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Language Japanese Counters and Classifiers

By JREF, Mar 13, 2012 | Updated: Dec 29, 2015 | |
  1. JREF
    The Japanese counting system has been taken over from the Chinese. While the Western counting system counts up to 1,000, the Japanese and Chinese system counts up to 10,000. Please find more information on our page on Japanese Numbers & Higher Numerals.

    Another difference is the way numbers are constructed. The basic rule is that the location of the digit is indicated like in “two thousand five hundred”. When counting from 1 to 10 “shi” is used for 4 and “shichi” for 7, but when using numbers the preference is given to the readings “yon” for 4 and “nana” for 7.

    24 二十四 (ni jū yon)

    4,096 四千九十六 (yon sen kyū jū roku)

    Some combinations are contracted:

    300 三百 (sanbyaku)
    600 六百 (roppyaku)
    800 八百 (happyaku)
    3,000 三千 (sanzen)
    8,000 八千 (hassen)
    1,000,000,000,000 一兆 (ichō)
    8,000,000,000,000 八兆 (hachō)
    10,000,000,000,000 十兆 (juchō / jichō)

    一(ichi) is only placed before 万 (man), 億 (oku), 兆 (chou) and 京 (kei). 十 (juu), 百 (hyaku) and 千 (sen) are never preceded by 一 (ichi).

    111,111,111
    一億千百十一万千百十一(ichi oku sen hyaku jū ichi man sen hyaku jū ichi)

    Unlucky numbers

    4 and 9 are considered unlucky numbers in Japanese because of sound association. “Shi” (4) is associated with death (死 shi) and “ku” (9) is associated with suffering (苦 ku).

    Telephone Numbers

    Telephone numbers are commonly read as follows:

    0 maru
    1 hito
    2 ni
    3 san
    4 yon
    5 go
    6 roku - no
    7 nana
    8 hachi
    9 kyū

    Therefore, the fictional phone number 0312-54-9678 would then be read as:

    “maru san hito ni no go yon no kyū roku nana hachi”.

    Counting Time

    When counting time elements several irregularities occur.

    Age

    For counting one’s age you use the classifier 才 or 歳 (sai). Here too several contractions occur, but especially “20 years old” has an irregular reading.

    一歳issai1one year old
    二歳ni sai2two years old
    三歳san sai3three years old
    四歳yon sai4four years old
    五歳go sai5five years old
    六歳roku sai6six years old
    七歳nana sai7seven years old
    八歳hassai8eight years old
    九歳kyū sai9nine years old
    十歳jissai / jussai10ten years old
    二十歳hatachi20twenty years old
    二十一歳ni jū issai21twenty one years old
    三十歳san jissai / san jussai30thirty years old
    Hours

    Hours are counted with two different classifiers, depending on whether you are counting the duration of time, 時間 (jikan), or reading time, 時 (ji). Pay particular attention to numbers ending on 4, 7, and 9.

    1時ichi ji1 o'clock1時間ichi jikan1 hour
    2時ni ji2 o'clock2時間ni jikan2 hours
    3時san ji3 o'clock3時間san jikan3 hours
    4時yo ji4 o'clock4時間yo jikan4 hours
    5時go ji5 o'clock5時間go jikan5 hours
    6時roku ji6 o'clock6時間roku jikan6 hours
    7時shichi ji7 o'clock7時間nana jikan7 hours
    8時hachi ji8 o'clock8時間hachi jikan8 hours
    9時ku ji9 o'clock9時間ku jikan9 hours
    10時jū ji10 o'clock10時間jū jikan10 hours
    11時jū ichi ji11 o'clock11時間jū ichi jikan11 hours
    12時jū ni ji12 o'clock12時間jū ni jikan12 hours
    13時jū san ji13 o'clock13時間jū san jikan13 hours
    14時jū yo ji14 o'clock14時間jū yo jikan14 hours
    15時jū go ji15 o'clock15時間jū go jikan15 hours
    16時jū roku ji16 o'clock16時間jū roku jikan16 hours
    17時jū shichi ji17 o'clock17時間jū nana jikan17 hours
    18時jū hachi ji18 o'clock18時間jū hachi jikan18 hours
    19時jū ku ji19 o'clock19時間jū ku jikan19 hours
    20時ni jū ji20 o'clock20時間ni jū jikan20 hours
    21時ni jū ichi ji21 o'clock21時間ni jū ichi jikan21 hours
    22時ni jū ni ji22 o'clock22時間ni jū ni jikan22 hours
    23時ni jū san ji23 o'clock23時間ni jū san jikan23 hours
    24時ni jū yo ji24 o'clock24時間ni jū yo jikan24 hours
    Days

