Counting in Japanese: Nouns, Time and the Frequency of Occurrence using Japanese Counters
In English, we’d often learn how to count from a very young age and it can be really simple! From one chair to even five dogs. However, things may start to get a little more complicated when we bring in item counters like “pieces”, “pair”, “cans”, “sheets” etc.
Similarly, the Japanese language also has its own counters and is typically used as a prefix to a noun, time or even the frequency of something occurring. Today, we’ll be covering some of the more commonly used Japanese item counters just for you! Pssst, we’ll also include a section on how to give an approximation for certain values!
Firstly, let’s take a look at the various counters used for counting nouns! For simplicity, we’ll mostly take a look at how to count from 1 to 10. “Why?”, you’d ask. For quantities between 11 to 99, they can be counted similarly to how you would count numbers, it’s just that certain exceptions still apply to the last number! E.g. If 4 People is read as Yonin, 44 People would be read as Yonjuu Yonin.
If you haven’t check out our blog on how to count in Japanese already, remember to check it out! With that out of the way, let’s get on cracking with the following counters for nouns:
枚 ー Read Mai, can be used to count thin and flat objects.
本 ー Read Hon/Bon/Pon, can be used to count thin and long objects.
For the 本 (Hon) counters 1, 3, 6, 8 and 10, they are read as ___ respectively:
If you are looking to ask a question on how many of them are there, you would use 何本 (Nanbon).
人/名 ー Read Nin/Mei, typically used to count the number of people. 名 is more polite and formal.
For the 人 (Nin) counters 1, 2 and 4, they are read as ___ respectively:
階 ー Read Kai/Gai, used to count the number of levels/floors/stories for a building.
For the 階 (Kai) counters 1, 3, 6, 8 and 10, they are read as ___ respectively:
個/箇/ヶ ー Read Ko, can be used to count something small or round.
For the 個 (Ko) counters 1, 6, 8 and 10, they are read as ___ respectively:
杯 ー Read Hai/Bai/Pai, can be used to count the number of cups, glasses or bowls.
For the 杯 (Hai) counters 1, 3, 6, 8 and 10, they are read as ___ respectively:
As for asking a question on how many cups/glasses are there, you would read it as 何杯 (Nanbai).
Moving on, now it’s TIME for us to take a look at counting time!
分 ー Read Fun/Bun/Pun, can be used to count the number of minutes.
For the 分 (Fun) counters 1, 3, 6, 8 and 10, they are read as ___ respectively:
If you are looking to ask a question on “How many Minutes are there?”, you would read it as 何分 (Nanpun)
ヶ/箇月 ー Read Kagetsu, can be used to count the number of months.
For the ヶ月 (Kagetsu) counters 1, 6, 8 and 10, they will be read as ___ respectively:
歳/才 ー Read Sai, can be used to count the age of someone or something.
For the 歳 (Sai) counters 1, 8 and 10, they will be read as ___ respectively:
時/日/週/年間 ー Read ~kan. Can be used to count the number of hours/days/weeks/years.
For the 時 (Ji) counters 4, 7 and 9, they will be read as ___ respectively:
For 日 (Nichi) counters:
Add any of these onto 間 (Kan) to express it as “_ Number of Days”
For expressing “In a Period of One Day”, we’d simply use 一日 (Ichi nichi) without 間 (Kan).
For the 週 (Shuu) counters 1, 8 and 10, they will be read as ___ respectively:
Extent and Frequency of Occurrence
Last but not least, let’s take a look at counting the extent and frequency of occurrences!
倍 ー Read Bai, can be used to count the number of times/folds. For example, “The price of this is 3 TIMES the price of that”.
度 ー Read Do, can be used to count the number of times something has been done or the degree of something (Angles/Temperature).
回 ー Read Kai, can be used to count the number of times or number of rounds in which something occurs.
For the 回 (Kai) counters 1, 6, 8 and 10, they will be read as ___ respectively:
Giving an Approximation
Beyond just counting time, items or even the frequency of occurrence, it may sometime be hard to come up with a concrete figure. This is where approximation comes in to fill in the gap. When you are unsure of how many items there are, how often something has occurred or even being unsure of the time, this is when you can give an approximate figure using the following words!
Suffixes (Added after a Word)
ぐらい/くらい ー Read Gurai/Kurai, used to give an approximate value for anything (Nouns, Time, Frequency of Occurrence).
ぶり ー Read Buri, used to approximate time. Find out more on how to use this word over here!
Prefixes (Added before a Word)
大体 ー Read Daitai, can be used to approximate values.
約 ー Read Yaku, means something along the lines of “About, Almost or Close to”.
Having listed these down, why not try using this in your daily lives? Say, how would you phrase “It is my 8th time eating 4 Pieces of Chashu on the 3rd Floor of the Restaurant at approximately 5pm in the afternoon”? Well, with enough practice, we’re sure you’d be able to figure this out one day but for the time being, have fun learning Japanese!