In Japanese, pluralization is not grammatically imposed in the way it is in English. It is not that Japanese people do not conceptualize the difference between singular and plural entities. Rather, this distinction rarely needs to be verbalized because the language provides context clues to make such a distinction unnecessary. Of course, this means individual sentences may be ambiguous in this regard if put in isolation, but this would not be reflective of actual conversation.
Nevertheless, there are in fact plural phrases in Japanese. Each means of creating such phrases brings about nuance distinctions unique to each construct. In English, we make the following distinctions in demonstrative words for singular and plural forms.
|Singular Form||Plural Form|
In this lesson, we’ll learn how Japanese usually doesn’t explicitly make these distinctions, and when it does how it differs from English.
・リンゴ Ringo – Apple
・値段 Nedan – Price/cost
・家族 Kazoku – Family
・写真 Shashin – Picture
・オレンジ Orenji – Orange
・アプリケーション Apurikēshon – Application
・画面 Gamen – Screen
・場合 Ba’ai – Case/situation/event
・国々 Kuniguni – Countries
・大麻 Taima – Hemp/cannabis
・テロ Tero – Terrorism
・対策 Taisaku – Measure/provision
・強化 Kyōka – Enforcement
・一環 Ikkan – Link
・対象 Taishō – Target/object
・根拠 Konkyo – Evidence
・情報 Jōhō – Information/news
・ミサイル Misairu – Missile
・発射 Hassha – Firing/discharge
・領土 Ryōdo – Territory
・領海 Ryōkai – Territorial waters
・可能性 Kanōsei – Possibility
・避難 Hinan – Evacuation
・呼びかけ Yobikake – Call/appeal
・名前 Namae – Name
・過去 Kako – Past
・履歴 Rireki – Background/personal history
・決まり Kimari – Rule/agreement/custom
・疑問 Gimon – Question/doubt
・改正 Kaisei - Revision
・提案 Teian - Proposal
・町 Machi – Town
・海 Umi – Sea/ocean
・空 Sora – Sky
・満月 Mangetsu – Full moon
・季節 Kisetsu – Season(s)
・電車 Densha – (Electric) train
・公園 Kōen – Park
・遊園地 Yūenchi – Amusement park
・動物 Dōbutsu – Animal
・スーパー（マーケット） Sūpā(māketto) – Supermarket
・おもちゃ Omocha – Toy
・子 Ko – Child
・将来 Shōrai – Future
・こと Koto – Thing/event/circumstance/affair
・不安 Fuan – Anxiety
・頭 Atama – Head/mind
・恋愛 Ren’ai – Love/affections
・余裕 Yoyū – Leeway/margin
・机 Tsukue – Desk
・鉛筆 Empitsu – Pencil
・中 Naka – In(side)/middle
・内 Uchi – Inside/within/among
・サッカー Sakkā – Soccer
・選手権 Senshuken – Championship
・人 Hito – Person
・トランク Toranku – Trunk/suitcase
・鞄 Kaban – Bag/briefcase/basket
・山 Yama – Mountain
・子猫・仔猫 Koneko – Kitten
・本 Hon – Book
・米国 Beikoku – America (country only)
・アメリカAmerika – America
・フランス Furansu - France
・ドイツ Doitsu - Germany
・トランプ大統領 Torampu-daitōryō – President Trump
・日本 Nihon/Nippon – Japan
・青い Aoi – Blue/green/pale
・高い Takai – Tall/expensive
・美味しい Oishii - Delicious
・多い Ōi – Many/a lot
・無い Nai – Nonexistent
・これ Kore – This (noun)
・この Kono – This (adj.)
・これら Korera – These
・それ Sore – That (noun)
・その Sono – That (adj.)
・それら Sorera – Those
・あれ Are – Those (over there)
・あの Ano – Those (over there)
・どれも Dore mo – Either/none
・それだけ Sore dake – Just that
・あちら Achira – That way/that one/that person
・（お）いくつ (O-)ikutsu – How many?
・いくら Ikura – How many?
・全て Subete – All
・初めに Hajime ni – Firstly/to begin with
・一杯 Ippai Full of
・やがて Yagate – At last
・更に Sara ni – Furthermore/moreover
・二、三個 Ni, sanko – Two, three things
・7か国 Nanakakoku – Seven countries
・一つ Hitotsu – One thing
・一位 Ichi’i – First place
・5人 Gonin – Five people
・三匹 Sambiki – Three creatures
・五つ Itsutsu – Five things
・何故 Naze – Why?