    Days can be counted as days of the month, or the number of days. In particular 1 – 10, 14, 20, and 24 are irregular. Every number ending on 4 has the same irregularity as 14 and 24. See our special page on Japanese weekdays.

    1日tsuitachithe 1st day1日ichi nichi1 day
    2日futsukathe 2nd day2日間futsukakan2 days
    3日mikkathe 3rd day3日間mikkakan3 days
    4日yokkathe 4th day4日間yokkakan4 days
    5日itsukathe 5th day5日間itsukakan5 days
    6日muikathe 6th day6日間muikakan6 days
    7日nanokathe 7th day7日間nanokakan7 days
    8日youkathe 8th day8日間youkakan8 days
    9日kokonokathe 9th day9日間kokonokakan9 days
    10日tookathe 10th day10日間tookakan10 days
    11日jū ichi nichithe 11th day11日間jū ichi nichikan11 days
    12日jū ni nichithe 12th day12日間jū ni nichikan12 days
    13日jū san nichithe 13th day13日間jū san nichikan13 days
    14日jū yokkathe 14th day14日間jū yokkakan14 days
    15日jū go nichithe 15th day15日間jū go nichikan15 days
    16日jū roku nichithe 16th day16日間jū roku nichikan16 days
    17日jū shichi nichithe 17th day17日間jū shichi nichikan17 days
    18日jū hachi nichithe 18th day18日間jū hachi nichikan18 days
    19日jū ku nichithe 19th day19日間jū ni nichikan19 days
    20日hatsukathe 20th day20日間hatsukakan20 days
    21日ni jū ichi nichithe 21st day21日間ni jū ichi nichikan21 days
    22日ni jū ni nichithe 22nd day22日間ni jū ni nichikan22 days
    23日ni jū san nichithe 23rd day23日間ni jū san nichikan23 days
    24日ni jū yokkathe 24th day24日間ni jū yokkakan24 days
    25日ni jū go nichithe 25th day25日間ni jū go nichikan25 days
    26日ni jū roku nichithe 26th day26日間ni jū roku nichikan26 days
    27日ni jū shichi nichithe 27th day27日間ni jū shichi nichikan27 days
    28日ni jū hachi nichithe 28th day28日間ni jū hachi nichikan28 days
    29日ni jū ku nichithe 29th day29日間ni jū ku nichikan29 days
    30日san jū nichithe 30th day30日間san jū nichikan30 days
    31日san jū ichi nichithe 31st day31日間san jū ichi nichikan31 days
    Months

    Months are counted regular, but again the distinction is made between a number of months and the twelve months of the year. Note the difference between the reading of 月 (getsu / gatsu).

    1月ichi gatsuJanuary1ヶ月ikka getsu1 month
    2月ni gatsuFebruary2ヶ月ni ka getsu2 months
    3月san gatsuMarch3ヶ月san ka getsu3 months
    4月shi gatsuApril4ヶ月yon ka getsu4 months
    5月go gatsuMay5ヶ月go ka getsu5 months
    6月roku gatsuJune6ヶ月rokka getsu6 months
    7月shichi gatsuJuly7ヶ月nana ka getsu7 months
    8月hachi gatsuAugust8ヶ月hachi ka getsu8 months
    9月ku gatsuSeptember9ヶ月kyū ka getsu9 months
    10月jū gatsuOctober10ヶ月jikka getsu10 months
    11月jū ichi gatsuNovember11ヶ月jū ikka getsu11 months
    12月jū ni gatsuDecember12ヶ月jū ni ka getsu12 months
    Years

    Four digit years are always pronounced in full, and not as in English “eighteen sixty eight”. When written in kanji you may encounter years without the identifiers. When written in this way, the zero is written as a circle (maru).

