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Counters/Classifiers

edited July 2012 in Japanese
You learn several essential counters/classifiers in Living Language Japanese such as にん nin)、 (さつ satsu)、 (だい dai)、 (はい hai)、 (まい mai)、 (ほん hon)、 (ひき hiki). You also learn the handy Japanese native numbers (~つ -tsu), which you can use for counting various kinds of objects.

It is said that there are over 500 counters/classifiers in Japanese. That’s an astonishing number, isn’t it?! But don’t feel overwhelmed. I probably even don’t know many of them either! You only need to know a small portion of them to get by. And if you don’t know the counter for a particular object you’re referring to, you can always use the Japanese native numbers. For example, there is a specific counter for a block of tofu. It’s (ちょう choo). But there is nothing wrong in saying, 豆腐を二つください (Toofu o futatsu kudasai) instead of 豆腐を二丁ください (Toofu o nichoo kudasai) to mean “Please give me two blocks of tofu”.

That said, here are ten more counters/classifiers that are commonly used in everyday Japanese.
  • (けん ken): buildings
  • (けん ken): incidents, occurrences
  • (こ ko): small 3-D objects
  • (つう tsuu): letters
  • (わ wa): birds
  • (とう too): wild animals (such as lions, giraffes, bears)
  • (じょう joo): pills
  • (じ ji): characters (such as hiragana, katakana, kanji)
  • (そく soku): pairs of footwear
  • (ちゃく chaku): suits, dresses
(こ ko) overlaps with the Japanese native numbers when it comes to counting small objects, but one major difference is that you can count over 10 with 個 (こ ko) , while you can count only up to 10 with the Japanese native numbers. Then which one should you use when you want to say, for example, “three oranges”? Well, you can use either one. So you can say either 三つ(みっつ mittsu) or 三個 (さんこ sanko). But, personally, I feel that using (tsu) sounds a bit more sophisticated than (こ ko) .

I’ll add some more counters/classifiers tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Comments

  • Okay, let’s go through another set of 10 commonly used counters/classifiers, shall we?
    • ( ki): airplanes
    • (そう soo): small boats
    • (てん ten): points (test score), artworks, items in an inventory
    • (こう koo): schools
    • (しゃ sha): companies
    • (せき seki): seats
    • (りん rin): flowers
    • (ぜん zen): pairs of chopsticks
    • (きょく kyoku): pieces of music
    • (しょく shoku): meals

    We’ll continue with just one more set of commonly used counters/classifiers tomorrow! 
  • As promised, here is the last set of ten commonly used counters/classifiers:
    • ヶ国語 (かこくごkakokugo): languages
    • (ご go): words
    • 箇所 (かしょ kasho): places
    • (ぶ bu): issues of newspapers, magazines, books, pamphlets, documents
    • (てき teki): drops of liquid
    • (もん mon): questions, problems
    • (だん dan): steps, levels, stairs
    • (つぶ tsubu): small grain-like objects
    • (かい kai): floors
    • (はこ hako): boxes
    On my next post, we’ll look at ten classifiers which you may not need to use too often, but are still useful to know!
  • edited July 2012
    Here are ten counters/classifiers that may not come up in your conversations every single day, but are still useful to know.
    • (かん kan): pieces of sushi (the nigiri kind)
    • (ばん ban): sumo wrestling matches
    • コマ (koma): frames of film, a comic book
    • (ちょう choo): tofu
    • (はち hachi): potted plants
    • (かぶ kabu): shares of stock, rooted plants
    • (りょう ryoo): train cars
    • (く ku): haiku
    • (そう soo): layers
    • (ひん hin): items of merchandise
    Okay, that’s more than enough!!! Keep the above lists handy, and you can proudly say that you are a counter/classifier master!

    On my next post, we’ll look at how to pronounce number + each of the counters you’ve learned. 
  • Okay, let's talk about the pronunciation. I'll list how to count from one through three with each of the counters you've learned.

