Japanese Counter Word
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Japanese Counter Word

In Japanese, counter words or counters (, jos?shi) are measure words used with numbers to count things, actions, and events.

In Japanese, as in Chinese and Korean, numerals cannot quantify nouns by themselves (except, in certain cases, for the numbers from one to ten; see below).[1] For example, to express the idea "two dogs" in Japanese one could say ? ni-hiki no inu (literally "two small-animal-count POSSESSIVE dog"), or inu ni-hiki (literally "dog two small-animal-count"), but just pasting ? and ? together in either order is ungrammatical. Here ? ni is the number "two", ? hiki is the counter for small animals, ? no is the possessive particle (a reversed "of", similar to the "'s" in "John's dog"), and ? inu is the word "dog".

Counters are not independent words; they must appear with a numeric prefix. The number can be imprecise: ? nan or, less commonly, ? iku can be used to mean "some/several/many", and, in questions, "what/how many/how much". For example, "some guests" can be translated as nan mei-sama (lit. "some people-count honored-ones"), and "how many guests?" as ? nan mei-sama? (lit. "what people-count honored-ones QUESTION"). Some nouns prefer ? iku, as in iku-ban? "how many nights?" and iku-nichi mo itte ita "I was gone for many days."

Counters are similar in function to the word "pieces" in "two pieces of paper" or "cups" in "two cups of coffee". However, they cannot take non-numerical modifiers. So while "two pieces of paper" translates fairly directly as kami ni-mai (lit. "paper two flat-count"), "two green pieces of paper" must be rendered as midori no kami ni-mai, akin to "two pieces of green paper".

Just as in English, different counters can be used to convey different types of quantity. In English, one can say "one loaf of bread" or "one slice of bread". In Japanese, the equivalents would be ? pan ikkin (lit. "bread one-loaf") and ? pan ichimai (lit. "bread one-flat-count").

Grammatically, counter words can appear either before or after the noun they count. They generally occur after the noun (following particles), and if used before the noun, they emphasize the quantity; this is a common mistake in English learners of Japanese. For example, to say "[I] drank two bottles of beer", the order is b?ru o nihon nonda (lit. "beer OBJECT two-long-thin-count drank"). In contrast, ? nihon no b?ru o nonda (lit. "two-long-thin-count POSSESSIVE beer OBJECT drank") would only be appropriate when emphasizing the number as in responding with "[I] drank two bottles of beer" to "How many beers did you drink?".

Phrase structure involving numerals and counters

Japanese Nominal Structure as proposed by Akira Watanabe

One proposed structure includes three layers of functional projections: #P, CaseP, and QuantifierP.[2] Here, #P is placed above NP to explain Japanese's lack of plural morphology, and to make clear the # head is the stem of such morphology.[2] This structure relies on Movement in order to satisfy agreement via EPP features.[2]

Substitution of counters

In Japanese, virtually all nouns must use a counter to express number because Japanese lacks singular/plural morphology.[3][2] In this sense, virtually all Japanese nouns are mass nouns. This grammatical feature can result in situations where one is unable to express the number of a particular object in a syntactically correct way because one does not know, or cannot remember, the appropriate counting word. With quantities from one to ten, this problem can often be sidestepped by using the traditional numbers (see below), which can quantify many nouns without help. For example, "four apples" is ringo yonko where ? ko is the counter, but can also be expressed, using the traditional numeral four, as ringo yottsu. These traditional numerals cannot be used to count all nouns, however; some, including nouns for people and animals, require a proper counter (except for 1 and 2 people, which virtually always use the traditional numerals).

Some of the more common counters may substitute for less common ones. For example, ? hiki (see below) is often used for all animals, regardless of size. However, many speakers will prefer to use the traditionally correct counter, ? t?, when speaking of larger animals such as horses. This yields a range of possible counters, with differing degrees of usage and acceptability - for example, when ordering kushikatsu (fried skewers), one may order them as futa-kushi (two skewers), ni-hon (two sticks), or futa-tsu (two items), in decreasing order of precision.

Counters may be intentionally misused for humorous, stupid, or insulting effects. For example, one might say Otoko ippiki ("one man [like an animal]"), using ? hiki, the counter for animals.[]

Table of traditional numerals

Numeral Japanese Pronunciation (romaji) Writing (hiragana)
1 hitotsu
2 futatsu
3 mittsu
4 yottsu
5 itsutsu
6 muttsu
7 nanatsu
8 yattsu
9 kokonotsu ?
10 ? t?

