Counters “count” things. English doesn’t have counters. We just say the number to count objects, people, animals, e.g. “four people”, “four books”, “four cars”—it’s all really quite simple. Unfortunately, Japanese is a little awkward here. Welcome to the world of the counter. What makes counters awkward is that the counter word changes depending on the thing you’re counting, e.g. a long object, a person, a sheet of paper, a dog. Here are the most common counters with the objects they count.

KanjiHiraganaEnglish
ほんLong, thin objects, e.g. a pen, a bottle
だいLarge objects, e.g. a car, a bicycle
まいFlat, thin objects, e.g. a sheet of paper
さつBooks, magazines, etc.
びきAnimals
にんPeople
かいTimes, e.g. I’ve been here three times before
Time, e.g. I passed the test on the third attempt
かいFloors in a building
Small objects, e.g. an apple
はいGlasses, e.g. three glasses of beer

And, as we saw when the number system was introduced, the pronunciation of the counter can change depending on the number that precedes it.

KanjiHiragana
一本っぽ
二本にほん
三本さん
四本よんほん
五本ごほん
六本っぽ
七本ななほん
八本っぽ
九本きゅうほん
十本じゅっぽ

There is one notable exception where the correct reading is entirely different.

KanjiHiraganaEnglish
一人ひとりOne person
二人ふたりTwo person

Natural use of these counters takes a bit of time. Fortunately, in the meantime, there is a generic counter which has you covered in most cases.

KanjiHiragana
一つひとつ
二つふたつ
三つみっつ
四つよっつ
五ついつつ
六つむいつ
七つななつ
八つやっつ
九つここのつ

Time

When we tell the time we are “counting” the hours, so times have there own counters as well (second, minutes, hours, days, etc.).

KanjiHiraganaEnglish
びょうSecond
ふんMinute
Hour
にちDay
しゅうWeek
げつMonth
ねんYear
943ふん
9:43

Days of the Week

Days each get their own name like in English.

KanjiHiraganaEnglish
月曜日げつ・よう・びMonday
火曜日か・よう・びTuesday
水曜日すい・よう・びWednesday
木曜日もく・よう・びThursday
金曜日きん・よう・びFriday
土曜日ど・よう・びSaturday
日曜日にち・よう・びSunday

Months

Months don’t get such special naming treatment and are signified only by a number. Just make a note of the syllables in bold which may not be obvious.

KanjiHiraganaEnglish
一月いち・がつJanuary
二月に・がつFebruary
三月さん・がつMarch
四月・がつApril
五月ご・がつMay
六月ろく・がつJune
七月しち・がつJuly
八月はち・がつAugust
九月・がつSeptember
十月じゅう・がつOctober
十一月じゅういち・がつNovember
十二月じゅうに・がつDecember

Dates

Dates (e.g. 15th) take the counter にち; however, for 1-10th, 14th, 20th, and 24th of the month the pronunciation is irregular.

KanjiHiragana
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
14日じゅうよっか
20日はつか
24日にじゅうよっか

When writing the date in full the order is YEAR MONTH DAY.

2015ねん10がつ19にち
19 October, 2015
You May Also Like

Too Much: すぎる

To say something is “too much” or “too small” or that we drank “too much” and so forth,…

Changing Adjectives into Adverbs

Changing an adjective to an adverb (e.g. he ate quickly) in Japanese is simple, although the rules differ…

Nominalising Verbs (こと)

The ability to nominalise verbs is arguably the single piece of grammar that lets us move away from…

Basic Japanese Verb Conjugations

There are three different groups of verbs in Japanese—referred to as group 1, 2, and 3 in textbooks.…