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第179課: Numbers VII: Counters II

There are so many counters that it even causes natives to have headaches. Even if you were to know every counter, which isn't worth the time, you would have to know just as impressive amount of information to read all the number-counter combinations. To complicate things, there are many set phrases that require a particular number variant, and there are many combinations with multiple correct readings with varying frequencies of use. 


The purpose of this lesson is to give you more counters that are relevant to your studies. Before we get to new counters, though, we need to take some time and discuss a bit more about numbers themselves. Below is the rest of the most essential Sino-Japanese numbers.

Remember that large numbers are structured a little differently in Japanese. Instead of being grouped into powers of three, they are grouped into powers of four. This is why the unit changes at 100 million rather than at 1 million. The same phonetic changes from before apply for these large numbers.  

 1 Million 百万(ひゃくまん) 10 Million (一)千万((いっ)せんまん) 100 Million 一億(いちおく)
 1 Billion
 十億(じゅうおく) 10 Billion
 百億(ひゃくおく) 100 Billion (一)千億((いっ)せんおく)
 1 Trillion
 一兆(いっちょう 10 Trillion
 十兆(じゅっちょう 100 Trillion 百兆(ひゃっちょう)
 Quadrillion 千兆(せんちょう)    

Large Numbers

Consider 4,634,968,349,763,487, which is treated as 4634,9683,4976,3487 with the units changing every fourth power in the order 十, 百, 千, new unit.

1. 四千六百三十四兆九千六百八十三億四千九百七十六万三千四百八十七
よんせん ろっぴゃく さんじゅうよんちょう きゅうせん ろっぴゃく はちじゅうさんおく よんせん きゅうひゃく ななじゅうろくまん さんぜん よんひゃく はちじゅう なな

Set Readings

Finally, you need to understand that variants of numbers that were described as basically never being used may still be used in set phrases. For instance, you shouldn't say しひゃく for 400 itself, but in set phrases like 四百四病, a Buddhist term for every type of disease, you would have to read the phrase as しひゃくしびょう. This is because that's how it's supposed to be read, and there is no other option. Below are more common set expressions.

 四十七士 The 47 ronin  Sino-Japanese counters once required Sino-Japanese numbers. 
 二十四の瞳 Twenty four eyes Title of a famous novel turned into a movie. 
 二十四節気 The 24 sekki Sekki are divisions of the solar year.

More Counters

Though it's really best to just read up on counter lists such as those found on, this chart gives some more important counters to add to your vocabulary. 

 ~雨(あめ) Rain ~画(かく) Strokes (漢字)
 ~行(ぎょう) Lines of text ~クラス Classes
 ~世(せい) Generations ~章(しょう) Chapters
 ~錠(じょう) Pills ~畳(じょう) Tatami
 ~丁・挺(ちょう) Tools, candles, guns, forks, baskets ~発(はつ) Shots, blows, engines
 ~俵(ひょう) Bags of rice/sackfuls ~部(ぶ) Circulating printed material
 ~服(ふく) Doses, puffs, rests ~話(わ) Episodes

1. Some counters are very limited such as 雨, which is limited to 一雨 (a rainfall). 

2.  When referring to printed material in circulation, the counter ~ is used instead. This counter is also used for collected editions. However, editions are generally counted with ~かん.

3. Using the wrong counter may at times be done for humor/insult. Ex. using ~ for people.

4. Pairs of clothing can also be ~着(ちゃく). Depending on the article of clothing, this may be replaced with something like ~枚 or ~本 as ~着 is slightly literary.  

2. シャツ{一着・一枚}
    A shirt

3. ズボン{一着・一本}
    A pair of pants 


4. 井(  い)頭公園(かしらこうえん)にほど(ちか)い、(さか)の上にある一軒屋(いっけんや)だった。持ち(ぬし)はドイツ人の夫婦で、十年計画の世界一周(いっしゅう)旅行の間、家が傷まないようにとにかく一年の半分は住むという約束で、(おどろ)くほど安く貸してくれた。住宅街(    じゅうたくがい)ではあるが、坂道に面した前庭だけでも、(ゆう)二百坪(にひゃくつぼ)は超えている。
It was a single house atop a slope not so far from Inokashira Park. The owners were a German           couple, and while on a world round trip they had planned for ten years, they rent it for a surprisingly     low place with the promise that [she] would live in it for half of the year so that the house didn't get       damaged.

     Although it’s a residential street, just even the front yard that faces the slope easily passes 200          tsubo (661.157025 m2).

From 野生の風 by 村山由佳. 

Note: The 坪 is a traditional unit for area still used a lot in Japan. 

5. 私宛ての郵便物ゆうびんぶつが(なんつうか)ありますか。
    Is there any mail for me?

