Classifiers or Counters
In Japanese, they use a type of grammar word called a counter or classifier. This way of speaking exists in many eastern Asian languages.
In English and many other languages, there are ways to indicate plural. For example, one person two people. In Japanese, that’s not the case. Whether you have one or a hundred, the word never changes. In fact, some people I’ve met think its strange to have to refer to plurals of things.
So in Japanese, you don’t usually have to worry about referring to how much or how many of something there is. But when you do, there are specific counting systems for different groups of items.
First, there is a general counting system. This can be used to count anything and it’s the one that I use the most!
一つ hee tote sue
二つ foo tawt sue
三つ meet sue
四つ yote sue
五つ eat soot sue
六つ moots sue
七つ naw nawt sue
八つ yawts sue
九つ ko ko note sue
This system of counting stops at 10.
The three most common you will encounter are for thin objects, 枚 (my); for long slender objects such as pens, pencils and bottles, 本 (hone); and for small objects, 個 (ko).
一本 (ee pone)
二本 (nee hone)
三本 (sawm bone)
一枚 (ee chee my)
二枚 (nee my)
三枚 (sawm my)
一個 (eek ko)
二個 (nee ko)
三個 (sawn ko)
There are many counters for objects, so much so that even Japanese people don’t even know them all. Not to worry though. The ones contained in the counter lessons and ones you can find on the internet are all you need.
The one thing to be careful of is the pronunciation. Some of the counters change depending on what number they are with. For example, 本 (hone) becomes (pone) when put with 1 and (bone) when it’s put with 3.
When counting or stating how many of something, the object comes first, then the counter.
ペン三本 (pen sawm bone) This means: 3 pens
紙一枚 (kaw mee ee chee mai) This means: one piece of paper
Another counter that you will be likely to use is the one for people. For one and two people, it has an irregular form. After that, it’s pretty easy.
一人 (he toe ree)
二人 (foo taw ree)
三人 (sawn neen)
四人 (yo neen)