Common counters by category

This is a selective list of some of the more commonly used counting words.

Pronunciation Japanese Use
People and Things
? bu ? Copies of a magazine or newspaper, or other packets of papers
dai ? Cars, bicycles, machines, mechanical devices, household appliances
hai, pai, bai ? Cups and glasses of drink, spoonsful; cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats (slang)
hiki, piki, biki ? Small animals, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, oni (demons/ogres)
hon, pon, bon ? frequently used word Long, thin objects: rivers, roads, train tracks, ties, pencils, bottles, guitars; also, metaphorically, telephone calls, train or bus routes, movies (see also: ts?wa), points or bounds in sports events. Although ? also means "book", the counter for books is satsu.
kai, gai ? Number of floors, stories
? ko ?, ?, ?, or ? frequently used word Implies that the item is small and/or round.[4] ? is also used for military units.
mai ? frequently used word Thin, flat objects: sheets of paper, photographs, plates, articles of clothing (see also: chaku)
mei ? People (polite) (? means "name")
men ? Broad, flat objects: mirrors, boards for board games (chess, igo, shogi), stages of computer games, walls of a room, tennis courts
nin ? People (but see table of exceptions below)
? ri ? or ? People, used in the words () and ()
satsu ? Books
? tsu ? frequently used word General-purpose counter, used as part of the indigenous Japanese numbers ("one thing"), ("two things"), ("three things"), etc.
? wa ? Stories, episodes of TV series, etc.
Time, Calendar, etc.
by? ? Seconds
fun, pun ? Minutes
gatsu, also tsuki ? Months of the year. Month-long periods when read tsuki (see also: kagetsu)
haku, paku ? Nights of a stay
? ji ? Hours of the day
jikan Hour-long periods
? ka ? Day of the month
kagetsu , Month-long periods (see also: gatsu). ? is normally abbreviated using a small katakana ? in modern Japanese. Alternatively ?, hiragana ?, small katakana ? and full-size katakana ? & ? can also be seen, although only ? is similarly frequent.
nen ? Years, school years (grades); not years of age
nichi ? Days of the month (but see table of exceptions below)
sai ? (or ?) Years of age (? is used informally as a shorthand)
sh? ? Weeks
Extent, Frequency, etc.
bai ? Multiples, -fold as in "twofold"
ban ? Position, turn, sports matches
? do, also tabi ? frequently used word Occurrences, number of times, degrees of temperature or angle (see also: kai).
j? ? Tatami mats. The kanji ? is also read tatami and is the same one used for the mats. The room size of a washitsu in Japan is given as a number of mats, for example 4½ j?
kai ? frequently used word Occurrences, number of times (see also: do)

Extended list of counters

This list also includes some counters and usages that are rarely used or not widely known; other words can also be used as counters more sporadically.

