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A few days ago I did a live e-lecture about Japanese counters (and how suicidal they can make you). To go along with the presentation, I put together an e-book for you to use as a Japanese counter resource. Let’s take a closer look at counters, and then I’ll provide the link to the e-book which goes into a lot more detail and specifics!

Counting in Japanese isn’t the same as in English. Sure, there is the normal way of counting numbers for the sake of counting numbers, but once you get into counting actual things you have to use special counters. For example, when you are counting small animals, you can’t just use ichi, ni, san, etcetera. You have to use ippiki, nihiki, sanbiki… It’s not like English where you say “one dog,” or “two plates,” and so on. Thus…Japanese counters.

But first, let’s look at a Japanese comedian counting. You know, to loosen you up before the tidal wave.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrLBEuoC0OQ']

Here are some things to remember when learning counters:

Even when the kanji stays consistent (for example 1人、2人、3人), the pronunciation won’t. In the previous pattern, the first two are hitori and futari, but then after that it goes san-nin, yo-nin, go-nin, etc. It’s important to memorize these inconsistencies so you don’t sound like a dork.

Sometimes there are rules / patterns, sometimes there aren’t. Just make sure you notice these.

When going through these counters, take a close look at numbers 1, 6, and 8. Often times they’ll be shortened (though not all the time). For example, when counting minutes (using the hun/pun counter) you don’t say ichi-pun, roku-pun, or hachi-pun. You say ippun, roppun, and happun. Look out for these (though it’s not always consistent, so watch it!)

4, 7, and 9 have two pronunciations. shi/yon, shichi/nana, and ku/kyuu. Depending on the counter, you could see either of these. You just have to remember which counter uses which!

How to Study Counters

Now, when you read these recommendations, and when you take a look at the e-book (and more counter resources), you might feel overwhelmed. I found over 80 different counters. Luckily, a lot of these are really rare, and not used too often. Also, there’s a counter for “things that don’t have counters or the counter is so obscure nobody knows them,” which helps a lot too. Don’t feel like you need to sit down and learn all these in one go. You’ll see them a lot as you study, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice. Just get familiar with the counters, know they exist, memorize which counters are which, and you’re well on your way to counting like a pro.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out the e-book and get yourself edumacated. It also includes links to a few more resources you can use.

☆Japanese Counters e-Book☆

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  • http://mrklo-olstphn.livejournal.com/ stephen

    Thanks for the ebook… I once went to a friends' house and in their study room was a book on the counters Mandarin uses… It was a thick as a a volume of an encyclopedia.
    You are right that you do not need to know all of them but it is really important to know the ones you need to.

  • QuinsY

    Hello Everyone,

    I attended the class and it was very fun and educational too, I guess :P . I find the e-book to be very useful also. Great work you do Koichi先生 and very consistent. Good teacher, he is, very. Seriously!

    QuinsY. (Practicing my hiragana or else I won't be allowed into Na先生's class xD *crying on the inside・・・* )。

  • kurisu

    ホンマおもろ〜 lol thanks a bunch for the e-book! wow my gut kind of sank seeing there are over 80 kinds of counters x_x i guess i should put these to use… walk around campus and just. count things. O_O

    thanks again!

  • WOTDsctoo

    NEL! I watch that guy on youtube!
    He's not that big or anything…but here I see him on Japanese TV!?!? AH!

    Anyway…cool e-book and such. :)
    Sorry for getting excited about the wroooong things. XD

  • http://www.myspace.com/poznanman TicTaek

    3 has just become my favorite number. Thanks for the e-Book mate!!!

  • TDoWF

    omg I LOLed sp much

  • Abdel

    Hey, what about these exceptions? 十四日(じゅうよっか)、十七日(じゅうしちにち only)、二十日(はつか)二十四日(にじゅうよっか)と二十七日(にじゅうしちにち only)

    It is not so straight forward after 十日 as you say.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    very true, i need to edit that

  • http://myspace.com/805x Sam watashi wa

    haha very funny didnt see the diffrent languages coming xD
    and the peoples reactions are funny :p

  • sophiebee

    Hey Koichi!
    I've been stalking…um I mean reading your blog for a while. I wanted to attend this class but neither time suited me (I'm from Australia). Thanks for the e-book, it looks great. Keep blogging!

  • eLsa

    hey thanks =D
    it really helps~

  • moshi_moshi

    I was at the edufire meeting ^^ xox

  • http://stshores24.com stshores24

    I could be missing it, but…I don't see an actual link to the e-book.

  • http://tofugu.com Tofugu_Erin

    Click on the text that says ☆Japanese Counters e-Book☆

    It's not link-colored, unfortunately.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah, I need to juggle the css to make it work and accept other colors

  • http://stshores24.com stshores24

    'I see!' said the blind man to his deaf friend.

  • Fiona

    oh thx for video so that's who this kid from hey say was doing for this gag agame.

    http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=8uAORx5ixkU

  • ルイバ

    I love you Tofugu! youre a great guy!

  • http://www.edufire.com/arky Arky

    Although I had to leave early, i enjoyed what time I was there and learned a fair bit including that song, Greatly Appreciated.

  • Robo-panda

    Great guide! counters were always a bit difficult to grasp for me.

    I just noticed though in the minutes on the guide there's a typo, it says ろっぷん, but the romaji says “rokupun”.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    whoops, there's another thing for me to fix :) thank you!

  • mmnessa

    omg, another e-book? thanks a lot! ^_^

  • Zaywex

    Don't you usual use the 一つ,二つ,etc counter when shopping?

  • Raby

    omg….you're sooo great!

  • Josh

    English has counters my friend. It's a little different than Japanese counters, but we have them.
    I'll show you.
    one *sheet* of paper.
    two *bottles* of beer.
    and so on.
    We probably don't have as many, but would you not consider these counters?

  • http://tofugu.com Tofugu_Erin

    Possibly? The actual number isn't changing, so idk.

  • バカエイゴ

    How do you count things under the “things that have no counter or have a ridiculously obscure one” above ten? Do you just use the regular ol' Sino-japanese number?
    For example, would
    セーターを二十一買った (セーター・をにじゅういち・かった)
    be just as valid as
    セーターを二つ買った (セーター・を・ふたつ・かった)?

  • バカエイゴ

    How do you count things under the “things that have no counter or have a ridiculously obscure one” above ten? Do you just use the regular ol' Sino-japanese number?
    For example, would
    セーターを二十一買った (セーター・をにじゅういち・かった)
    be just as valid as
    セーターを二つ買った (セーター・を・ふたつ・かった)?

  • JackiJinx

    Heeeey! I was just going over this sheet and noticed that under the last long list of ridiculous counters, there's two different entries for word. Why is that?

  • JackiJinx

    Heeeey! I was just going over this sheet and noticed that under the last long list of ridiculous counters, there's two different entries for word. Why is that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ltsiros Luciano Tsiros

    Hey Koichi, the e-book is great. One question: for the age counter, 10 years old is listed as being “juusai”, but I think it should be “jussai”. Am I right?
    Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ltsiros Luciano Tsiros

    How is this unanswered still? ;)

  • http://macsopals.com/ Mac

    Thanks for the e-book Koichi. Worth downloading