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Jessi: Counters. Hi everyone and welcome to appendix lesson #7. In this lesson, we will be looking at the various counter words used in Japanese.
Naomi: First, let’s explain what counters are.
Jessi: Good idea. Counters are words that are paired with numbers and are used to count things and events. And we have similar phrases in English, too. Phrases like a piece of, a slice of and a cup of are some examples and Japanese has many different counters. And what counter is used depends on the size and shape of the object being countered.
Naomi: The number always comes in front of the counter and sometimes sound changes take place. In this lesson, we will introduce many common counters used in Japanese.
Jessi: In the appendix lesson notes, we introduced 12 different counters. The first seven are ones that we saw in the Gengo Japanese lessons and the rest are other counters that we find useful. First, let’s start with the counters that we saw in the Gengo Japanese lessons. The first one that we will introduce is known as the generic counter.
Naomi: Right. If you don’t know the counter for something, you can use this counter instead.
Jessi: It’s kind of like the all purpose counter. The words don’t really resemble the numbers. So you have to memorize them. Let’s go through them. The general counter for one item is
Naomi: 一つ (hitotsu)
Jessi: Two items
Naomi: 二つ (futatsu)
Jessi: Three items
Naomi: 三つ (mittsu)
Jessi: Four items
Naomi: 四つ (yottsu)
Jessi: Five items
Naomi: 五つ (itsutsu)
Jessi: Six items
Naomi: 六つ (muttsu)
Jessi: Seven items
Naomi: 七つ (nanatsu)
Jessi: Eight items
Naomi: 八つ (yattsu)
Jessi: Nine items
Naomi: 九つ (kokonotsu)
Jessi: Ten items
Naomi: 十 (tō)
Jessi: These words don’t follow any pattern but except for the last one, they all have つ (tsu) at the end. So you just have to memorize them. Okay, now let’s move on to some more specific counters. The first that you will look at don’t undergo any sound changes. The first counter is
Naomi: 度 (do)
Jessi: 度 (do) is a counter for degrees and temperature. It is also used to count occurrences or number of times. Let’s go through a few examples. One degree is
Naomi: 一度 (ichi-do)
Jessi: Two degrees
Naomi: 二度 (ni-do)
Jessi: Three degrees
Naomi: 三度 (san-do)
Jessi: So as you can see, we simply attach the number to the counter word and in this case, there were no sound changes. Let’s take a look at the next counter which is
Naomi: 枚 (mai)
Jessi: 枚 (mai) is used to count thin, flat items such as sheets of paper, tickets et cetera. Let’s go through a few examples. One flat object
Naomi: 一枚 (ichi-mai)
Jessi: Two flat objects
Naomi: 二枚(ni-mai)
Jessi: Three flat objects
Naomi: 三枚(san-mai)
Jessi: Great. Let’s go on to the next counter which is
Naomi: 名 (mei)
Jessi: 名 (mei) is a polite counter to count people. There is another counter used to count people 人 (nin) which we will go over later on in this lesson. Just know that 名 (mei) is more polite and is often used in formal situations. Let’s go through few examples. One person would be
Naomi: 一名 (ichi-mei)
Jessi: Two people
Naomi: 二名 (ni-mei)
Jessi: Three people
Naomi: 三名 (san-mei)
Jessi: So remember that these three counters 度 (do) for degrees, 枚 (mai) for flat objects and 名 (mei) for people are really simple because no sound change occurs. So you simply add the counter to the number. Okay let’s move on to the next set of counters. These next two counters follow the same set of sound changes. So let’s take a look at the first one which is
Naomi: 個 (ko)
Jessi: 個 (ko) is a counter used to count small or round objects. Let’s go through a few examples. One small object is
Naomi: 一個 (ikko) . Notice how there is a small (tsu) in the middle. 一個 (ikko).
Jessi: Two small objects
Naomi: 二個 (ni-ko)
Jessi: Three small objects
Naomi: 三個 (san-ko)
Jessi: Four small objects
Naomi: 四個 (yon-ko)
Jessi: Five small objects
Naomi: 五個 (go-ko)
Jessi: Six small objects
Naomi: 六個 (rokko)
Jessi: Seven small objects
Naomi: 七個 (nana-ko)
Jessi: Eight small objects
Naomi: 八個 (hachi-ko) or (hakko)
Jessi: Nine small objects
Naomi: 九個 (kyū-ko)
Jessi: Ten small objects
Naomi: 十個 (jukko)
Jessi: Great. Now, let’s go on to the next counter which is
Naomi: 階 (kai)
Jessi: 階 (kai) is used to count floors or buildings. The sound change pattern of the counter 階 (kai) for floor is the same as the counter 個 (ko) that we just went over. Let’s go through a few examples. First floor
Naomi: 一階 (ikkai). This one also has a small (tsu) like the previous counter. 一階 (ikkai).
