other things. 

The counter you use depends on the shape, size, and type of the item. If you count mechanical items such as cars, for example, you need the counter -dai (dah-ee). Simply add the counter after the number of cars – ichi-dai, ni-dai, san-dai, and so on. The tricky part is that an item can have more than one counter. When you’re at the fish market trying to buy mackerel, for example, you can use either -hiki or -hon.

Table below lists common counters and their uses.

Counters and Their Uses

Counter Use Examples
-dai (dah-ee) mechanical items cars, typewriters, refrigerators
-hiki (hee-kee) animals dogs, frogs, fish, mosquitoes
-hon (hohn) cylindrical items pens, pencils, bananas, sticks, umbrellas
-mai (mah-ee) flat items bed sheets, paper, stamps
-nin (neen) people students, children, women
-tsu (tsoo) various inanimate items/items that don’t have a specific counter furniture, apples, bags, traffic lights

Counting the months

The Japanese word for moon is tsuki (tsoo-kee), which also means “month.” Japanese doesn’t have a separate word for each month – it uses a number paired with the counter -gatsu (gah-tsoo). For example, January is ichi-gatsu (eeh-chee-gah-tsoo).

Below table gives you the numbers from 1 to 10 and shows you how to use various counters.

Counting with Counters

Number -dai Mechanical Items -hiki Animals -hon Cylindrical Items -mai Flat Items -nin People -tsu Various Inanimate Items
1 ichi ichi-dai ip-piki ip-pon ichi-mai hitori hito-tsu
2ni ni-dai ni-hiki ni-hon ni-mai futari futa-tsu
3 san san-dai san-biki san-bon san-mai san-nin mit-tsu
4 yon yon-dai yon-hiki yon-hon yon-mai yo-nin yot-tsu
5 go go-dai go-hiki go-hon go-mai go-nin itsu-tsu
6roku roku-dai rop-piki rop-pon roku-mai roku-nin mut-tsu
7 nana nana-dai nana-hiki nana-hon nana-mai nana-nin nana-tsu
8 hachi hachi-dai hap-piki hap-pon hachi-mai hachi-nin yat-tsu
9ky0 kyu-dai kyu-hiki kyu-hon kyu-mai kyD-nin kokono-tsu
10 ju ju[lil]-dai jup-piki jup-pon jo-mai jo-nin to

Using a number to name a month may seem strange, but English uses numbers to express months, too – April 20 is 4/20, for example. Just add the counter -gatsu after the number you normally use to refer to a month – but in Japanese, of course.

Table below lists the 12 tsuki.

The Months

English Japanese Pronunciation
January ichi-gatsu ee-chee-gah-tsoo
February ni-gatsu nee-gah-tsoo
March san-gatsu sahn-gah-tsoo
April shi-gatsu shee-gah-tsoo
May go-gatsu goh-gah-tsoo
June roku-gatsu roh-koo-gah-tsoo
July shichi-gatsu shee-chee-gah-tsoo
August hachi-gatsu hah-chee-gah-tsoo
September ku-gatsu koo-gah-tsoo
October ju-gatsu jooo-gah-tsoo
November ju-ichi-gatsu jooo-ee-chee-gah-tsoo
December ju-ni-gatsu jooo-nee-gah-tsoo

To express a number of months, use the counter -kagetsu (kah-geh-tsoo) or -kagetsukan (kah-geh-tsoo-kahn). In conversation, -kagetsu is more common, but it’s good to know both.

The Numbers of Months table shows how kagetsu is pronounced when combined with numbers. Watch out for irregular sound changes!

Numbers of Months

English Japanese Pronunciation
1 month ik-kagetsu eek-kah-geh-tsoo
2 months ni-kagetsu nee-kah-geh-tsoo
3 months san-kagetsu sahn-kah-geh-tsoo
4 months yon-kagetsu yohn-kah-geh-tsoo
5 months go-kagetsu goh-kah-geh-tsoo
6 months rok-kagetsu rohk-kah-geh-tsoo
7 months nana-kagetsu nah-nah-kah-geh-tsoo
8 months hachi-kagetsu hah-chee-kah-geh-tsoo
9 months kyu-kagetsu kyooo-kah-geh-tsoo
10 months juk-kagetsu jook-kah-geh-tsoo

Counting the days In this section, I show you how to say “the first,” “the second,” and so on for dates and how to specify items in a sequence, like “the third slice of pizza.” To find out how to say these words in reference to items like buildings, streets, and intersections.

The way dates are pronounced in Japanese is full of irregularities.

What’s Today’s Date?

Date Japanese Pronunciation
1st tsuitachi tsoo-ee-tah-chee
2nd futsuka foo-tsoo-kah
3rd mikka meek-kah
4th yokka yohk-kah
5th itsuka ee-tsoo-kah
6th muika moo-ee-kah
7th nanoka nah-noh-kah
8th yoka yohh-kah
9th kokonoka koh-koh-noh-kah
10th toka tohh-kah
11th 11-nichi jooo-ee-chee-nee-chee
12th 12-nichi jooo-nee-nee-chee
13th 13-nichi jooo-sahn-nee-chee
14th juyokka jooo-yohk-kah
15th 15-nichi jooo-goh-nee-chee
16th 16-nichi jooo-roh-koo-nee-chee
17th 17-nichi jooo-shee-chee-nee-chee
18th 18-nichi jooo-hah-chee-nee-chee
19th 19-nichi jooo-koo-nee-chee
20th hatsuka hah-tsoo-kah
21st 21-nichi nee-jooo-ee-chee-nee-chee
22nd 22-nichi nee-jooo-nee-nee chee
23rd 23-nichi nee-jooo-sahn-nee-chee
24th nijGyokka nee-jooo-yohk-kah
25th 25-nichi nee-jooo-goh-nee-chee
26th 26-nichi nee-jooo-roh-koo-nee-chee
27th 27-nichi nee-jooo-shee-chee-nee-chee
28th 28-nichi nee-jooo-hah-chee-nee-chee
29th 29-nichi nee-jooo-koo-nee-chee
30th 30-nichi sahn-jooo-nee-chee
31st 31-nichi sahn-jooo-ee-chee-nee-chee

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