What should I say when counting in Japanese?

Asked 8 years ago

So if I'm counting something, is there some particular way I have to count for different things, or is it just what I prefer? Is there some reason I should say hitotsu instead of ichi (I'm sorry, I can't write in kana for the moment) when counting sheep? If it varies depending on what I'm talking about, is what I'm asking. If it doesn't, then could I switch between Kun-yomi and On-yomi? I've watched anime in the English subtitled version, so I can listen and figure out when it's appropriate to use certain words. There was this one guy who started counting from 1-9, starting with hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu, yottsu, itsutsu, but then after five, went to the On-yomi and said roku, shichi, hachi, and then kyuu. This didn't make much sense so I'm wondering if in reality you should be doing that. Also, I think in common speech that nana is used more than shichi because of the reference to death (same for yon and shi, too). However, does it matter what you say (I'm asking this about kyuu and ku also)? Thank you in advance, and I'm sorry for spelling it in Roomaji, but I can't use special characters right now.

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1 Answer


Counting in Japanese is a little complicated, and in general their are counters for every little thing. People are counted ひとり、ふたり、さんにん、よんにん、etc. But animals are counted with ひき. Months are がつ or げつ, and so on. There's a counter in Japanese for just about anything.

ひとつ、ふたつ、みっつ etc are general purpose counters that can be used with anything, but that doesn't mean you should just not learn the other counters. If you were counting nothing at all, just pure counting, いち、に、さん is okay. As for numbers with variants, it doesn't really matter, but some counters only work with one or the other.

Answered 8 years ago