    99年 kyuu juu kyuu nen '99
    一八六八年 sen happyaku roku juu hachi nen 1868
    二〇才 hatachi 20 years old

    Note: 年 (nen) can be used both for counting years and to describe a timespan in years. 年間 (nenkan) can only be used to describe a timespan. In Japan, both the Gregorian calendar and the Japanese calendar are used. In the Japanese calendar, years are started from count one at the rule of a new emperor.

    Classifiers

    When counting anything you will need classifiers. Classifiers identify the type of object you are counting. To give you an example, when you want to say “three cars” you cannot simply say 三車(san kuruma), you will need the classifier for machinery 台 (dai): 三台の車 (san dai no kuruma) or 車三台 (kuruma san dai).

    Note: You can place the number plus classifier before the counted object by using the particle の (no), if you place the number after the object being counted you don’t use の (no).

    Though the Japanese prefer to use the correct classifier, there are so many that even the Japanese do not use or even know all of them. In these cases the Japanese reading for the numbers 1 – 10 is used, for higher numbers the normal Chinese reading mentioned above is used.

    一つhitotsu1one
    二つfutatsu2two
    三つmitsu3three
    四つyotsu4four
    五つitsutsu5five
    六つmutsu6six
    七つnanatsu7seven
    八つyatsu8eight
    九つkokonotsu9nine
    too10ten
    Classifier overview

    Here you will find the most common classifiers and the type of object they are used for. Below these you will find the irregular combinations where they exist.

    Animate objects
    • 頭 (tō): used for large (farm) animals (cows, deer, whales, statues, etc.; 1頭 (ittō), 8頭 (hattō), 10頭 (jittō/juttō), 100頭 (hyattō)
    • 人 (nin): used for people; 1人 (hitori); 2人 (futari); 4人 (yo nin), 14人 (juu yo nin), etc.
    • 匹 (hiki): used for small animals (dogs, cats, etc.); 1匹 (ippiki, 3匹 (sambiki), 6匹 (roppiki), 8匹 (happiki), 10匹 (jippiki/juppiki)
    • 名 (mei): used for people (honorific)
    • 羽 (wa): used for birds and rabbits, chicken, hares, etc.
    Inanimate objects
    • 個 (ko): used for small items, dices, paperclips, etc.; 1個 (ikko), 6個 (rokko), 8個 (hakko), 10個 (jikko)
    • 冊 (satsu): used for volumes, books, magazines, etc.; 1冊 (issatsu); 8冊 (hassatsu); 10冊 (jissatsu/jussatsu)
    • 台 (dai): used for machinery , cars, vending machines, etc.
    • 杯 (hai): used for drinks, beer, coffee, etc.; 1杯 (ippai), 3杯 (sambai), 6杯 (roppai), 8杯 (happai), 10杯 (jippai/juppai)
    • 泊 (haku): used for overnight stays; 1泊 (ippaku), 3泊 (sampaku), 6泊 (roppaku), 8泊 (happaku), 10泊 (jippaku/juppaku)
    • 本 (hon): used for long cylindrical objects (pens, bottles, etc.); 1本 (ippon), 3本 (sambon), 6本 (roppon), 8本 (happon), 10本 (jippon/juppon)
    • 枚 (mai): used for thin sheets, paper, record sleeves, etc.

