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Are there singular and plural forms for words in Japanese?

I know about the suffixes in pronouns which are '-たち' and '-ら' which turn a singular you into plural you and an I to a we. I can't imagine a language having no singular/plural form for nouns. Do they distinguish a bird from many birds by adding a number to 鳥? So two birds are 二鳥?

Edit: I was unaware that the tips section in the Home lesson would provide the answer to my question, to think I was only one lesson away from answering my own question. I thank the people who have answered me and apologise for my ignorance.

June 16, 2019



As you suspect, there’s no singular/plural forms other than たちand ら in Japanese. There are some other languages that doesn’t have them too.

When someone says 鳥が飛んでいる(the bird/s is/are flying)、you don’t know whether the person is talking about 1 bird or 100 birds. When you want to express there are many birds, you have to say 鳥がたくさん飛んでいる。Which litteraly means “There are a lot of birds flying ” or 鳥が群れで飛んでいる which means “there’s a flock of birds flying”.

If you want to exactly specify only 1 bird is flying, you have to say 鳥が1羽(いちわ)飛んでいる。

BTW, 羽(わ) is counter for birds.






...and so on


Thank you for the quick and informative reply.


Be careful with the counters, because it's not as easy as this! With this counter for birds and rabbits it's not ななわ, but しちわ when you want to say that there are 7 birds.


Aah yes, 羽 is also a counter for bunnies. Even bunnies doesn’t have 羽(はねfeathers). There’s several legends why they use this word as counter for them, but it’s still a mystery for all Japanese.


I've not gotten that far into Japanese on here. But based on what I remember from High School Japanese- no. All nouns can be both singular or plural based on context. You can say things like many, few or exact numbers if it needs stating. Honestly, I don't remember it giving me any trouble in high school.


If you think about it, even in languages like English the plural form doesn't tell you how many things you're talking about, it's 'two or more'. In Japanese it's 'one or more'.


A way to think about it is that all nouns in Japanese are mass nouns. So don't think of them as being like the countable nouns bird, dog, etc; but as being like flour, water, bread, etc. And just like how in English you can't say '1 water' or '3 bread' but you need to specify what you are counting in, in Japanese you need to specify what you are counting the noun in: 三匹の猫 'three (small animal counter) cats', 四枚の紙 'four (flat object counter) pieces of paper'.

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