Can you count things in Japanese?

When counting things in English, it doesn’t’ matter what kind of nouns come after numerals, for example people say one dog, one cup, one house. One is always one. However in Japanese, we have something called counter suffix, which is thought to be difficult.

This counter suffix differs according to which noun you are counting. They are not independent words and always appear with a number before them. For example, when counting animals, we use 匹(hiki) like 1匹,2匹…When it comes to things like cups, we should use “個(ko)” like 1個,2個…, and for houses,“軒(ken)”, like 1軒,2軒 …..Moreover, some of the counter suffixes have liaisons in them, and therefore their pronunciations differ. For instance 匹 is normally written “hiki”as I mentioned, but when we count animals using 匹(hiki), we say 1piki, 2hiki, 3biki…instead of saying 1hiki, 2hiki, 3hiki.

As you can see, we use a different counter suffix for each noun, and it’s not always pronounced the same, even if we use the same character.

We usually use匹(hiki) when counting animals, but there are some exceptions. For bigger animals such as lions, elephants and bears, we say 1頭(tou),2頭,3頭. I don’t know why but we are supposed to use 羽(that is normally used for counting birds) for rabbits.

Counting medicine in Japanese is also confusing. Here is a table to be of some help.

Kind of medicine counter suffix example
powdered medicine 服(huku) 1服,2服,3服,…..
tablets 錠(jou) or粒(tsubu) 1錠,2錠.. or 1粒, 2粒….
liquid medicine 本(hon) 1本, 2本, 3本…..
topical cream 個(ko) 1個, 2個, 3個….

Sometimes we have to count differently when something changes form.
Here is another table illustrating how to count chicken in accordance with its change.

Status of a chicken counter suffix example
Egg 個(ko) 1個, 2個, 3個….
Chicken 羽(wa) 1羽, 2羽, 3羽….
Chicken meat 個(ko) or 切れ(kire) 1個, 2個 or 1切れ, 2切れ…
Cooked chicken dish 品(shina) 1品, 2品, 3品….

Surprisingly, it’s said that over 500 different kinds of counter suffixes exist in Japanese!! Learn some of them by taking the test at the top of the article!


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3 thoughts on “Can you count things in Japanese?”

  1. Pingback: 助数詞の不思議 - Lexiophiles

  2. And that’s why I’ve been studying japanese for almost 3 years and still can’t have a basic conversation =(
    But the language is amazing, i love it!

  3. Pingback: Can you count things in Japanese? - Lexiophiles M CIKU 词库

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