~代, which is used to show one's age group and not to be confused with ~年代 which equates to "'s" in phrases like the 90's in English, is yet another important counter that you should remember.

6. 30代の主婦
     A housewife in one's thirties

7. 10代の子供のしつけ方
     Disciplining teens

Phrase Note: There are also weird coined phrases such as アラフォー, which means "around forty."


~ attaches to a counter to mean "several...". This typically refers to amount from 3~7, but usually not much higher than at, unless of course the speaker is lying about the span. When a suffix, ~数 means "number of."  

8. 数名
    Some people

10. 戸数
    Number of households 

12. 荷物個数える
     To count the number of luggage items. 

14. バスの本数
      Number of buses

16. ホームランの本数
      Number of home runs

9. 延日数
    Total number of (work)days

11. 延べ人数
      Total number of people 

13. 経った年数
     Number of years that have past 

15. 歩数
     Number of steps 

17. 冊数
     Number of books

Reading Notes: 数日 = すうじつ; 人数 = にんず(う).

18. 制裁せいさいポイントというのは、修哉しゅうやくんにたいするいやがらせのことで、自分が何をしたか、このアドレスに報告することにより、ポイントが与えられ、毎週土曜日に集計しゅうけいし、クラスで一番ポイントすうの少ない人は、翌週から人殺    ひとごろしの味方みかたとみなされ、同じように制裁を受けることになる、というのです。
Punishment points was a means of harassing Shūya-kun, and by reporting to this action what you've done, points are given to you, and every Saturday the points are tallied, and whoever has the least amount of points in the class is seen as being an ally of the murderer starting the next week, and you likewise get punished.
From 告白 by みなとかなえ.

Pronunciation Note: The word 数字 is ambiguous. It can either mean numeral or several characters. The pitch for the first meaning is LHH and the pitch for the second meaning is HLL.  

Important Exceptional Readings

       Sometimes voicing occurs when a counter is used with 三 and 何. This is because ん is a voiced sound. So, it's not surprising that making the next consonant voiced would ease pronunciation. Sometimes, though, voicing doesn't happen. 

 Meaning Counter With 三 With 何
 Thousand 千 さんぜん なんぜん
 Floor 階 さんがい・さんかい (Dialectical) なんがい
 A sun 寸 さんずん・さんすん なんすん
 A shaku 尺 さんしゃく・さんじゃく (Old-fashioned) なんしゃく・なんじゃく (Old-fashioned)
 Loaf; 600 grams 斤 さんきん・さんぎん (Old-fashioned) なんきん
 6 尺 間 さんけん・さんげん なんけん・なんげん
 Buildings 軒 さんけん・さんげん なんけん・なんげん
 Old currency unit 貫 さんかん・さんがん (Old-fashioned) なんかん・なんけん (Old-fashioned)

19. 建物)何階建てですか。
     How many stories is the building?

連濁 Note: 建てshould be read as だて although the previous element is voiced too.  


You already learned about the irregularities of ~人. But, just to make sure you know what these irregularities are, they are listed below.

 ~人 Irregularities 一人 = ひとり; 二人 = ふたり; 三人 = みたり (Rare/dialectical)

Etymology Note: The number element and counter element to these exceptions is blurred. In reality, there is a counter change based on plurality of とり → たり. In avoiding repeating the same sound twice, 1 and 2 are seen contracted to just ひ and ふ respectively.  

The Days of the Month

  Here are the days of the month again to make sure that you still know them all. You wouldn't believe how many people that have studied Japanese for several years that still mess these up a lot. 

 1日 ついたち 2日 ふつか 3日 みっか 4日 よっか 5日 いつか
 6日 むいか 7日 なのか 8日 ようか 9日 ここのか 10日 とおか
 11日 じゅういちにち 12日 じゅうににち 13日 じゅうさんにち 14日 じゅうよっか 15日 じゅうごにち
 16日 じゅうろくにち 17日 じゅうしちにち 18日 じゅうはちにち 19日 じゅうくにち 20日 はつか
 21日 にじゅういちにち 22日 にじゅうににち 23日 にじゅうさんにち 24日 にじゅうよっか 25日 にじゅうごにち
 26日 にじゅうろくにち 27日 にじゅうしちにち 28日 にじゅうはちにち 29日 にじゅうくにち 30日 さんじゅうにち
 31日 さんじゅういちにち        

Rabbits and Birds

Other than that, there is ~羽, which counts rabbits and birds. Birds and rabbits were both meats not prohibited by Buddhist teachings in the past. The reasoning was that birds were not classified as beasts, and because rabbits had ears as big as wings, they became counted like birds. The counter 羽's peculiar irregularity is demonstrated in the chart below. Variants will be listed in order of most to least frequent.

