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.
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.
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