    List of counters (in alphabetical order):

    CounterRōmajiSetCounts
    AmeHitoRain
    アンペアAnpeaIchiAmperes
    BaHito (1-2)Scenes of a play, movie, etc.
    BaiIchiTimes, -fold, multiples
    BanIchiMatches (sports), theatrical performances; serial numbers
    BanHito (1-2)Nights
    番地BanchiIchiHouse numbers
    晩目BanmeIchi-th
    番線BansenIchiTrack numbers
    番手BanteIchiYarn count
    バーツBaatsuIchiBaht
    BenIchiFlower petals
    BiIchi; hito (1-2) Small fish and shrimp
    BinIchi; hito (1-2)Vases of flowers
    便BinIchi Runs or flights
    BokuIchiLumber
    ボルトBorutoIchiVolts
    BuIchiTenth; 1/10 sun; 1/10 mon; 1/4 ryou
    BuIchi36 square shaku; 1 tsubo; 10 gou; 2 jou
    BuIchiCopies of printed material; sections of text, scriptures
    BuIchiTsubo
    BunIchiFraction, part
    BunIchiSentences, writings
    ChakuIchiShirts, suits; place (race)
    ChitsuIchiJapanese books
    ChouIchiTrillions
    ChouIchi360 shaku; 60 ken; 10 tan
    ChouIchiStringed instruments; curtains, nets
    ChouIchiPowdered medicine
    ChouIchiLong objects
    ChouIchiLiquor bottles
    ChōIchiTools, candles, pistols, saws, scissor, forks, tofu cakes, servings of noodles, sheets bound Japanese style, baskets; 360 shaku; 60 ken; 10 tan
    丁目ChōmeIchiWard
    DaIchiHits in baseball
    DaIchiHorseloads
    DaIchiLong oblong chest; nagamochi; trees
    DaiIchiGenerations
    DaiIchiVehicles; machines; galleys; 16-page units in printing; skis; sliding ponds
    DaiIchiProblems
    DaiIchiYounger brothers
    DanIchiSteps; stages; measures; shots
    DanIchiSteps, stages; columns
    段落DanrakuIchiParagraphs
    ダースDaasuIchiDozen
    立てDateIchiCarriage horses; boat oars; films in a multi-feature movie
    デカグラムDekaguramuIchiDecagrams
    デカメートルDekameetoruIchiDecameters
    デカリットルDekarittoruIchiDecaliters
    デシグラムDeshiguramuIchiDecigrams
    デシメートルDeshimeetoruIchiDecimeters
    デシリットルDeshirittoruIchiDeciliters
    DoIchiTimes, degrees
    DouIchiBuddhist temples
    撮りDoriIchiNumber of pictures left in a roll of film
    ドルDoruIchiDollars
    EIchiHalberd, kitchen knife, cleaver
    EHito (1-3)Folds
    EdaHitoBranches, flowers
    EkiHito (1-2)Stations
    EnIchiYen
    EnIchiKindergartens
    フィートFiitoIchiFeet
    FuuIchiLetters
    FudeHitoStrokes of a brush
    FukuIchiDoses of powdered medicine; puffs of smoke; rests; sips
    FukuIchiScroll (paintings)
    FukuroHitoBags
    ふねFuneIchiFood sold in stores
    フランFuranIchiFranc
    降りFuriHitoRain
    振りFuriHitoJapanese swords, halberds
    FusaHitoBunches (fruit)
    GaiIchiLid-shaped objects
    学期GakkiIchiSemesters
    ガロンGaronIchiGallons
    GatsuIchiMonths of the year
    ゲームGeemuIchiGames
    GenIchiYuan
    GenIchiStrings (chords)
    原子GenshiIchiAtoms
    GoIchiWords, languages
    IchiNo.; issue; dress size
    IchiIncense containers
    GonIchiWords, letters
    号車GoushaIchiTrain car numbers
    GuIchiSets of articles; prayer beads; palanquin
    GyōIchiLines
    HaHitoEvents occuring in waves
    HaHitoLeaves
    HachiHitoPotted plants
    HaiIchiDefeats
    HaiIchiGlasses, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats
    HakoHito (1-4)Boxes
