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Easy Counters

Oni's picture

In English, we just take a number (1,2,3...) add a noun and an "s" to count items. But in Japanese different types of objects have different counters. Plus some numbers change pronunciation slightly when added with their counter. Don't worry too much about the pronunciation changes since you will be understood. And even if you mess up and count with the wrong counter, you should be understood, but just a tip... don't count people with "pikki" (used with animals!)

First, there are 2 ways to count numbers - the 'native' and the 'Chinese' way. Actually the 'native' counting system only goes up to 10 and is pretty much only used for counting up to two people and for counting general things. If you are feeling lazy, just learn the "Chinese" numbers for now.

If you haven't studied numbers yet, go to this page to learn all about them before proceeding: How to Count

Here is a quick review::


一つ ひとつ
二つ ふたつ
三つ みっつ
四つ よっつ
五つ いつつ
六つ むっつ
七つ ななつ
八つ やっつ
九つ ここのつ
十 と


一 いち
二 に
三 さん
四 し、よん
五 ご
六 ろく
七 しち、なな
八 はち
九 きゅう、く
十 じゅう

Note the two red alternate readings on the "Chinese" side. These are pronunciations based on the "native" readings but are often used in conjunction when counting other "Chinese" numbers.

Ok, now for counters.

Let's go through some common counters one by one and then I will give a list of many other counters:

Counter: nin | Usage: people [pay attention to the red lines.]
一人 (ひとり) 1 person [irregular]
二人 (ふたり) 2 people [irregular]

三人 (さん にん) 3 people [now we simply add the Chinese numbers to にん]
四人 (よ にん) [し にん is NOT used. Probably because し means death... Also notice the dropped ん from よん; hihlordjp from the discussion forums on this site brought up an interesting but obscure (I think) pronunciation - よったり or よたり. It is in the dictionaries although I had never heard it. ]
五人 (ご にん)
六人 (ろく にん)
七人 (しち にん OR なな にん) [It seems しちにん is used more often, but ななにん is also used]
八人 (はち にん)
九人 (きゅう にん or く にん)
十人 (じゅう にん)
十一人  (じゅう いち にん) etc...

Counter: hiki | Usage: most animals
一匹 (いっぴき) [notice the H changes to a P]
二匹 (にひき)
三匹 (さん びき) [notice the H changes to a B this time.]
四匹 (よんひき)
五匹 (ごひき)
六匹 (ろっぴき) [notice the H changes to a P AND the く becomes a small っ]
七匹 (なな ひき or しち ひき) [probably ななひき is most used]
八匹 (はっぴき or はち ひき)
九匹 (きゅう ひき)
十匹 (じゅっぴき) [notice the small っ - this occurs when there is a soft sound after like H]

Counter: hon | Usage: long, slender objects like pencils, bottles, arms...
一本 (いっぽん)
二本 (に ほん)
三本 (さん ぼん)
四本 (よん ほん)
五本 (ご ほん)
六本 (ろっぽん)
七本 (なな ほん)
八本 (はっぽん or はち ほん)
九本 (きゅう ほん)
十本 (じゅっぽん)

Other Counters:

books and magazines
cups of liquids, drinks
sheets of paper; flat objects

一冊 (いっさつ) one book
二冊 (に さつ)
三冊 (さん さつ)
四冊 (よん さつ)
五冊 (ご さつ)
六冊 (ろく さつ)
七冊 (なな さつ or しち さつ)
八冊 (はち さつ or はっさつ)
九冊 (きゅう さつ)
十冊 (じゅっさつ or じっさつ*

一分 (いっぷん) one minute
二分 (に ふん)
三分 (さん ぷん)
四分 (よん ぷん)
五分 (ご ふん)
六分 (ろっぷん)
七分 (なな ふん)
八分 (はち ふん)
九分 (きゅう ふん)
十分 (じゅっぷん or じっぷん*
一杯 (いっぱい) one cup
二杯 (に はい)
三杯 (さん ばい)
四杯 (よん はい)
五杯 (ご はい)
六杯 (ろっぱい)
七杯 (なな はい)
八杯 (はっぱい)
九杯 (きゅう はい)
十杯 (じゅっぱい or じっぱい*
一枚 (いち まい) one piece
二枚 (に まい)
三枚 (さん まい)
四枚 (よん まい)
五枚 (ご まい)
六枚 (ろく まい)
七枚 (なな まい)
八枚 (はち まい)
九枚 (きゅう まい)
十枚 (じゅう まい)

* notice this can be pronounced as じっ instead of じゅっ. This is to make it clearer and is often used in broadcasting. You may also encounter this with hon and hiki. For now, you can just say, じゅっ...

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Does this mean that satsu

Does this mean that satsu means books and magazines, fun means minutes and so on?

Yes and no. 冊 is most closely

Yes and no.
冊 is most closely translated to 'volume'. It's the counter-suffix for books and magazines. We might say in English '3 volumes of an encyclopedia', or '3 issues of a magazine'.
Japanese always (or almost always) requires this kind of structure, and 冊 fills this role for books and magazines. 分 fills this role for minutes.

If I say 'I have 3 books' though, there isn't really a counter word in English. I don't say 'I have 3 volumes of book'... but in Japanese I say something much like that when I say '本三冊が持っている'

Any special situations?

Are there any special circumstances when to use Japanese numbers and when to use Chinese.I mean I've seen at many places them using hitotsu and wondered if I could use ichi at those places.

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