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Counters In Japanese


If I say "I drank one sake," you don't know whether I drank one glass or one bottle, although my brain function would differ dramatically depending on the answer.

And if I eat two dozen eggs instead of two eggs every day, I won't live as long as I should. Words like glasses, bottles, and dozens express an amount or quantity. Other unit words include pieces, sheets, and pairs (as in a piece of cake, a sheet of paper, and a pair of shoes).

Unless you're reciting numbers or doing arithmetic, you need to place a counter right after a number. You use counters to specify the time and date, talk about your age, chat about your test score, or count days, cars, students, money, fish, and a ton of other things.

The counter you use depends on the shape, size, and type of the item. If you count mechanical items such as cars, for example, you need the counter -dai (dah-ee). Simply add the counter after the number of cars - ichi-dai, ni-dai, san-dai, and so on. The tricky part is that an item can have more than one counter. When you're at the fish market trying to buy mackerel, for example, you can use either -hiki or -hon.

Table below lists common counters and their uses.

Counters and Their Uses

CounterUseExamples
-dai (dah-ee)mechanical itemscars, typewriters, refrigerators
-hiki (hee-kee)animalsdogs, frogs, fish, mosquitoes
-hon (hohn)cylindrical itemspens, pencils, bananas, sticks, umbrellas
-mai (mah-ee)flat itemsbed sheets, paper, stamps
-nin (neen)peoplestudents, children, women
-tsu (tsoo)various inanimate items/items that don't have a specific counter furniture, apples, bags, traffic lights

Counting the months

The Japanese word for moon is tsuki (tsoo-kee), which also means "month." Japanese doesn't have a separate word for each month - it uses a number paired with the counter -gatsu (gah-tsoo). For example, January is ichi-gatsu (eeh-chee-gah-tsoo).

Below table gives you the numbers from 1 to 10 and shows you how to use various counters.

Counting with Counters

Number-dai Mechanical Items-hiki Animals-hon Cylindrical Items-mai Flat Items-nin People-tsu Various Inanimate Items
1 ichiichi-daiip-pikiip-ponichi-maihitori hito-tsu
2nini-daini-hikini-honni-maifutarifuta-tsu
3 sansan-daisan-bikisan-bonsan-maisan-ninmit-tsu
4 yonyon-daiyon-hikiyon-honyon-maiyo-ninyot-tsu
5 gogo-daigo-hikigo-hongo-maigo-nin itsu-tsu
6rokuroku-dairop-pikirop-ponroku-mairoku-ninmut-tsu
7 nananana-dainana-hikinana-honnana-mainana-ninnana-tsu
8 hachihachi-daihap-pikihap-ponhachi-maihachi-ninyat-tsu
9ky0kyu-daikyu-hikikyu-honkyu-maikyD-ninkokono-tsu
10 juju[lil]-daijup-pikijup-ponjo-maijo-ninto

Using a number to name a month may seem strange, but English uses numbers to express months, too - April 20 is 4/20, for example. Just add the counter -gatsu after the number you normally use to refer to a month - but in Japanese, of course.

Table below lists the 12 tsuki.

The Months

EnglishJapanesePronunciation
Januaryichi-gatsuee-chee-gah-tsoo
Februaryni-gatsunee-gah-tsoo
Marchsan-gatsusahn-gah-tsoo
Aprilshi-gatsushee-gah-tsoo
Maygo-gatsugoh-gah-tsoo
Juneroku-gatsuroh-koo-gah-tsoo
Julyshichi-gatsushee-chee-gah-tsoo
Augusthachi-gatsuhah-chee-gah-tsoo
Septemberku-gatsukoo-gah-tsoo
Octoberju-gatsujooo-gah-tsoo
Novemberju-ichi-gatsujooo-ee-chee-gah-tsoo
Decemberju-ni-gatsujooo-nee-gah-tsoo

To express a number of months, use the counter -kagetsu (kah-geh-tsoo) or -kagetsukan (kah-geh-tsoo-kahn). In conversation, -kagetsu is more common, but it's good to know both.

The Numbers of Months table shows how kagetsu is pronounced when combined with numbers. Watch out for irregular sound changes!

Numbers of Months

EnglishJapanesePronunciation
1 monthik-kagetsueek-kah-geh-tsoo
2 monthsni-kagetsunee-kah-geh-tsoo
3 monthssan-kagetsusahn-kah-geh-tsoo
4 monthsyon-kagetsuyohn-kah-geh-tsoo
5 monthsgo-kagetsugoh-kah-geh-tsoo
6 monthsrok-kagetsurohk-kah-geh-tsoo
7 monthsnana-kagetsunah-nah-kah-geh-tsoo
8 monthshachi-kagetsuhah-chee-kah-geh-tsoo
9 monthskyu-kagetsukyooo-kah-geh-tsoo
10 monthsjuk-kagetsujook-kah-geh-tsoo

Counting the days In this section, I show you how to say "the first," "the second," and so on for dates and how to specify items in a sequence, like "the third slice of pizza." To find out how to say these words in reference to items like buildings, streets, and intersections.

The way dates are pronounced in Japanese is full of irregularities.

What's Today's Date?

DateJapanesePronunciation
1sttsuitachitsoo-ee-tah-chee
2ndfutsukafoo-tsoo-kah
3rdmikkameek-kah
4thyokkayohk-kah
5thitsukaee-tsoo-kah
6thmuikamoo-ee-kah
7thnanokanah-noh-kah
8thyokayohh-kah
9thkokonokakoh-koh-noh-kah
10thtokatohh-kah
11th11-nichijooo-ee-chee-nee-chee
12th12-nichijooo-nee-nee-chee
13th13-nichijooo-sahn-nee-chee
14thjuyokkajooo-yohk-kah
15th15-nichijooo-goh-nee-chee
16th16-nichijooo-roh-koo-nee-chee
17th17-nichijooo-shee-chee-nee-chee
18th18-nichijooo-hah-chee-nee-chee
19th19-nichijooo-koo-nee-chee
20thhatsukahah-tsoo-kah
21st21-nichinee-jooo-ee-chee-nee-chee
22nd22-nichinee-jooo-nee-nee chee
23rd23-nichinee-jooo-sahn-nee-chee
24thnijGyokkanee-jooo-yohk-kah
25th25-nichinee-jooo-goh-nee-chee
26th26-nichinee-jooo-roh-koo-nee-chee
27th27-nichinee-jooo-shee-chee-nee-chee
28th28-nichinee-jooo-hah-chee-nee-chee
29th29-nichinee-jooo-koo-nee-chee
30th30-nichisahn-jooo-nee-chee
31st31-nichisahn-jooo-ee-chee-nee-chee



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