    Let's start with the first set of 10 counters.
    • 一軒 (いっけん ikken), 二軒 (にけん niken), 三軒 (さんげん sangen
    • 一件 (いっけん ikken), 二件 (にけん niken), 三件 (さんげん sangen)
    • 一個 (いっこ ikko), 二個 (にこ niko), 三個 (さんこ sanko
    • 一通 (いっつう ittsuu), 二通 (につう nitsuu), 三通 (さんつう santsuu
    • 一羽 (いちわ ichiwa), 二羽 (にわ niwa), 三羽 (さんわ sanwa)
    • 一頭 (いっとう ittoo), 二頭 (にとう nitoo), 三頭 (さんとう santoo)
    • 一錠 (いちじょう ichijoo), 二錠 (にじょう nijoo), 三錠 (さんじょう sanjoo
    • 一字 (いちじ ichiji), 二字 (にじ niji), 三字 (じ sanji
    • 一足 (いっそく issoku), 二足 (にそく nisoku), 三足 (さんぞく sanzoku)
    • 一着 (いっちゃく icchaku), 二着 (にちゃく nichaku), 三着 (さんちゃく sanchaku)
    Great! We’ll continue with the next set tomorrow.
  • Here’s the next set of counters with their pronunciation.
    • 一機 (いっき ikki), 二機 (にき niki), 三機 (さんき sanki
    • 一艘 (いっそう issoo), 二艘 (にそう nisoo), 三艘 (さんそう sansoo)
    • 一点 (いってん itten), 二点 (にてん niten), 三点 (さんてん santen)
    • 一校 (いっこう ikkoo), 二校 (にこう nikoo), 三校 (さんこう sankoo
    • 一社 (いっしゃ issha), 二社 (にしゃ nisha), 三社 (さんしゃ sansha
    • 一席 (いっせき isseki), 二席 (にせき niseki), 三席 (さんせき sanseki)
    • 一輪 (いちりん ichirin), 二輪 (にりん nirin), 三輪 (さんりん sanrin
    • 一膳 (いちぜん ichizen), 二膳 (にぜん nizen), 三膳 (さんぜん sanzen
    • 一曲 (いっきょく ikkyoku), 二曲 (にきょく nikyoku), 三曲 (さんきょく sankyoku
    • 一食 (いっしょく isshoku), 二食 (にしょく nishoku), 三食 (さんしょく sanshoku
    We’ll have two more sets to go!
  • Here’s another set of counters with their pronunciation.
    • 一ヶ国語 (いっかこくごikkakokugo), 二ヶ国語 (にかこくごnikakokugo), 三ヶ国語 (さんかこくごsankakokugo
    • 一語 (いちご ichigo), 二語 (にご nigo), 三語 (さんご sango
    • 一箇所 (いっかしょ ikkasho), 二箇所 (にかしょ nikasho), 三箇所 (さんかしょ sankasho
    • 一部 (いちぶ ichibu), 二部 (にぶ nibu), 三部 (さんぶ sanbu
    • 一滴 (いってき itteki), 二滴 (にてき niteki), 三滴 (さんてき santeki
    • 一問 (いちもん ichimon), 二問 (にもん nimon), 三問 (さんもん sanmon
    • 一段 (いちだん ichidan), 二段 (にだん nidan), 三段 (さんだん sandan
    • 一粒 (ひとつぶ hitotsubu), 二粒 (ふたつぶ futatsubu), 三粒 (さんつぶ santsubu
    • 一階 (いっかい ikkai), 二階 (にかい nikai), 三階 (さんがい sangai
    • 一箱 (ひとはこ hitohako), 二箱 (ふたはこ futahako), 三箱 (さんぱこ sanpako
    Okay! We’ll go over the final set of counters tomorrow and we’ll be done!
  • Here’s the last set of counters. Remember that those are not the most essential counters to learn, but will be nice and useful to know.
    • 一貫 (いっかん ikkan), 二貫 (にかん nikan), 三貫 (さんかん sankan
    • 一番 (いちばん ichiban), 二番 (にばん niban), 三番 (さんばん sanban
    • 一コマ (ひとコマ hitokoma), 二コマ (ふたコマ futakoma), 三コマ (さんコマ sankoma
    • 一丁 (いっちょう icchoo), 二丁 (にちょう nichoo), 三丁 (さんちょう sanchoo
    • 一鉢 (ひとはち hitohachi), 二鉢 (ふたはち futahachi), 三鉢 (さんはち sanhachi)
    • 一株 (ひとかぶ hitokabu), 二株 (ふたかぶ futakabu), 三株 (さんかぶ sankabu
    • 一両 (いちりょう ichiryoo), 二両 (にりょう niryoo), 三両 (さんりょう sanryoo
    • 一句 (いっく ikku), 二句 (にく niku), 三句 (さんく sanku
    • 一層 (いっそう issoo), 二層 (にそう nisoo), 三層 (さんそう sansoo
    • 一品 (いっぴん ippin), 二品 (にひん nihin), 三品 (さんぴんsanpin
    Congratulations! You’re officially the counter/classifier master! 
  • What do you do when you are talking to a person, and they are using a counter/classifier that you don't know?
  • I don't think that would be a problem because the conversation topic and context makes it clear what the speaker is giving the number for. In fact, that happens to me once in a while. There are some counters which you never have to use (the kind which people usually use the Japanese native numbers instead), but some people sometimes want to show off by using that special obscure classifier for a particular object. :) When that happens, although I've never heard of that classifier, I instantly know what it is for because I know what the speaker is talking about. 

    So, hearing somebody use classifiers wouldn't be a problem. Rather, you run into a problem when you don't know what classifier to use when you're speaking. So it's important to remember at least a dozen essential classifiers. Beyond that, you can just "cheat" by using the native Japanese numbers!
  • This reminds me of the English words for groups of animals: lounges of lizards, parliaments of owls, smacks of jellyfish, exhaltations of larks...
  • Chris, your comment reminds me of this error that I recognized in the Japanese translated version of the book, "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins. In the original text, there was an expression, "a pride of lions", but the Japanese translator probably didn't know this expression and he or she translated it as "lions' pride" in Japanese! The whole sentence didn't make any sense at all - I mean, what do lions do with their high self-esteem?! Haha... (^-^)
  • Ha! That's great!
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