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.
Post finder: Language guides to help with learning Japanese
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.
I was expecting you to say this wasn't the "o" sound you meant, as I pronounce "cocoa" very differently to how I hear, say, 高校 pronounced.
However, I've just checked "cocoa" in a dictionary and found out that not even cocoa is pronounced the same way universally. You can hear what I mean on the following page, which has audio files of both UK and US pronunciation. Here in the south of England I pronounce "cocoa" exactly the same as their UK audio:
So this turned out to be a bad example too. ^^;
I need to straighten up few wrong beliefs in your, otherwise, useful entry.
2) The letter つ is just that: the Hiragana's つ, not a Kanji. Counters since they have been imported from the Chinese language are all Kanji. Naming these Kanji as "counters" is quiet a deliberate choice as they don't count anything. The numbers attached to them do the counting, obviously. These, so called, "counters" tell what it is being enumerated, i.e. they add a meaning to a number. That つ is the last letter of the first nine numbers read in this fashion.
一 ・いち・１turn into 一つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 一 and reads ひとつ
二・に・２turn into 二つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 二 and reads ふたつ
三・さん・３turn into 三つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 三 and reads みっつ
四・よん・４turn into 四つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 三 and reads よっつ
and so on... till the number 9. 十・じゅう・１０ is still written with the Kanji 十, but it is read とお.
3) The native Japanese numbers 一つ, 二つ, 三つ, 四つ, 五つ, 六つ, 七つ, 八つ and 九つ are definitely not the most commonly used. The usage of specific Kanji counters is very frequent which shouldn't come as a surprise as they are far more numerous, although that's not the only reason. "ko", written in ローマ字, confuses about its meaning. Moreover coming to the conclusion that since you haven't used "ko", the native Japanese numbers are the most common - you don't give any other argument for it - just doesn't make any logical sense:
個 ・コ counts small compact objects as eggs and round fruits such as oranges, apples, etc. ex. 一個・いっこ, 二個・にこ, 三個, etc.
戸・コ counts houses ex. 一戸・いっこ, 二戸・にこ, etc.
Tempting would be to use this "ko" 個 for pills, but as a matter of fact there is a specific Kanji for counting drugs like that or tablet-shaped: 錠・ジョウ ex. 一錠・いちじょう, 二錠・にじょう, etc. Suffice to say this Kanji counter is ubiquitous on any packaging you can ever buy in a Japanese pharmacy. Obviously you refer to them in the spoken language too. I guess you've never caught a cold... :) How about the Kanji 分 which counts minutes? Not common?
The kanji that counts people is unsurprisingly 人 which 訓読み is ひと (means person). The other two Japanese readings are り and と. "to" is used for names such as 人唯・とい or 人優・とゆ. While "ri" is used when counting one person 一人・ひとり and two persons 二人・ふたり respectively. However they are the only two exceptions to the rule that reads 人 by its 音読み's にん when counting people, ex. 三人・さんにん (3 persons), 十二人・じゅうににん (12 persons), 百一人・ひゃくいちにん (101 persons), etc
So when it is sensitive to use the native Japanese number system? Only when you are a foreigner? They are used when the objects cannot be counted in the standard way - i.e. with the Kanji, because the object is too abstract or too peculiar. For example:
二つ割り・ふたつわり (cutting in two)***
二つに一つ・ふたつにひとつ (one of two... - possibilities, alternatives, etc.)
二つの塔・ふたつの とう (The Two Towers - the one in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel)
*** This is a great example that shows つ for what it is: the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 二 as り is for 割.
5) The Japanese numbering is not really a fusion of "old Japanese" with the Chinese system. The native Japanese numbers were the Chinese numbers read with native Japanese words. As for the different readings of the Kanji, Japanese decided to keep their native words and have a distinctly different usage for them.
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、。。。