    HakuIchiBeats; number of syllables
    HakuIchiOvernight stays
    HanIchiEditions
    HanIchiOffenses
    HaneHitoHelmets
    HaraHitoCodfish roe
    HariHitoSeams; stitches; meshes of a net
    張りHariHitoStringed instruments; paper lanterns; umbrellas
    HashiHitoSingle mouthful of food
    HashiraHitoGods; mortuary tablets
    HasuriHitoErrand doers
    HatsuIchiShots; blows; engines
    HeiIchiPotted plants, ikebana
    HenIchiFragments
    HenIchiTimes
    HenIchiPoems
    HenIchiChapters; (Chinese) poems
    HenIchiTimes
    部屋HeyaHitoRooms
    HikiIchiSmall animals, ogres
    HinIchiCourses of a meal; salable things
    HiraHitoFlower plants
    HitsuIchiDocuments; ricefields; land registrations
    HoIchi(Foot)steps
    HoIchiMaps (literary)
    IchiTablets (pills); tea; packets of medicine
    HonIchiLong/thin items, bottles, guitars, phonecalls, train/bus routes, movies, bounds
    HyouIchiBags of rice; cereal; sackfuls
    拍子HyōshiIchiBeats; number of syllables
    IIchiSpirits; ranking; standard
    IroHitoColors
    JiIchiBuddhist temples
    JiIchiPairs of rabbits
    JiIchiCharacters
    JiIchiO'clock
    JiIchiNumerical order of number of times
    時限JigenIchiPeriod (school)
    時間JikanIchiHour periods
    JikuIchiScrolls
    JinIchiOccurring in spells
    JoIchiDaughters
    JouIchi10 shaku
    JouIchiPills
    JouIchiVehicles, powers (numbers)
    JouIchiTatami
    IchiQuires; folding screens; karakimi; volumes of Japanese books; tatami
    JouIchiArticles, sections; obi; slender objects
    JuIchiTrees
    JuuIchiTens
    JuuIchiChinese poems
    JuuIchiFolds; plies; tiered boxes
    JunIchiTen-day periods; decades
    KaIchiItems, places, units of time
    KaIchiValence
    KaHito (2-10, 20)Days of the month for 2-10 and 20 only!
    KaIchiLoads, bucket
    KaIchiLessons
    KaIchiFruits; jewels; seals; small round things
    KaIchiFruits
    KaIchiFolding screens; framed pictures
    花弁KabenIchiFlower petals
    KabuHitoStocks; shares; trees; plants with roots
    ヶ月KagetsuIchiMonths
    KagoHitoBaskets; fruits
    KaiIchiFloors
    KaiIchiTimes; games
    KaiIchiHats
    KakeHitoCollars, strings
    角形KakkeiIchi-agon
    ヶ国KakokuIchiCountries
    ヶ国語KakokugoIchiLanguages
    KakuIchiAngles
    KakuIchiStrokes
    KamasuHitoSugar
    KanIchiWarships
    KanIchi1,000 monme; 1,000 mon
    KanIchiVolumes; reels of film
    KanIchiArticles or subsections
    KanIchiCans
    KanIchiWind instruments
    ヶ年KanenIchiYears
    カップKappuIchiCups
    カロリーKaroriiIchiCalories
    重ねKasaneHitoMochi; tiered boxes; layers of clothing
    KasaneIchiJapanese clothing
    KaseHitoThread wound on skeins; items wound on a frame
    KashiraHitoHelmets; masks; eboshi
    箇所KashoIchiPlaces
    KataHitoPersons (honorific)
    片付けKatazukeHitoTidying
    家族KazokuHito (1-2)Families
    KeiIchiScenes
    KeiIchiLong and narrow objects; hanging lanterns; writing brushes
    Kei/kyouIchi10^16
    KenIchi6 shaku
    KenIchiCases
    KenIchiJapanese swords
    KenIchiBuildings
    KenIchiKeys
    KetaHito (1-4)Digits
    KetsuIchiHoles
    KiIchiHorsemen
    KiIchiTerms
    KiIchiPlanes
    KiIchiTwelve year periods
