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Counting Basics in Japanese – Part 1 Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Grammar

Most of you might know already how to count 1 through 10 or 1 through 100 in Japanese. When you count things in Japanese, depending on what you are counting, “COUNTER WORDS” becomes very important.  Sometimes, counter words are a bit confusing since you have to know WHICH counter word to use for what you are counting.  Let’s learn about counter words today in this lesson! Read on.

In Japanese, “counter words” are called Joshu-shi (助数詞、じょすうし). It is hard to say this word, let me show you some of the examples below so you can see how this 助数詞 changes as you count different things.


Counting Basics in Japanese

Most of the items can be counted using “tsu(つ)” at the end of each number, such as

ONE- HITO TSU (一つ、ひとつ)

TWO- FUTA TSU (二つ、ふたつ)

THREE – MIT TSU (三つ、みっつ)

FOUR – YOT TSU (四つ、よっつ)

FIVE – ITSU TSU (五つ、いつつ)

SIX – MUT TSU (六つ、むっつ)

SEVEN – NANA TSU (七つ、ななつ)

EIGHT – YAT TSU (八つ、やっつ)

NINE – KOKONO TSU (九つ、ここのつ)

TEN – TO-O (十、とお*)

*Note, the last one, the number 10 is pronounced as TO-O. There is no TSU(つ)at the end of it.

This is the basic way of counting in Japanese; however, there are a specific way of counting as explained below.

Smaller animals, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians – “hiki (ひき) or piki (ぴき)”

For example,

1pikki (いっぴき), 2hiki (にひき), 3biki(さんびき), 4hiki(よんひき), 5hiki(ごひき), 6pikki(ろっぴき), 7hiki(ななひき), 8pikki(はっぴき), 9hiki(きゅうひき), 10pikki(じゅっぴき)

I saw 2 dogs yesterday.

Watashi wa, kinou 2hiki no inu o mita. – 私は、昨日2匹の犬を見た。( わたしは、きのう2ひきのいぬをみた。)


Larger animals – “tou (とう)”

For example,

1tou (いっとう), 2tou (にとう), 3tou(さんとう), 4tou(よんとう), 5tou(ごとう), 6tou(ろくとう), 7tou(ななとう), 8tou(はちとう), 9tou(きゅうとう), 10tou(じゅっとう)

I saw 2 elephants at the zoo yesterday.

Watashi wa, kinou 2tou no zou o mita. – 私は、昨日二頭の象を見た。( わたしは、きのう2とうのぞうをみた。)


Long, thin objects: rivers, roads, train tracks, ties, pencils, bottles – “pon (本、ぽん) , hon(本、ほん), bon(本、ぼん)

For example,

1pon (いっぽん), 2hon (にほん), 3bon(さんぼん), 4hon(よんほん), 5hon(ごほん), 6pon(ろっぽん), 7hon(ななほん), 8pon(はっぽん), 9hon(きゅうほん), 10pon(じゅっぽん)

I have two pencils.

Watashi wa nihon no enpitsu o motteimasu. – 私は、日本の鉛筆を持っています。(わたしは、にほんの えんぴつをもっています。)


Number of floors – “kai (階、かい) “

For example,

1kai (いっかい), 2kai (にかい), 3kai(さんかい), 4kai(よんかい), 5kai(ごかい), 6kai(ろっかい), 7kai(ななかい), 8kai(はっかい), 9kai(きゅうかい), 10kai(じゅっかい)

I live on the 3rd floor.

Watashi wa san kai ni sunde imasu. – 私は、3階に住んでいます。(わたしは、さんかいにすんでいます。)

I will cover more variations in the next series of “counting basics in Japanese” lesson.

For your reference, take a look at the following video.



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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.