View Full Version : Japanese numbers

16th April 2002, 09:39
Beeing a beginner in Japanese I stumbled upon something I wasn't aware of (I've stumbled on a lot of things I was not aware of actually). Counting in Japanese. There are two (atleast?) ways of counting to ten in Japanese: the Chinese way and the Japanese way. When do use one, when do yoy use the other?

Chinese - Japanese
ichi - hitotsu
ni - futatsu
san - mittsu
shi - yottsu
go - itsutsu
roku - muttsu
shichi - nanatsu
hachi - yattsu
kyu - kokonotsu
ju - to
What happens after ten? Is ni-ju-hachi = futatsu-to-yattsu (exept spelling and special grammar)?

Or is the book I read this in just trying to mock me?

Already looking forward to the next problem/feature I find...


Adam Young
16th April 2002, 21:44
Generally, people will use the Chinese numbers when counting. Ask a Japanese person what "3" is in Japanese, he will say "san."

The Japanese numbers only go up to ten and are not used to refer to numbers over 10, except in rare cases (e.g. "(a person who is) 20 years old" is "hatachi"). They are primarily used where a general counter is sufficient to count things.

Thus "two of them" is "futatsu," although it can also be "niko." But two glasses of Coke could be "nihai."

Confusing? Yup.

In daily use, I tended to need the Chinese numbers far, far more than the Japanese ones, which really only pop in the situation mentioned above, and in the first ten days of the month.

J. A. Crippen
17th April 2002, 07:57
There's another common place you'll see Native Japanese (NJ) numbers (note that the 'Chinese' numbers are Sino-Japanese (SJ) and no Chinese speaker would easily recognize them without the kanji). When referring to small groups of people you're more likely to hear the NJ numbers up to about three. Particularly in set phrases.

ano futari - 'that couple', 'that pair', 'those two' (often used for siblings, lovers, or similarly close couples)
hitori - 'alone', 'just one' (note not used as *ano hitori, the phrase ano hito is used instead)

Another point to note is that hitotsu written with the 'one' kanji has hito as its root, which is the same root as hito 'person' with the kanji jin/nin kanji meaning 'person'. I've actually seen the 'person' kanji used with the -tsu counter ending, but only once (it might have been a typo).

I should mention that ano hito and hitori both use the 'person' kanji but ano futari necessarily uses the 'two' kanji.

When asked for seating at a restaurant you can say ichinin meaning 'one person' or you can say hitori which sounds less formal, like saying 'just me'.

There are NJ numbers above ten, but they are very rarely used, mostly in terms of time such as hatachi 'twenty years old'. I only know of the 'twenty' example, but I've been told there are others. You'd probably have to study classical Japanese to learn them though; they're basically unused today.

Here's the days of the month that use NJ numbers:
1 - tsuitachi
2 - futsuka
3 - mikka
4 - yokka
5 - itsuka
6 - muika
7 - nanoka
8 - youka
9 - kokonoka
10 - touka
14 - juuyoukka
20 - hatsuka
24 - nijuuyoukka
The rest take the SJ form juuichinichi. You really should memorize the above list. Those NJ days of the month get used a lot. How many times do you say "on the fifth" or "around the 24th"? Pretty regularly, I'd say. That's how often the Japanese use their days of the month. BTW, to add more pain, the above days of the month are typically written with two kanji, one for the number and the other the kanji for 'sun, day'. You just have to read the kanji differently depending on which number you're seeing. They're rarely written in kana since words like kokonoka are inconveniently long.

If you note the -tsu in hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu, it's just a generic counter suffix. There are specialized counter suffices, as you've probably already discovered. There are some suffices like -tsu that take NJ numbers, and the majority take SJ numbers. The 'person' counter -nin is replaced with -ri (written in kana, not kanji) for 'one', 'two', and 'three'; thus hitori, futari, mitsuri/sannin. There are other counters that take varying sets of NJ numbers, but you'll have to learn them individually.

23rd September 2002, 08:30
well this is a quite old one but it answers most of my questions...

now only one more thing.. most dojo use these for counting and I have heard about 20 different pronunciations.... can anyone tell me what the correct way is??


23rd September 2002, 09:39
hello !
as you are apperently dutch you may understand this. i try to use a transcription i would use for germans to explain the pronounciation. i hope your "sch" is the same as in german...

ichi - itschi (itsch)
ni - ni (this one is easy)
san - like the engl. "sun"
shi - like in "ship", but long "i", might be exchnged with "yon"
go - like the engl. "to go"
roku - as you read it, japanese tend to sallow the "u" in the end
shichi - "schitschi", might be exchanged with "nana"
hachi - hatschi
kyu - like in the engl. "barbeque"
ju - like in engl. "junior"

there might be linguistically more accurate descriptions around, but i`m tired rigth now...sorry
anyway, i hope this helps

23rd September 2002, 11:10
maybe somebody can provide me with a name or a link to a good language course on tape/cd ?? or maybe even a website that has some sound files??

23rd September 2002, 14:49
hello !
as it should be in your language and not too many people from holland are around here, i suggest you ask some students at a university. leiden is very famous for it´s japan science department. they should have some student representatives or something who you can contact via mail from the university´s homepage.
good luck and gambatte !


P Goldsbury
24th September 2002, 11:24
I found from living here that I had to master quite a number of counters ?•?”ŽŚ josushi. All Japanese nouns are mass nouns and form plurals by having a counter attached. Whether the number word preceding the counter is ichi, ni, san.. or hi, fu, mi.. depends on the counter. I suppose the reason for the complexity is just that: the lack of a grammatical plural. Anyway, long objects like pencils, bottles of beer are -hon (ippon, nihon, sambon, -- but mugs of beer are -hai); flat objects like pieces of paper and name cards are -mai; books are -satsu; railway cars are -ryou; station platforms are -bansen (using the counter for 1st, 2nd, 3rd); machines like computers and cars are -dai; overnight stays in a hotel are -haku; a person's age is -sai. All combined with the numbers according to rules of euphony.

If you are a beginner, the default -tsu is very reliable, but as you progress and certainly if you come here and converse with Japanese native speakers, you will need a respectable selection of counters.

All this certainly makes the language interesting, if nothing else.

Yours sincerely,

P A Goldsbury,
Graduate School of Social Sciences,
Hiroshima University

24th September 2002, 15:27
Rogier, this place (http://japanese.about.com/bl_number.htm) has audio files for correct pronounciation, as well as information about Japan in general.