Counting and counters


Unfortunately, counting discrete items isn’t as straight-forward as just using the numbers we just learned in the last section. We must use various counters depending on the type of object we’re counting. We already learned the counter for age in the very first chapter. Below are a list of more common counters and when to use them.

Counter When to Use
人 【にん】 To count number of people
円 【えん】 To count money in yen, the Japanese currency
本 【ほん】 To count long, cylindrical objects such as bottles or chopsticks
枚 【まい】 To count thin objects such as paper or shirts
冊 【さつ】 To count bound objects usually books
匹 【ひき】 To count small animals like cats or dogs
歳/才 【さい】 To count the age of a living creatures such as people or animals
個 【こ】 To count small (often round) objects
回 【かい】 To count number of times
ヶ所(箇所) 【か・しょ】 To count number of locations

As usual, the reading may change depending on what makes pronunciation easier as well as a couple of exceptions for 「人」. Fortunately, counters are always attached to the end of the number, so we need only worry about the readings for the first 10 numbers. The higher digits are read the same as any other number. Below, you can see a list of readings for the counters with reading variations (円 and 枚 have no variations). The reading variations are in bold.

Counting with variations
歳/才 ヶ所(箇所)
なんにん なんぼん なんさつ なんびき なんさい なんこ なんかい なんかしょ
1 ひとり いっぽん いっさつ いっぴき いっさい いっこ いっかい いっかしょ
2 ふたり にほん にさつ にひき にさい にこ にかい にかしょ
3 さんにん さんぼん さんさつ さんびき さんさい さんこ さんかい さんかしょ
4 よにん よんほん よんさつ よんひき よんさい よんこ よんかい よんかしょ
5 ごにん ごほん ごさつ ごひき ごさい ごこ ごかい ごかしょ
6 ろくにん ろっぽん ろくさつ ろっぴき ろくさい ろっこ ろっかい ろっかしょ
7 しちにん ななほん ななさつ ななひき ななさい ななこ ななかい ななかしょ
8 はちにん はちほん はっさつ はっぴき はっさい はっこ はちかい はっかしょ
9 きゅうにん きゅうほん きゅうさつ きゅうひき きゅうさい きゅうこ きゅうかい きゅうかしょ
10 じゅうにん じゅっぽん じゅっさつ じゅっぴき じゅっさい じゅっこ じゅっかい じゅっかしょ
20 にじゅうにん にじゅっぽん にじゅっさつ にじゅっぴき はたち にじゅっこ にじゅっかい にじゅっかしょ

There is also a generic counter for when none of the more specific counter applies. This counter goes up to ten

Generic Counter
Numeral How many 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Kanji 幾つ 一つ 二つ 三つ 四つ 五つ 六つ 七つ 八つ 九つ
Reading いくつ ひとつ ふたつ みっつ よっつ いつつ むっつ ななつ やっつ ここのつ とお

You will likely encounter many other types of counters in your studies. In fact, 「一番」, which we have already seen used as a superlative, is yet another counter meaning #1 where #2 is 「二番」, #3 is 「三番」 and so forth.

Other useful counting vocab

There are some additional vocabulary that are useful for counting in certain ways.

  1. ~目 【~め】 – attaches to a counter to indicate order
  2. ~ずつ 【~ずつ】 – attaches to a counter to indicate each
  3. ~おきに – attaches to a counter to indicate repeated intervals


  1. 紙、二枚ずつをホッチキスで留める。
    Staple 2 sheets of paper each.
  2. 店に入った三番目の人は、誰ですか。
    Who is the 3rd person that entered the store?
  3. 一日おきに運動をしています。
    Exercising every other day (spaced 1 day in between).

Beer is fattening

Tanaka: Sorry I’m late.

Yamamoto: It’s ok.

Tanaka: What are (you) drinking?

Yamamoto: Draft beer.

Tanaka: Didn’t (you) say (you) would not drink beer anymore?

Yamamoto: (I) think one bottle every once in a while is fine.

Tanaka: As for beer, (you) get fat soon. Which number bottle is this?

Yamamoto: Isn’t two bottles ok every once in a while as well?

Tanaka: (I) think it’s not ok.

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