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Grammar detail: counters for objects and other things

counters for objects and other things
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For counting actual objects as opposed to just expressing a number, Japanese uses a unique system of 'counters', terms which are placed after the number and which partially describe the object being counted.
For example,
まい
is the counter for flat objects such as sheets of paper, so to say 'five sheets of paper' in Japanese, you would say
かみごまい
紙五枚
which literally means 'paper 5 flat objects'.
While this seems unusual at first, and is often touted as a difficult feature of Japanese, we are actually doing exactly the same thing in English (five sheets of paper), but English is much less regular than Japanese.
Dates and times use counters in the same way - see dates and time for details.
Counters on Kanshudo
Japanese has several hundred counters. Below we provide a summary of the forty or so most common ones. You can use the following search to find all counters in Japanese: search for all counters. For each counter, you can use the following syntax to find all words in the system that use the counter, which will help you understand how to modify the reading as you use the counter: counter:切れ.
The most common counters
counter             usagesearch                            
じん
people
かかん
日間
period of days
にち
day (of the month)
ほん
cylindrical or long objects such as bottles or chopsticks
note: this is a little confusing, since ほん means 'book', but it is not used to count books
ふん
minutes - see telling the time in Japanese
ぎょう
rows (in a document etc)
めい
people (polite alternative to 人, used by businesses and restaurants etc.)
words
せい
generations; monarchs (Elizabeth I etc)
つう
letters, telegrams etc
きれ
切れ
pieces of sashimi (literally 'cuts')
note: this counter is slightly irregular - use the search link for details
そく
pairs of shoes etc.
ちゃく
suits of clothing
だい
cars and other vehicles, machines
copies (eg of a publication)
かい
number of times something happens
とう
large animals, cattle
ばん
platforms (in a railway station etc)
さい
years old / age
note: '20 years old' is irregular: 二十歳 is not read にじゅっさい as you would expect, but instead はたち
わり
tenths; lots of 10%
びん
便
(plane) flights
さい
years old
note: this is commonly used, but not technically correct: 歳 is the correct counter
かん
volumes (eg books); reels (eg film)
かい
floors (in a building)
small round objects
birds
children
まい
flat objects such as paper or books
はく
nights (eg of a stay in a hotel)
さつ
banknotes
けん
buildings
じょう
tatami mats
note: this is the typical way to measure the area of a room
さつ
books
つぶ
pills, tablets etc
ひき
small animals
きゃく
chairs, tables, legs (of chairs and tables etc)
こう
items (in a checklist); paragraphs
かしょ
箇所

かしょ
ヶ所
places
かこくご
カ国語
languages
かげつ
か月
months
月 alone can also be used in certain situations

In Japanese, counters are known as .
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Words used in this grammar

2
noun
1. piece; slice; strip; scrap
2. cloth  (also written as 布, 裂)
(click the word to view an additional 2 meanings, examples and links)

Kanji used in this grammar

マイ   sheet
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シ   かみ paper   
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ゴ   いつ-    いつ five   
セツ   サイ   き to cut   きれる to break, to snap   
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ジン   ニン   ひと person   
ニチ   ジツ   sun; day   ひ    -か    
カン   ケン   あいだ interval, between   ま space, room   
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ホン   book   もと origin   
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ブン   ブ   フン   わける to divide, to distinguish   わかる to understand   わかれる to be divided   わかつ to share, distribute   
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コウ   ギョウ   アン   ゆ    い to go   おこな to take place   
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メイ   ミョウ   な name   
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ゴ   かた to talk, relate   かたらう to talk together, chat   
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セ   セイ   よ the world   
ツ   ツウ   とお to pass through   とお to let pass   かよ to commute   
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ソク   あし foot; leg   た to add   た    たりる to be sufficient   
チャク   ジャク   つ to arrive   つける to attach   き to wear   きせる to make wear   
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ダイ   タイ    pedestal   
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ブ   part
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カイ   エ   まわ to revolve   まわ to make turn   
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トウ   ト   ズ   あたま    かしら head   
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バン    turn   
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サイ   セイ    X years old, year-end   
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ニ   ふた    ふた two   
ジュウ   ジッ   と    とお ten   
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カツ   わ to separate, to divide   われる to split apart, to crack   わり proportion, 10%   さ to cut up   
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便
convenience; tidings   ビン tidings   ベン convenience   たよ tidings, news   
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サイ    genius   
カン   roll up   ま to roll (up)   まき roll, reel, volume   
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カイ    floor   
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コ    individual   
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ウ   はね feather   わ counter for birds   
ジ   ニ    newborn babe   
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ハク   とまる to stay, to lodge overnight   とめる to give lodgings   
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サツ   ふだ label, tag   
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ケン    building   のき eaves   
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ジョウ   たた to fold up   たたみ tatami   
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サツ   サク    volume   
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リュウ   つぶ a grain   
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ヒツ   ひき counter for animals   
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キャク   キャ   あし leg   
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コウ    paragraph, item   
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カ    item; counter for months, places, provisions   
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ショ   ところ place   
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コク   くに country   
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ガツ   ゲツ   つき month; moon   
ジョ   すけ help   たすける to help, save   たすかる to be helped   
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スウ   ス   かず number   かぞえる to count   
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シ    part of speech, words, poetry   
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