The Japanese counting system is one of the trickiest things when learning Japanese and it is certainly worthwhile going into detail. In this lesson, you will learn Japanese numerals. Note: Don’t be a perfectionist. You will have a lot of things to memorize, which generally takes some time.
Explanation for How Japanese Numerals Work
In English, you can express numbers in both alphabet and numerals like “one” and “1.” Japanese also allows you to do so in kanji and numerals (in general, hiragana is not used). Since the pronunciations are the same, we will show you how to pronounce the numbers in the Kanji column.
Pronunciation of Japanese Numerals
One to Ten
|1||一 （いち）||一つ （ひとつ）|
|2||二 （に）||二つ （ふたつ）|
|3||三 （さん）||三つ （みっつ）|
|4||四 （し・よん）||四つ （よっつ）|
|5||五 （ご）||五つ （いつつ）|
|6||六 （ろく）||六つ （むっつ）|
|7||七 （しち・なな）||七つ （ななつ）|
|8||八 （はち）||八つ （やっつ）|
|9||九 （きゅう・く）||九つ （ここのつ）|
|10||十 （じゅう）||十 （とお）|
There are two different ways to count. In addition, the basic way is further subdivided such as し and よん. One of the reasons is to avoid misleading your listeners by ambiguous sounds. For example, し is the same sound as “死: death.” If you count four people as 四人, it can be “死人: dead person.” Therefore, when you count people, し is never used. You need to choose the proper one depending on the context (*You will learn more details later).
Eleven to Twenty
There is only one way to count over ten. The pronunciation is very simple. All you need to do is just to combine what you learned above: first, you say a tens place number and then second, you say a digit. This way will remain over twenty as well.
|14|| + ||十四 （じゅうし・じゅうよん）|
|28||- + ||二十八（にじゅうはち）|
Thirty to Hundred
*くじゅう is wrong!
Please pay attention to the pronunciation of “九十.” く can be used for only a digit. Regarding over one hundred, the concept of the way to count will also remain the same. You firstly say a hundreds place number, secondly say a tens place number, and thirdly say a digit.
|96||- + ||九十六（きゅうじゅうろく）|
|105|| + ||百五（ひゃくご）|
|123|| + - + ||百二十三（ひゃくにじゅうさん）|
Two Hundred to One Thousand
*さんひゃく is wrong!
*しひゃく is wrong!
*ろくひゃく is wrong!
*しちひゃく is wrong!
*はちひゃく is wrong!
As you can see, the pronunciation of 百 varies when it’s with 三, 六, 八. The variety is one the biggest reasons why counting something in Japanese is difficult. If we try to explain the logic, we would require you to read a linguistic thesis. Thus, it’s better to just try to memorize them. Also, 四（し） and 七（しち） can be used for only a digit and a tens place number.
|1008|| + ||千八（せんはち）|
|1097|| + - + ||千九十七（せんきゅうじゅうなな）|
|1682|| + - + - + ||千六百八十二 （せんろっぴゃくはちじゅうに）|
Two Thousand to Ten Thousand
*さんせん is wrong!
*はちせん is wrong!
*まん is wrong!
This time, 三千 and 八千 have irregular pronunciations. One important point here is that Japanese numerals work based on units of four, while English numerals work based on units of three. For example, when it comes to 10,000, you express it by using the unit “thousand” like “ten thousand” in English. However, you need to use another unit in Japanese. That is 万. Although 千, 百 and 十 alone can indicate 1,000, 100 and 10 respectively, you have to attach 一 to 万 in order to express 10,000.
|10,022||- + - + ||一万二十二（いちまんにじゅうに）|
|18,765||- + - + - + - + ||一万八千七百六十五（いちまんはっせんななひゃくろくじゅうご）|
|20,502||- + - + ||二万五百二（にまんごひゃくに）|
Ten Thousand or More
*せんまん is wrong!
Now you can actually count up to 99,999,999 by utilizing what you have learned so far. As we mentioned above, 万 is the basis to count large numbers. Just like how you combine a hundred with a thousand when you express 100,000 in English, you combine 十 with 万 to express 100,000 in Japanese. Note: when you combine 千 with 万, 千 will lose the function that it alone can indicate 1,000, i.e. you have to attach 一 (or other digits).
|340,007||- + - + ||三十四万七（さんじゅうよんまんなな）|
|9,010,000||- + -||九百一万（きゅうひゃくいちまん）|
|10,200,040||- + - +  + -||一千二十万四十（いっせんにじゅうまんよんじゅう）|
Zero or Less
In Japanese, there are two ways to say “0.” One of the two is ゼロ which comes from the English word: “zero.” The other one is れい, which is the official word for “0” in Japanese. However, almost everyone uses both ゼロ and れい in everyday life. Depending on the context, you have to choose the proper one.
Decimals and Fraction
When it comes to decimals, you call dots “てん” in Japanese. And after てん, you just list digits even if it’s over units of fours like 0.12345（れいてんいちにいさんよんごお）. As you may have noticed, if the sound of a digit is one beat such as 2 and 5, you need to elongate the last vowel. Decimals are basically written in numerals. Regarding fractions, please pay attention to the order. You need to pronounce it in the opposite order to English.
This is exactly the same as the positive numbers, except for adding – (マイナス).
- There are many ways to count.
- 三, 六, and 八 often have irregular pronunciations.
- Japanese counting system works based on units of four, i.e. 万 is the basis.
This is how the Japanese counting system works. Although we have showed the two ways to count from one to ten: basic and つ-method, we haven’t mentioned the usage yet. The proper way will be determined by which counters you use. This is the trickiest one and what you will learn next.
- Next Lesson: Japanese Counters
- Previous Lesson: Sentence Ending Particles: ね, よ, and よね
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