よん or し? (4 or 4?)

I know that there are two ways of saying 4 in Japanese, with yon and shi, but I'm kinda curious if there are rules to when to use one or the other. I already know よん can be used when counting down, but what about counting up. Or times where you are simply saying the number by itself. Thanks if you can answer.

January 19, 2019


I don't want to scare you away, but most numbers have two main readings with further modifications depending on what you're counting. There is the Chinese reading, and the Japanese reading, and which one to use depends on what you're counting.

4 is kind of a special case within special cases. Which one a Japanese person will use when just straight up listing the numbers will depend on who they are, which direction they are counting, and if you give them time to think beforehand. I encourage trying this with a Japanese friend, ask them to count up and then down, and then ask why they used different words. They probably won't be sure. Both versions of 4 are fine to use when just counting like that.

Now, for quantities it gets more complicated and specific. Most often you're gonna use a reading based on the Japanese よん. The ending will change based on what you're counting:

4.79 - よんてんななきゅう - yon ten nana kyuu

4 o'clock - 四時 - よじ - yoji

4 (general) things - 4つ - よっつ - yottsu

The other reading, し (shi), is often used when talking about dates or in set phrases and words:

April (4th month) - 4月 - しがつ - shi gatsu

The 4 seasons - 四季 - しき - shi ki

Don't even get me started on 7 :P

January 19, 2019

You may also want to read about "tetraphobia", or the superstitions surrounding the "shi" pronunciation because it has the same sound as a word for "death":

January 19, 2019

it is uome.

January 20, 2019

shi is for counting up and yon is for counting down. Japanese from zero explains this very well look it up

January 24, 2019
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