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Grammar detail: Japanese numbers and counting

1
5
JLPT:
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
み) or the よん or なな (the
くんよ
み) can be used. Above 10, however, the 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
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.
Japanese has many counters, and the most common ones are:
 
まい flat objects such as paper or books
ほん cylindrical or long objects such as bottles or chopsticks (note: this is a little confusing, since ほん means 'book' - it is *not* used to count books)
さつbooks
じんpeople
ひきsmall animals
かいnumber of times something happens
small round objects
箇所/ヶ所かしょplaces
birds
さい years old / age (note that '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)
才| さい years old (note: this is commonly used, but not technically correct: 歳 is the correct counter)
じょう tatami mats (the typical way to measure the area of a room)
だい cars and machines
めい people (polite alternative to 人, used by businesses and restaurants etc.)
words
カ国語 かこくご languages
か月 かげつ months
けん buildings
つう letters, telegrams etc
ぎょう rows (in a document etc)
ばん platforms (in a railway station etc)
かい floors (in a building)
便 びん (plane) flights
さつ banknotes
きゃく chairs, tables, legs (of chairs and tables etc)
こう items (in a checklist); paragraphs
はく nights (eg of a stay in a hotel)
せい generations; monarchs (Elizabeth I etc)
とう large animals, cattle
かん volumes (eg books); reels (eg film)
copies (eg of a publication)
切れ きれ pieces of sashimi (literally 'cuts') ひときれ、 ふたきれ、 みきれ、 よきれ、 ごきれ、 ろっきれ、 ななきれ、 はちきれ、 きゅうきれ、 じっきれ
ちゃく suits of clothing
そく pairs of shoes etc.
わり tenths; lots of 10%
children
つぶ pills, tablets etc
In Japanese, counters are known as {search
じょすうし
}.

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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See also:
  • 七 and 四 - how to read the kanji for seven and four
  • the character ヶ
  • Counters for objects and other things

Kanji used in this grammar

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