"One, two, three..." vs "First, second, third..."

Hey everyone. I'm having a bit of a problem understanding how you differentiate between "one, two, three..." and "first, second, third..." in the Japanese language.

For example, I ran into this phrase earlier today:

野球は九人で1チームです。 "In baseball there are nine people on one team."

However, my first impression when I read it was to think it meant something along the lines of: "In baseball, there are nine people on the first team." In this particular phrase, it becomes a bit more obvious that 1チーム probably means "one team", because baseball has the same number of players in all teams. However, if it was a different game with asymmetric team distribution, how would you specify that you are talking about the first team specifically, instead of one team?

Also, how do you usually distinguish between "first" and "one"? Is there a suffix and/or prefix for it? For instance, how would you say "First Person", if 1人 usually means "One person"?

Thank you in advance!

1 year ago


If you were talking about people it would probably be:

1人目 = hitori me = first person

2人目 = futari me = second person

3人目 = san nin me = third person, etc.

Or use ばん(番) which is a number. This could cover a lot if you do not know which counter to use.

1番目 = first

2番目 = second

3番目 = third

Depending on what you talk about the words might change. So if you wanted to count with the word team:

1チーム目 = first team

2チーム目 = second team

3チーム目 = third team

1 year ago
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Interesting - I just learned the expressions for "first day" 一日目, "second day" 二日目 etc.

I had been wondering what 目 had to do with any of this but now I realize that in this case, 目 is just an ordinal number suffix - nothing to do with "eye".

1 year ago
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B_bethany is correct. I would add, however, that for counting order, rather than 1チーム目, it is more usual to hear 第一チーム (Dai-ichi chiimu), as in 安全第一(Safety first). Some might also say チームワン, or チーム一番, which all Japanese would understand.

To get back to your original question, if you want to say one team you could say 一チーム (Hito-chiimu), two teams 二チーム (Futa-chiimu). Three teams and higher would be san, yon, go, etc. + chiimu. The easier way to say the above would be to say hitotsu-no-chiimu, futatsu-no-chiimu, mittsu-no-chiimu, yottsu-no-chiimu, etc. For this, however, you should be comfortable using both counting systems.


1 year ago

Thank you so much! Your comment along with B_bethany's clarifies pretty much all my questions on the subject.

1 year ago
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1 year ago
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This is a great answer. Something niggles me about the difference between 目 and 第. I'll see if I can articulate it. Also, I just want to make clear for others that チーム一番 is "Team (number) One" and not "The First Team". Small difference, but important to watch out for, in my opinion.

Back to ordinals. When I hear 第, it feels like a header on a document. 第一話 as an example. In comparison, 目 feels more like a numbered list. Does that make any sense? Would you agree or do you think I'm off base?

1 year ago
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目 and 第 are used pretty much the same in most cases. 第 is the more 'chinese' of the two and, as a consequence, is still often used in printed materials. Book chapters, as well as for other things that are part of a sequence. Also for things that are ranked. As in 第一 it doesn't just mean first in order, it is number one in priority. As far as simple ordinal lists go, however, often either can be used.

1 year ago
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