    KiIchiMachines; elevators; gravestones; placed things; screens; dressing table
    切れKireHito (1-3)Slices, strips, bits, cuts
    キロKiroIchiKilos
    キロアンペアKiroanpeaIchiKiloamperes
    キロボルトKiroborutoIchiKilovolts
    キログラムKiroguramuIchiKilograms
    キロメートルKiromeetoruIchiKilometers
    キロリットルKirorittoruIchiKiloliters
    キロサイクルKirosaikuruIchiKilocycles
    キロワットKirowattoIchiKilowatts
    気筒KitouIchiCylinders
    KoIchiJars
    KoIchiHouseholds
    KoIchiSmall round objects; luggage; goods; fruits; mochi; hats
    KouIchiSchools; proofs
    KouIchiLectures
    KouIchiKettles, bowls, plates; swords; bells
    KouIchiWatches/lateness of the night
    航海KoukaiIchiSea voyages
    国語KokugoIchiLanguages
    KomaHitoClasses; movie scenes
    項目KōmokuIchiItem
    KonIchiOfferings of wine
    KonIchiFish
    光年KounenIchiLight years
    コペックKopekkuIchiKopek
    KoriHitoRaw-silk; luggage
    KoshiHitoObjects that attach to the waist
    KuIchiSections, wards
    KuIchiStatues of gods
    KuIchiHaiku
    KuIchiSwords, razors; pots, dishes
    KuchiHito (1-2)Mouthfuls, drinks; shares
    区間KukanIchiSections between two points
    KukiHitoWriting brushes
    KukuriHitoPapers
    KumiHito (1-4)Sets; suits; sake cups in sets of three; plates, bowls; groups; tiered boxes
    クラスKurasuHito (1-2)Classes
    クローネKurooneIchiKrone
    KusariHitoChain
    KuseHitoOut-of-the-ordinary actions
    KushiHitoDumplings
    KyakuIchiUtensils
    KyakuIchiLegged furniture
    KyokuIchiPieces of music, dances
    KyokuIchi(Board) games
    KyuuIchiOrdering
    KyuuIchiLarge round objects; pitches (baseball)
    MaHitoRooms
    曲げMageHitoTsukudani
    MaiIchiThin, flat objects; articles of clothing
    マイルMairuIchiMiles
    巻きMakiHitoRolls of silk, cloth, scrolls, windings, scriptures, sacred books
    MakuIchiPerformances
    ManIchiTen thousands
    マルクMarukuIchiMark (currency)
    MeHito (1-2)Monme
    MeiIchiPeople
    MenIchiFlat surfaces; koto
    メートルMeetoruIchiMeters
    MiIchiFood, condiments
    ミリメートルMirimeetoruIchiMillimeters
    ミリグラムMiriguramuIchiMilligrams
    ミリリットルMiririttoruIchiMilliliters
    ミリバールMiribaaruIchiMillibars
    MouIchi1/10000 yen; 1/1000 sun; 1/1000 monme
    MokuIchiItems; crosses of a go board
    MonIchiCannons
    MonIchiQuestions
    MonIchi1/1000 kan
    MonHitoFootwear size ~2.4 cm
    MonmeIchi1/1000 kan; 1/60 ryō; 3.750 g; 132 oz
    MoriHitoMeasures of medicine
    MotoHitoPlants with roots
    MuneHitoBuildings, houses
    MureHitoGroups, flocks
    流れNagareHitoFlags
    NanIchiSons
    七日NanukaIchiDeath anniversary weeks
    NatsuHitoSummer
    NenIchiYears
    年間NenkanIchiYears
    年生NenseiIchi-grade student
    NichiIchiDays (except 2-10, 14, 20, 24)
    握りNigiriHitoGrasped objects
    NinIchiPeople (except 1, 2, and sometimes 4)
    人組NingumiIchiGroup, gang members
    人前NinmaeIchiPortions (food)
    NukiHitoRosary beads
    往復OufukuIchiReturn trips
    OkeHitoBathtubs
    1. The counter 番 may be used with hito and futa but not when it is used to count serial numbers.
    2. Nanuka for 1 is 初七日 shonanuka.
    Source: Imabi Japanese Lerning Center


    Links:

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