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Grammar detail: Japanese numbers and counting

Japanese numbers and counting
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one to ten

1いち
2
3さん
4し/よん
5
6ろく
7しち/なな
8はち
9きゅう
10じゅう
4 and 7 are slightly irregular: when used on their own, either the し or しち (which are the
おんよ
音読
み) or the よん or なな (the
くんよ
訓読
み) can be used. Above 10, however, or when used with counters (eg 七万), either is correct, but よん and なな are much more common.

ten to ninety-nine

Past ten, Japanese is completely regular, so counting is as simple as putting the number of tens with the number of ones. So for example:
  • 57 = 五十七 (ごじゅうなな) = five tens + seven
  • 99 = 九十九 (きゅうじゅうきゅう) = nine tens + nine
  • 44 = 四十四 (よんじゅうよん) = four tens + four

one hundred to ten thousand

From 100 to 10000, Japanese largely mirrors English: the Japanese terms for 100 and 1000 are used and combined in the same way.
100ひゃく213 ➜ 二百十三 (にひゃくじゅうさん)
1000せん3406 ➜ 三千四百六 (さんぜんよんひゃくろく)

above ten thousand

Unlike the Western system, which counts in multiples of a thousand, Japanese counts in multiples of 10,000, so numbers larger than 10,000 take a bit of thought to 'convert' from the Western system to Japanese.
10,000 = 10^4まん12000 ➜ 10000 + 2x1000 ➜ 一万二千 (いちまんにせん)
10,000 x 10,000 = 100,000,000 = 10^8おく105 million ➜ 1 x 100 million + 500 x 10,000 ➜ 一億五百万 (いちおくごひゃくまん)
10,000 x 10,000 x 10,000 = 1000,000,000,000 = 10^12ちょう1 trillion ➜ 1 million x 1 million ➜ 一兆 (いっちょう)

generic counting

When you don't know a counter, or a counter is not readily suitable, the standard numbers can be turned into counters by using the following
くんよ
訓読
み:
1一つひとつ
2二つふたつ
3三つみっつ
4四つよっつ
5五ついつつ
6六つむっつ
7七つななつ
8八つやっつ
9九つここのつ

counters for objects and other things

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
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
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 , used by businesses and restaurants etc.)
words
せい
generations; monarchs (Elizabeth I etc)
つう
letters, telegrams etc
きれ
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: 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
(plane) flights
さい
years old
note: this is commonly used, but not technically correct: 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

かしょ
places
かこくご
languages
かげつ
months
alone can also be used in certain situations

In Japanese, counters are known as .

numerical order

The order of objects can be expressed using the form:
number + counter + 目 (め)
For example:
  • 三つ目 (みっつめ) third (generic object)
  • 九人目 (きゅうにんめ) ninth person
  • 二回目 (にかいめ) second time
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Kanji used in this grammar

イチ   イツ   ひと    ひと- one   
ニ   ふた    ふた two   
サン   み    みっ three   
シ   four   よ    よ    よっ    よん    
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ゴ   いつ-    いつ five   
ロク   むっ six   む    むい    む    
シチ   なな    なな    なの seven   
ハチ   や    や    よう eight   
ク   キュウ   ここの nine   
ジュウ   ジッ   と    とお ten   
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オン   イン   sound   おと    ね    
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ドク   トク   トウ   よ to read   
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クン    teaching, precept; Japanese reading of a kanji   
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マン   バン    10,000   
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ヒャク    hundred; 100   
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セン   1000; thousand   ち 1000   
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オク    hundred million   
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チョウ   きざ sign, indication   きざ to show signs (of)   
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ボク   モク   eye   ま-    め    
ジン   ニン   ひと person   
カイ   エ   まわ to revolve   まわ to make turn   
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