Numbers in Japanese
Let’s learn numbers in Japanese. If you have already learned the basic numbers, please review them. Learning Japanese numbers in hiragana or even kanji are not that hard, but knowing how to count certain objects can be very tricky.
Here’s the number chart in Hiragana and Kanji. Some of them have two options (4, 7 and 9).
|4||し / よん||四||shi / yon||four|
|7||なな / しち||七||nana / shichi||seven|
|9||きゅう / く||九||kyū / ku||nine|
11 じゅういち 十一 jū ichi eleven
12 じゅうに 十二 jū ni twelve
20 にじゅう 二十 ni jū twenty
21 にじゅういち 二十一 ni jū ichi twenty-one
40 よんじゅう 四十 yon jū forty
70 ななじゅう 七十 nana jū senventy
99 きゅうじゅうきゅう 九十九 kyū jū kyū ninety-nine
Time expressions (～じ - ji)
|11:00||じゅういちじ||十一時||11時||jū ich ji|
|12:00||じゅうにじ||十二時||12時||jū ni ji|
All the expressions end with じ 時 (ji) to indicate time. Notice that the number in 4 o’clock is irregular; it’s neither し or よん as in the number chart, but it’s よじ. (It’s よん with ん dropped.) For 7:00 and 9:00, しち and く are used.
When you count things in general, you can use the first chart for plain numbers, or counting Things list below. The numbers in bold are irregular words that require special attention.
|-||～こ||- ko||～にん||- nin|
|2||にこ||ni ko||ふたり||futa ri|
|3||さんこ||san ko||さんにん||san nin|
|4||よんこ||yon ko||よにん||yo nin|
|5||ごこ||go ko||ごにん||go nin|
|7||ななこ||nana ko||しちにん||shichi nin|
⁺ Alternate way to count things: 1 ひとつ (hito tsu), 2 ふたつ (futa tsu), 3 みっつ (mittsu), 4 よっつ yottsu).
⁺⁺ きゅうにん (kyū nin) is used as well.
This next lists are: for long and semi-cylinder shape items such as pens, pencils, sticks and bottles; and for thin and flat objects such as papers, tickets, shirts and petals. You can count sheet of papers with まい mai, but you can’t count pages in the books and magazines. Page in Japanese is ページ (pēji).
|#||Long Things||Romaji||Thin Things||Romaji|
|-||～ほん, ぽん, ぼん||- hon, pon, bon||～まい||- mai|
|2||にほん||ni hon||にまい||ni mai|
|3||さん ぼん||san bon||さんまい||san mai|
|4||よんほん||yon hon||よんまい||yon mai|
|5||ごほん||go hon||ごまい||go mai|
|7||ななほん||nana hon||ななまい||nana mai|
|9||きゅうほん||kyū hon||きゅうまい||kyū mai|
For counting things (#1, 6, 8, 10) こ - ko and ぽん - pon are added which make the end of the number change to small っ(tsu). The pronunciation become double consonant (pp). Counting long items are full of irregular words, that best way to remember is just keep counting and saying out loud.
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If I may add a few observations:
A sign of a “educated” Japanese person (if you will pardon the classist overtones) is to count things using the “proper” counters, and to be aware of the various exceptions. Large animals are counted with “to”, small animals with “hiki”, birds with “wa”. Rabbits, however, are counted with “wa” for some reason.
This said, as a foreigner, you can pretty much get away with using the “tsu” counter for most objects (hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu, etc). The counter really only matters when there is potential ambiguity; if you want to order beer in a bar, you say “ビールをいっぽん” if you want a bottle, but “ビールをいっぱい” if you want a glass.
The “tsu” counter is described above as an “alternate” form, but when speaking, I think it is the most common. I don’t think I ever used the “ko” counter myself (although it is common on signs).
A caution, however, with “hitotsu” and “futatsu”: There is a tendancy for English-speakers to pronounce the “o” in “hitotsu” like in “Robert”, rather than like in “Oblique”. This is wrong; the Japanese “o” is always rounded. This matters because if you say “hitotsu” with a “o” like in “Robert” (a sound which does not exist in Japanese), it will be heard as an “a” and the listener will think meant to say “futatsu”. I have learnt this the hard way, sometimes wanting to order one thing in a restaurant and getting two delivered. :-)
5.. You may wonder where the numbers “hito”, “futa”, “mutsu”, etc come from; they are quite different than “ichi”, “ni” or “san”. The former are from Old Japanese; the latter come from Chinese. The Japanese number system is a fusion of the two.
Let me see if I understood. Counter "wa" is exclusively for birds and rabbits? And for all the other animals are "hiki" and "to"? Why are this... random exceptions? It's very confusing.
I pronounce the "o" in "oblique" and "Robert" more or less completely identically... ^^;
Really? Perhaps a better example would be, “o” as in “Oh, fudge!” :-)
Yeah, that’s the right “o” sound. I think that ここ would be a said a little bit faster than “cocoa” since the vowels are both short.
The hitotsu futatsu problem is very real. I have become so insecure that I always show one or two fingers when I say those words, having been mistaken so many times.
For counting things (#1, 6, 8, 10) こ - ko and ぽん - pon are added which make the end of the number change to small っ(tus).
っ(tus). should be tsu
Thanks, now I've got that song stuck in my head: 一本でもニンジン，二！二束でもサンダル、さん！。。。(When I was little in Japan, this was a song they sang on an educational show, like Sesame Street to teach us how to count.)
Every language has some area where they over-complicate things. In Japanese, it's counting, which is so ironic, because one thinks of numbers and math as the epitome of straightforward logic.
You have to learn both the native system (ひとつ、ふたつ、みっつ、。。。）and the Chinese system because they are not exclusive of one another. For example, when counting people, you say ひとり、ふたり，さんにん、よにん、ごにん、。。。