Pronunciation Japanese Use
? ba ? Scene of a play
bai ? Multiples, -fold as in "twofold"
ban ? Nights (see also: ya)
ban ? Position, platform for a train line, turn, sports matches
? bi ? Small fish and shrimps (used in the fish trade; most people say hiki instead)
? bu ? Copies of a magazine or newspaper, or other packets of papers
bun ? Sentences
by? ? Seconds
chaku ? Suits of clothing (see also: mai)
ch? ? Long, narrow things such as guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws, violins
ch? ? Sheets, pages, leaves, tools, scissors, saws, trousers, pistols, cakes of tofu, town blocks, servings at a restaurant
ch? ? Town blocks
dai ? Generations, historical periods, reigns
dai ? Cars, bicycles, machines, mechanical devices, household appliances
dan ? levels, ranks, steps (of stairs).
? danraku Paragraphs
? do, also tabi ? Occurrences, number of times, degrees of temperature or angle (see also: kai).
fude ? Sequences of letters or drawings that you write or draw without removing your pen off the paper. Not to be confused with "hitsu" (?) below.
fuku, puku ? Bowls of matcha (powdered green tea); packets or doses of powdered medicine; puffs (of, e.g., a cigarette); rests or breaks
fuku, puku ? Hanging scrolls (kakejiku)
fun, pun ? Minutes
furi ? Swords
gakky? Classes (in pre-university education)
gatsu, also tsuki ? Months of the year. Month-long periods when read tsuki (see also: kagetsu)
? go ? Words
g? ? small container (e.g. rice cup, sake cup)
gon, also koto ? Words
? gu ? Suits of armour, sets of furniture
gy? ? Lines of text
haku ? Nights of a stay
hai, pai, bai ? Cups and glasses of drink, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats (slang)
hai ? Losses (sports bouts)
hako ? Boxes
hari ? Umbrellas, parasols, tents
hashira ? gods, memorial tablets
hatsu, patsu ? Gunshots, bullets, aerial fireworks; orgasms, sex acts
hiki, piki ? Small animals, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, oni (ogres)
hin, pin ? Parts of a meal, courses (see also: shina)
hitsu, pitsu ? pieces of land and number of people
? ho, ? po ? Number of (foot)steps
hon, pon, bon ? Long, thin objects: rivers, roads, train tracks, ties, pencils, bottles, guitars; also, metaphorically, telephone calls (see also: ts?wa), train or bus routes, movies, home runs, points or bounds[clarification needed] in sports events. Although ? also means "book", the counter for books is satsu.
hy?, py? ? Votes
? hy?shi, ? by?shi Musical beats
? ji ? Letters, kanji, kana
? ji ? Children. As in "father of two (children)", etc.
? ji ? Hours of the day
jikan Hour-long periods
j? ? Tatami mats. The kanji ? is also read tatami and is the same one used for the mats. The room size of a washitsu in Japan is given as a number of mats, for example 4½ yo j? han
j? ? Pills/capsules
j? ? Articles of law, thin objects, rays or streams of light, streaks of smoke or lightning
? ka ? Day of the month
? ka ? Frames
? ka ? Lessons
kabu ? Stocks; nursery trees
kagetsu , Month-long periods (see also: gatsu). ? is normally abbreviated using a small katakana ? in modern Japanese. Alternatively ?, hiragana ?, small katakana ? and full-size katakana ? & ? can also be seen, although only ? is similarly frequent.
kai ? Occurrences, number of times (see also: do)
kai, gai ? Number of floors, storeys
kakoku , Countries
? kakokugo , (National) languages
kaku ? Strokes in kanji
kan ? Pieces of nigiri-zushi
kan ? Warships
? keitou Bus routes
ken ? Abstract matters and cases
ken, gen ? Houses
? ki ? Aircraft, machines
? ki ? Graves, wreaths, CPUs, reactors, elevators, dams
kin ? Loaves of bread
kire Slices (of bread, cake, sashimi etc.)
? ko ?, ?, ?, or ? General measure word, used when there is no specific counter. ? is also used for military units.
? ko ? Houses (? means "door")
k? ? Schools
k? ? Drafts of a manuscript
k? ? Banks
koma ?, Frames, panels. ? is virtually unused nowadays.
kon ? shots (of drink)
? ku ? Sections, city districts
? ku ? Haiku, senry?
kuchi ? (Bank) accounts, donations (? means "opening" or "entrance")
kumi ? Groups, a pair of people (twins, a husband and a wife, dancers, etc.)
kurasu School classes
kyaku ? Desks, chairs, long-stemmed glasses
kyaku ? Pairs of cup and saucer
kyoku ? Pieces of music
kyoku ? Board game matches (chess, igo, shogi, mahjong); radio stations, television stations
mai ? Thin, flat objects, sheets of paper, photographs, plates, articles of clothing (see also: chaku)
maki or kan ? Rolls, scrolls, kan for volumes of book
maku ? Theatrical acts
mei ? People (polite) (? means "name")
men ? Mirrors, boards for board games (chess, igo, shogi), stages of computer games, walls of a room, tennis courts
mon ? Cannons
mon ? Questions
nen ? Years, school years (grades); not years of age
nichi ? Days of the month (but see table of exceptions below)
nin ? People (but see table of exceptions below)
? ninmae Food portions (without exceptions, unlike nin above)
ori ? Boxes made of folded paper (compare to hako above, which refers to boxes in general)
p?ji , ? Pages
rei ? Cases, examples
rei ? Bows during worship at a shrine
ren ? finger rings or necklace loops
? ri ? or ? People, used in the words () and ().
rin ? Wheels, flowers
ry? ? Railway cars
sai ? or ? Years of age
sao ? Chests of drawers, flags
satsu ? Books
seki ? Seats, rakugo shows, (drinking) parties
seki ? Ships, half of a pair (e.g., half of a folding screen), item carried in a bundle (fish, birds, arrows etc.)
shina ? Parts of a meal, courses (see also: hin)
sha ? used for businesses, i.e.
shiki ? Sets of things, such as documents or furniture
sh? ? Wins (sports bouts)
shu ? Tanka
sh? ? Weeks
? shurui or shu or ? Kinds, species
soku ? Pairs of footwear, pairs of socks, stockings, tabi
sou ? Pairs
taba ? bundles (of banknotes), bunches (of flowers, vegetables), sheaves
tai ? Images, statues, person's remains, dolls, androids, humanoid robots
tawara ? Bags of rice
teki ? Drops of liquid
ten ? Points, dots, pieces of a set
t? ? Large animals, cattle, elephants, whales, dolphins, butterflies (? means "head")
toki ? Time periods, a sixth of either day or night (in the traditional, obsolete way of telling time). See also: jikan
t?ri Combinations, puzzle solutions
? tsu ? Used as part of the indigenous Japanese numbers , , etc.
ts? ? Letters
tsubo ? Commonly used unit of area equal to 3.3 square metres.
tsubu ? Almonds, grain
ts?wa Telephone calls (see also: hon)
? wa, ? ba, ? pa ? Birds, rabbits. ? means "feather" or "wing."
? wa ? Bundles
? wa ? Stories, episodes of TV series, etc.
? ya ? Nights (see also: ban)
zen ? Pairs of chopsticks; bowls of rice