 1 一羽 いちわ 2 二羽 にわ
 3 三羽 さんば・さんわ 4 四羽 よんわ・よんば・(よわ)
 5 五羽 ごわ・(ごば) 6 六羽 ろくわ・ろっぱ
 7 七羽 ななわ・しちわ・(ななば)
 8 八羽 はちわ・はっぱ
 9 九羽 きゅうわ・くわ 10 十羽 じゅっぱ・じっぱ・じゅうわ・(じゅうば)
 100 百羽 ひゃっぱ・ひゃくわ 1000 千羽 せんば・せんわ・せんぱ
 10000 一万羽 いちまんば・いちまんわ ? 何羽 なんわ・なんば・なんぱ

Set Phrase Note: 三羽烏 read as さんばがらす is a set phrase meaning "trio".  

All birds can be counted with 羽. Huge birds like ostriches and emus are often counted with 頭, and odd birds like penguins can be counted with 匹. Though these birds are exceptional because they can be counted with something other than 羽, they can still be counted with 羽.

Practice (1): Translate the following.

1. Nine birds                      2. 20 rabbits                                    3. 12 days
4. Three months                5. 4 o' clock                                      6. Two boxes 
7. Three people                 8. 1 person                                      9. How many floors?
10. Three pairs of shoes   11. One step                                    12. How many thousands?
13. 13 weeks                    14. 12 computers                             15. How many glassfuls?

More Oddities with Native Numbers

  Though the majority of counters that accept native numbers only allow this for 1 and 2 (sometimes also 3 and 4), there is a very rare minority that accepts even more native numbers. However, because they are of the minority, it isn't surprising that even these "exceptional readings" (though they're the original readings) themselves are not widely used. Some speakers may even think certain combinations are unnatural. Reading 3 and 4 is becoming exceedingly problematic. 

Nevertheless,  we will examine one such counter: 房 (bunches of fruit).  Notice how there is fluctuation in how it can be read. When a number has multiple readings, the one primarily used is in bold. 

1 ひとふさ 2 ふたふさ 3 みふさ 4 よんふさ
 5 ごふさ 
 6 ろくふさ
 7 ななふさ 8 はちふさ
 9 きゅうふさ 10 じゅうふさ 
 11 じゅういちふさ ? なんふさ

20. 餅の切れは小さいが、六切か七切食って、最後の一切れを椀の中へ残して、もうよそうと箸を置いた。
      The mochi slices were small, but he ate six or seven slices, put the last slice inside the bowl, and             put down his chopsticks to stop.  
From 吾輩は猫である by 夏目漱石.

Reading Note: 六 is read as む.  

21. 吾輩の家の裏に十坪ばかりの茶園がある。
      There is a tea plantation about ten tsubo large behind my house.
From 吾輩は猫である by 夏目漱石.

Reading Note: In this case, 十 is read as と. This is another rare instance in which this reading is used.

22.  とびらならけたの番号
   Three digit number on the door

Practice (5): Translate the following.

1. Nine birds 2. 20 rabbits 3. 12 days
4. Three months 5. 4 o' clock 6. Two boxes 
7. Three people 8. 1 person 9. How many floors?
10. Three pairs of shoes 11. One step 12. How many thousands?
13. 13 weeks 14. 12 computers 15. How many glassfuls?

Practice (5): Translate the following.

1. Nine birds 2. 20 rabbits 3. 12 days
4. Three months 5. 4 o' clock 6. Two boxes 
7. Three people 8. 1 person 9. How many floors?
10. Three pairs of shoes 11. One step 12. How many thousands?
13. 13 weeks 14. 12 computers 15. How many glassfuls?

How many stories is the building?
 1 ひとふさ 2 ふたふさ 3 みふさ 4 よんふさ
 5 ごふさ 
 6 ろくふさ
 7 ななふさ 8 はちふさ
 9 きゅうふさ 10 じゅうふさ 
 11 じゅういちふさ ? なんふさ

 1 ひとふさ 2 ふたふさ 3 みふさ 4 よんふさ
 5 ごふさ 
 6 ろくふさ
 7 ななふさ 8 はちふさ
 9 きゅうふさ 10 じゅうふさ 
 11 じゅういちふさ ? なんふさ


Practice (1)

1. 九羽・一翼(の鳥) 2. 二十羽・二十匹(のウサギ) 3. 十二日 4. 三月(みつき)・三ヶ月(間)
5. 四時; よじ 6. 二箱; ふたはこ・にはこ 7. 三人 8. 一人; ひとり
9. 何階; なんがい 10. 三足(のくつ) 11. 一歩 12. 何千; なんぜん
13. 十三週(間) 14. 十二台(のコンピューター) 15. 何杯; なんばい・なんぱい

*: Computer may also be コンピュータ. The counters ~セット, ~式, and ~基 may be used instead.

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