Jessi: Second floor
Naomi: 二階 (ni-kai)
Jessi: Third floor
Naomi: 三階 (san-kai)
Jessi: And so on. Okay, the next counter we are looking at is
Naomi: 人 (nin)
Jessi: This counter is used to count people. Now, we already saw a counter that is used to count people right, the counter 名 (mei).
Naomi: Right. Like we mentioned before, 名 (mei) is used to count people in polite situations. For example wait staff at the restaurant will use it towards their customers.
Jessi: 人 (nin) however is used in a lot more situations and is more commonly used when counting people. You simply add 人 (nin) to the number to use it. So it’s pretty straightforward but there are two big exceptions. Right, Naomi-sensei?
Naomi: そうですね。(Sō desu ne) Right. The words for one person and two people do not have 人 (nin) in them at all.
Jessi: Right. So let’s take a look at those. What’s the word for one person?
Naomi: 一人 (hitori). It is written using the kanji character for one, 一 (ichi), and person, 人(hito), but the reading is irregular, 一人 (hitori).
Jessi: And what’s the word for two people?
Naomi: 二人 (futari). This is also an irregular reading.
Jessi: And the words after that use the 人 (nin) counter. So three people would be
Naomi: 三人 (san-nin)
Jessi: Four people
Naomi: 四人 (yo-nin)
Jessi: Five people
Naomi: 五人 (go-nin)
Jessi: Six people
Naomi: 六人 (roku-nin)
Jessi: Seven people
Naomi: 七人 (nana-nin) or (shichi-nin)
Jessi: Eight people
Naomi: 八人 (hachi-nin)
Jessi: Nine people
Naomi: 九人 (kyū-nin)
Jessi: Ten people
Naomi: 十人 (jū-nin)
Jessi: Okay. Up until now, we’ve covered all the counters that showed up in Gengo Japanese. There are still some more that we think are really important to know. So let’s move on to those now. Now, this time, we will only introduce the counter and the meaning. So, please make sure to check the sound changes in the lesson notes. Okay, Naomi-sensei, what’s the first counter?
Naomi: 匹 (hiki)
Jessi: 匹 (hiki) is the counter used to count small animals like dogs or cats.
Naomi: Right. 一匹 (ippiki)、 二匹 (ni-hiki)、三匹 (san-biki). There are lots of sound changes in this one.
Jessi: That’s right. And what’s the next counter?
Naomi: 杯 (hai)
Jessi: 杯 (hai) is used to count cups and glasses like a cup of water or a glass of wine.
Naomi: そうですね。(Sō desu ne.) Right. So if we are talking about the glass of water for example, if the water is in the glass, 一杯 (ippai)、二杯 (ni-hai)、三杯 (san-bai).
Jessi: Now, what about if the water was in a bottle, what can we say then?
Naomi: If it’s in the bottle, we use 一本 (ippon)、二本 (ni-hon)、三本 (san-bon).
Jessi: Right. So this counter 本 (hon) is used to count long cylindrical objects such as bottles, pencils, tubes et cetera. And did you notice that all three counters start with H and they underwent the same sound changes, like
Naomi: 一匹 (ippiki)、一杯 (ippai)、一本 (ippon). Here, H becomes double P sound. In 三匹 (san-biki), 三杯 (san-bai), 三本 (san-bon). The H becomes a B.
Jessi: Right. So, as you can see, the H becomes either P or B depending on the number and there are still many more sound changes as the numbers increase. So make sure you study the lesson notes carefully.
Naomi: In the lesson notes, there is also a write up about 冊 (satsu).
Jessi: A counter for bound objects such as books or magazines.
Naomi: And 歳 / 才 (sai)
Jessi: A counter for years of age and actually 歳 / 才 (sai) is a really good one to know because at some point, you will probably be asked...
Naomi: 何歳 (才) ですか。(nan sai desu ka.)
Jessi: Which means how old are you and to answer, you just give the number of your age plus 歳 / 才 (sai).
Naomi: Right. So you need to know that counter, too.
Jessi: Okay. Well, that’s all for this lesson. We know we’ve said this a lot but the lesson notes have all the extra information you need when it comes to sound changes and stuff. So make sure to read through them. See you next time.
Naomi: じゃ、また。(Ja, mata) 頑張って下さい。(Ganbatte kudasai)


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November 16th, 2018 at 06:30 PM
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JapanesePod101.com Verified
January 30th, 2020 at 12:35 AM
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こんにちは Tamako,

Thank you for contacting us.

Of course! 😇 Here we have a whole series dedicated to the topic: https://www.japanesepod101.com/lesson-library/japanese-counters-for-beginners/

Wishing you good luck with your Japanese,

レヴェンテ (Levente)

Team JapanesePod101.com

January 28th, 2020 at 04:49 PM
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Are there related lessons about "counters" ?