Euphonic changes

Systematic changes occur when particular numbers precede counters that begin with certain phonemes. For example, ? ichi + ? kai -> ikkai. The details are listed in the table below.

This can be the result of the morpho-phonological phenomenon of word-internal voicing, or 'rendaku,[5]' as shown by the voicing of ? hiki:

? + ? ->

roku + hiki -> roppiki

six-small.animal.count

change from voiceless [h] -> voiced [p].

It may also be that some counters carry features which are responsible for such euphonic changes for singular, dual, and plural nouns, where singular carries [+singular, -augmented] features, dual carries [-singular, -augmented] features, and plural carries [-singular, +augmented] features.[6]

hito-ri

one-person.count

futa-ri

two-person.count

san-nin

three-person.count

These changes are followed fairly consistently but exceptions and variations between speakers do exist. Where variations are common, more than one alternative is listed.

J? is replaced by either ju- or ji- (/) followed by a doubled consonant before the voiceless consonants as shown in the table. Ji- is the older form, but it has been replaced by ju- in the speech of recent generations.

Numeral k- (? etc.) s/sh- (? etc.) t/ch- (? etc.) h- (? ? ? ? ) f- (?) p- (? etc.) w- (?)
1 ichi ikk- iss- itt- ipp- ipp- ipp-
3 san sanb- sanp- sanb-
4 yon yonh-

yonp-

yonf-

yonp-

yow-

yonw- yonb-

6 roku rokk- ropp- ropp- ropp- rokuw-

ropp-

8 hachi hakk- hass- hatt- happ- happ- happ- happ-

hachiw-

10 j? jikk-

jukk- ?

jiss-

juss- ?

jitt-

jutt- ?

jipp-

jupp- ?

jipp-

jupp- ?

jipp-

jupp- ?

jipp-
100 hyaku hyakk- ? hyapp- ? hyapp- ? hyapp- ?
1000 sen senb- senp-
10000 man manb- manp-
? nan nanb- nanp-

Exceptions

The traditional numbers are used by and for young children to give their ages, instead of using the age counter ? (or ?) sai.

Some counters, notably ? nichi and ? nin, use the traditional numerals for some numbers as shown in the table below. Other uses of traditional numbers are usually restricted to certain phrases, such as hitotsuki and futatsuki (one and two months respectively), hitokoto (a single word) and hitotabi (once).

Sometimes common numbers that have a derived meaning are written using different kanji. For example, hitori (alone) is written , and futatabi (once more, another time) is normally written instead of . The counter for months kagetsu (derived from kanji ) is commonly written .

