Japanese Grammar Lesson 6: Counters

One of the difficult parts of Japanese Language is the counters section. You might be wondering what I’m referring to, but the truth is, depending on the object that you are counting, there is a different word in Japanese! Here is an example:

本 (ほん, hon) – Long, cylindrical objects: trees, pencils, pens, bottles, musical instruments like trumpet or trombone, etc.
There are some pronunciation exceptions, so the way of counting is: いっぽん (ippon), にほん (nihon), さんぼん (sanbon), よんほん (yonhon), ごほん (gohon), ろっぽん (roppon), ななほん (nanahon), はっぽん (happon), きゅうほん (kyuuhon), じゅっぽん (jyuppon).
These pronunciation changes apply for counters that begin with は, ひ, ふ, へ or ほ.
Despite the counter being 本, which means book, the counter for books is satsu:
冊 (さつ, satsu) – Books, magazines, etc.
Here are some more examples of general counters:
階 (かい, kai) – Floors of a building (also has a different pronunciation, see below)
いっかい (ikkai), にかい (nikai), さんがい (sangai), よんかい (yonkai), ごかい (gokai), ろっかい (rokkai), ななかい (nanakai), はっかい (hakkai), きゅうかい (kyuukai), じゅっかい (jyukkai).

台 (だい, dai) – Vehicles, machines, household appliances, etc.

個 (こ, ko) – Broad category of small and compact objects (also used when there is no specific counter)

つ (tsu) – This counter can be used with almost anything, as it means “one thing”, “two things”, etc. The pronunciation is as follows:

ひとつ, ふたつ, みっつ, よっつ, いつつ, むっつ, ななつ, やっつ, ここのつ, じゅうつ

杯 (はい, hai) – Liquid in cups, glasses, bowls, etc.

枚 (まい, mai) – Flat, thin objects: paper, stamps, dishes, photos, etc.


秒 (びょう, byou) – Seconds

分 (ふん, fun) – Minutes時間 (じかん, jikan) – Hours

日間 (にちかん, nichikan) – Days (EXCEPTION: As I told in the lesson about month days, there are different days for almost every day, so to mention a period of time, that name is also used. For example, 3rd day of a month is 三日 (みっか, mikka), so to say a period of three days, it is used 三日間 (みっかかん,  mikkakan). In the days which にち is used, にちかん is also used, as mentioned above).

泊 (はく, haku) – Nights of a stay

週間 (しゅうかん, shuukan) – Weeks

か月 (かげつ, kagetsu) – Months
(same counting pronunciation as in 階 (かい, kai))

年間 (ねんかん, nenkan) – Years


匹 (ひき, hiki) – Insects, fish, small animals: cats, dogs, etc.

頭 (とう, tou) – Large animals: horses, bears, etc.

羽 (わ, wa) – Birds


回 (かい, kai) – Times (same counting pronunciation as in 階 (かい, kai))

度 (ど, do) – Times


人 (にん, nin) – ひとり (hitori, one person) and ふたり (futari, two people) are exceptions

名 (めい, mei) – More formal than 人 (にん, nin)


歳/才 (さい, sai) – Age (years old)

番 (ばん, ban) – Ordinal numbers (first, second, etc.)

Quite a difficult lesson this week! That’s all for today!

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