・誰 Dare – Who?
お～ O- – Honorific prefix
ご～ Go- – Honorific prefix
・～産 -san – Product of
・～屋 -ya – Shop/someone who sells/works as…
Ichidan (ru) Verbs
・見る Miru – To see/look
・閉じる Tojiru – To close
・伝えるTsutaeru – To convey/report/transmit/communicate
・流れる Nagareru – To stream/flow/be carried
・考える Kangaeru – To think about/ponder
・詰める Tsumeru – To stuff into/cram/pack
Godan (u) Verbs
・開く Hiraku – To open
・成る Naru – To become
・示す Shimesu – To demonstrate/indicate
・手放す Tebanasu – To let go
・ある Aru – To be/have (inanimate objects)
・奪う Ubau – To steal
・産む Umu – To give birth
・飼う Kau – To raise (an animal)
・持っていく Motte iku – To take with
・強調する Kyōchō suru – To emphasize
・落下する Rakka suru – To fall/drop
・判断する Handan suru – To judge/conclude
・申請する Shinsei suru – To apply/request
・来る Kuru – To come
・ご入り用 Go-iriyō – Need
・～下さい Kudasai – Please
・～について Ni tsuite – About
・他｛の｝Ta/hoka [no] – Other
・違法｛な｝Ihō [na] – Illegal/invalid
・具体的｛な｝ Gutaiteki [na] – Concrete/tangible
・緊急｛の・な｝ Kinkyū [no/na] – Urgent/emergency
・屋内｛の｝Okunai [no] – Indoor
・大きな Ōkina – Large/great
・私 Wata(ku)shi – I
・彼女 Kanojo – She
As English speakers, the forms above are so ingrained into our minds that it is often difficult coping with the seemingly drastically simplified Japanese template. In Japanese, the singular and plural usages of the equivalents of these words are not distinguishable. In other words, they look the same.
“Kono ringo wo kudasai.” “O-ikutsu go-iriyō deshō ka?”
“Please give me these apples.” “How many is it that you need?”
Orthography Note: Ringo may also be seldom spelled as 林檎.
In this exchange, the customer (Speaker A) is physically next to what’s presumably an apple stand at a market and is directing attention somehow to a certain kind of apple. If Speaker A were pointing specifically at a certain apple in the bunch, Speaker B (the store clerk) may have potentially asked something else, but just as English speakers use phrases like “I want this one,” Speaker A would have somehow indicated clearly through his/her actions that the one apple was all he/she wanted. With that being the case, if what all Speaker B perceives is that Speaker A wants Aomori Prefecture grown apples, then the next logical question is “how many?” In other words, kono この simply replaces the description that would otherwise go with “apple” to merely indicate its position to Speaker A.
In other sentences, we can clearly see how kono この can and very frequently stand for “these.”
Kono ringo wa aokute nedan ga takai.
These apples are green and pricey.
Sentence Note: Of course, this sentence could be interpreted in the singular form. Context is everything. If the speaker is holding an apple that he bought from the store and is merely describing it to someone, there’s no reason why the listener would think he’s talking about more than one apple that happen to be present. However, it is logical to think that the statement can be true for apples of that kind. This would make sense especially if the sentence were preceded by something like “This apple from America is delicious.” Saying that would make it sound like he’s now making a general statement about such apples. Now, say the speaker is with someone at a supermarket and happen to go to the produce section and see apples that are both really green and really pricey. In which case, this statement would need to be translated in the plural sense.
Kono ringo wa dore mo oishisō.
Each of these apples looks delicious.
Kore, ikura desu ka?
How much [is this/are these]?
In general conversation, kore/kono これ・この, sore/sono それ・その, and are/ano あれ・あの are used in both the singular and plural sense. These words, as you know, are used in various set phrases with almost the same capacities as their English equivalents and then some. The reason why this is possible is because these words refer collectively to things. If only one thing is part of the collective, then we interpret that in the singular sense. If the collective has more than one thing in it, we just refer to the collective as a whole and interpret that in the plural sense.
Kore wa watashi no kazoku shashin desu.
[This is a/these are] picture(s) of my family.
Sore dake ja nai.
That’s not all.
Using ーra ら
It just so happens that korera これら, sorera それら, and arera あれら exist for the plural sense. However, they refer to things at the individual level. This means they can be translated as “(each of) these,” “(each of) those,” “(each of) those (over there).” These words are largely used in the written language unless ignoring the individuality of what “these” and “those” refer to would be illogical. It’s important to note that arera あれら is actually not used at all aside from Japanese directly translated from English.