Nana and shichi are alternatives for 7, yon and shi are alternatives for 4, and ky? and ku are alternatives for 9. In those three pairs of options, nana, yon and ky? respectively are more commonly used. Some counters, however, notably ? nin (people), ? gatsu (month of the year), ? ka/nichi (day of the month, days), ? ji (time of day) and jikan (hours) take certain alternatives only. These are shown in the table below.

While ? kai (occurrences) and ? sen (0.01 yen, now rarely used) follow the euphonic changes listed above, homophones ? kai (stories/floors of a building) and ? sen (1000) are slightly different as shown below, although these differences are not followed by all speakers. Thus ("third floor") can be read either sankai or sangai, while ("three times") can only be read sankai.
Numeral ? tsu ? nichi ? nin ? nen ? gatsu jikan ? ji ? fun ? hyaku ? sen ? sai ? kai
1

hitotsu

tsuitachi* hitori ippun issen issai ikkai
2

futatsu

futsuka futari
3

mittsu

mikka sanpun sanbyaku sanzen sangai
4

yottsu

yokka yonin*** yonen shigatsu yojikan yoji yonpun
5

itsutsu

itsuka
6

muttsu

muika roppun roppyaku rokkai
7

nanatsu

nanoka shichinin shichigatsu shichijikan shichiji
8

yattsu

y?ka happun happyaku hassen hassai hakkai
9 ?

kokonotsu

kokonoka kugatsu kujikan kuji
10

t?

?

jukko

t?ka juppun jussai jukkai
14 j?yokka j?yonin j?yojikan j?yoji
20 hatsuka hatachi
24 nij?yokka nij?yonin nij?yojikan
? nan ** nanpun nanbyaku nanzen nangai

* But when counting number of days rather than days of the month, ichinichi is used. Ippi is also heard.

** Both ikunin and nannin are used to mean "how many people".

*** In remote rural areas (e.g. Northern Honshu and Eastern Hokkaido) older speakers might use yottari.[7]

Ordinal numbers

In general, the counter words mentioned above are cardinal numbers, in that they indicate quantity. To transform a counter word into an ordinal number that denotes position in a sequence, ? me is added to the end of the counter. Thus "one time" would be translated as ikkai, whereas "the first time" would be translated as ikkaime. This rule is inconsistent, however, as counters without the me suffix are often used interchangeably with cardinal and ordinal meanings. For example, sangai can mean both "three floors" and "third floor."

Periods of time

To express a period of time one may add ? kan to the following words by?, ? fun, ? ji, ? nichi (and its irregular readings aside from tsuitachi), ? sh?, kagetsu and ? nen. Usage varies depending on the word, though. For example, omitting kan in the case of jikan would be a mistake, whereas sh?kan and sh? are both in frequent use. In addition, kagetsukan is rarely heard due to essentially being superfluous, the ka already functioning to express the length.

See also

References

  1. ^ Gunji, Takao; Hasida, Kôiti, eds. (1999). Topics in Constraint-Based Grammar of Japanese. Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy. 68. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-011-5272-3. ISBN 978-0-7923-5611-0.
  2. ^ a b c d Watanabe, Akira (February 2006). "Functional Projections of Nominals in Japanese: Syntax of Classifiers*". Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. 24 (1): 241-306. doi:10.1007/s11049-005-3042-4. ISSN 0167-806X. S2CID 33599661.
  3. ^ Keenan, Edward L.; Paperno, Denis, eds. (2012). Handbook of Quantifiers in Natural Language. Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy. 90. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-2681-9. ISBN 978-94-007-2680-2.
  4. ^ http://www.punipunijapan.com/japanese-counter-ko/
  5. ^ Kobuchi-Philip, Mana (May 2007). "Floating numerals and floating quantifiers". Lingua. 117 (5): 814-831. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2006.03.008. ISSN 0024-3841.
  6. ^ Watanabe, Akira (2017-11-10). "The mass/count distinction in Japanese from the perspective of partitivity". Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics. 2 (1): 98. doi:10.5334/gjgl.116. ISSN 2397-1835.
  7. ^ "Language Contact and Lexical Innovation" (PDF). Retrieved . Table 1. Native Counting in Japanese

External links


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