To unpack all this, we will now look at several example sentences utilizing these words so that you can see exactly when they’re used.
(Ni, sanko no orenji wo mite) “Korera no orenji wa beikoku-san desu.”
(Looking at 2, 3 oranges) “These oranges are America imported.”
Sentence Note: Using korera これら instead of kono この allows the speaker to emphasize how each of the oranges at the individual level are America imported.
Hoka no apurikēshon gamen wo hiraite iru ba’ai, sorera wo subete tojite kudasai.
In the case you have other application screens open, please close all of them.
Amerika, Furansu, Doitsu, korera no kuniguni de wa taima wa ihō desu ka?
In America, France, Germany, and all these countries, is marijuana illegal?
Torampu-daitōryō wa, tero taisaku kyōka no ikkan de aru koto wo kyōchō shite imasu ga, naze korera no nanakakoku ga taishō to natta no ka, gutaiteki na konkyo wa shimeshite imasen.
President Trump emphasizes that it is linked to strengthening measures against terrorism, but he hasn’t provided concrete evidence as to why these seven countries became targeted.
Korera no kinkyū jōhō wa, hajime ni “misairu hassha jōhō” ga tsutaerare, misairu ga Nihon no ryōdo/ryōkai ni rakka suru kanōsei ga aru to handan sareta ba’ai, “okunai hinan no yobikake” to iu jōhō ga nagareru koto ni natte imasu.
As for these (means of) emergency information, at first “missile launch information” will be transmitted, and in the event that it’s concluded there exists the possibility a missile could come down on Japanese territory/waters, information calling for “indoor evacuation” will play.
Namae mo kako mo rireki mo, sorera subete wo tebanashita.
My name, my past, my background, I let go of all those things.
Phrase Note: Korera これら and sorera それら are frequently followed by subete すべて. In this situation, you can’t drop the /ra/.
Kimari ni gimon ga areba, sore mo kaisei teian wo shinsei dekiru.
If you have any questions about the rules, you can submit them in a reform proposal.
Sentence Note: Sore それ is used because there is no context that implies individuality to potential problems with the rule(s) in question.
Machi mo, umi mo, sora mo, yama mo, mangetsu mo, kisetsu mo, densha mo, kōen mo, yūnchi mo, sūpāmāketto mo, omochaya mo, watashi wa kono ko kara sorera wo subete ubatte kita n da.
Towns, the sea, the sky, mountains, the full moon, the seasons, trains, parks, amusement parks, animals, supermarkets, toy stores, I’ve stolen all those things from this child.
Shōrai no koto toka fuan ga ōi yo. Korera no koto de atama ga ippai de, ren’ai ni tsuite kangaeru yoyū wa nai.
I have a lot of anxiety about the future and all. My mind has been full of these things, and I don’t have time to think about love.
Kono tsukue ni takusan no empitsu ga aru kedo, korera no naka kara hitotsu dake motte itte ii yo.
There are many pencils in this desk, but it is okay for you to take only one out of these with you.
Sentence Note: This first kono この can’t be interpreted in the plural sense in context. Although korera no naka これらの中 could be rewritten by using kono この instead, the individuality of the pencils the listener could choose from would not be emphasized.
Korera no gonin no uchi, sakkā sekai senshuken de ichii to natta hito wa dare deshō.
Of these five individuals, who will become number one in the soccer championship?
Kanojo wa neko wo sambiki kaidashite, korera ga yagate koneko wo unda.
She began to raise three cats, and at last these cats have given birth to kittens.
Toranku ga itsutsu atte, sorera wa sara ni ōkina kaban ni tsumerarete hitotsu ni natta.
There were five trunks, and these trunks become one by being crammed into a much larger briefcase.
20. ｛あちら・あれら △｝の山は高いですね。
[Achira/arera] no yama wa takai desu ne.
The mountain(s) over there are tall.
Sentence Note: As stated, arera あれら doesn't really exist outside the world of translations from Western languages, particularly English. In this sentence, achira あちら would be far more natural. Ex. 21 and Ex. 22 are further examples of how arera あれら might come about in translated material, but something else will always be what would actually be used.
[Are/arera] wo mite kudasai.
Look at those.
[Ano/arera no] hon wa dare no desu ka?
Whose books are those?