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81. Easy Counters

In English, we just take a number (1,2,3…) add a noun and an “s” to count items.

But in Japanese, different types of objects have different counters. In addition, some numbers change pronunciation slightly when added with their counter. Don’t worry too much about the pronunciation changes since you will be understood even if you mess it up. And even if you mess up and count with the wrong counter, you should still be understood. That being said, just a tip… don’t count people with “pikki” (used with animals!)

First, there are two ways to count numbers – the “native” and the “Chinese” way. Actually the “native” counting system only goes up to 10 and is pretty much only used for counting up to two people and for counting general things. If you are feeling lazy, just learn the “Chinese” numbers for now.

If you haven’t studied numbers yet, go to this page to learn all about them before proceeding: How to Count

Here is a quick review::


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 むっつ
七つ ななつ
八つ やっつ
九つ ここのつ
十 と


一 いち
二 に
三 さん
四 し、よん
五 ご
六 ろく
七 しち、なな
八 はち
九 きゅう、く
十 じゅう

Note, the two red alternate readings on the “Chinese” side. These are pronunciations based on the “native” readings but are often used in conjunction when counting other “Chinese” numbers.

Okay, now for counters.

Let’s go through some common counters one by one and then I will give a list of many other counters:

  • Counter: nin | Usage: people [pay attention to the red lines.]
  • 一人 (ひとり) 1 person [irregular]
  • 二人 (ふたり) 2 people [irregular]
  • 三人 (さん にん) 3 people [now we simply add the Chinese numbers to にん]
  • 四人 (よ にん) [し にん is NOT used. Probably because し means death… Also notice the dropped ん from よん]
  • 五人 (ご にん)
  • 六人 (ろく にん)
  • 七人 (しち にん OR なな にん) [It seems しちにん is used more often, but ななにん is also used]
  • 八人 (はち にん)
  • 九人 (きゅう にん or く にん)
  • 十人 (じゅう にん)
  • 十一人  (じゅう いち にん) etc…

  • Counter: hiki | Usage: most animals 
  • 一匹 (いっぴき) [notice the H changes to a P]
  • 二匹 (にひき)
  • 三匹 (さん びき) [notice the H changes to a B this time.]
  • 四匹 (よんひき)
  • 五匹 (ごひき)
  • 六匹 (ろっぴき) [notice the H changes to a P AND the く becomes a small っ]
  • 七匹 (なな ひき or しち ひき) [probably ななひき is most used]
  • 八匹 (はっぴき or はち ひき)
  • 九匹 (きゅう ひき)
  • 十匹 (じゅっぴき) [notice the small っ – this occurs when there is a soft sound after like H]

  • Counter: hon | Usage: long, slender objects like pencils, bottles, arms…
  • 一本 (いっぽん)
  • 二本 (に ほん)
  • 三本 (さん ぼん)
  • 四本 (よん ほん)
  • 五本 (ご ほん)
  • 六本 (ろっぽん)
  • 七本 (なな ほん)
  • 八本 (はっぽん or はち ほん)
  • 九本 (きゅう ほん)
  • 十本 (じゅっぽん)

Other Counters:

Counter: satsu | books and magazines

一冊 (いっさつ) one book
二冊 (に さつ)
三冊 (さん さつ)
四冊 (よん さつ)
五冊 (ご さつ)
六冊 (ろく さつ)
七冊 (なな さつ or しち さつ)
八冊 (はち さつ or はっさつ)
九冊 (きゅう さつ)
十冊 (じゅっさつ or じっさつ*)

Counter: fun | minutes

一分 (いっぷん) one minute
二分 (に ふん)
三分 (さん ぷん)
四分 (よん ぷん)
五分 (ご ふん)
六分 (ろっぷん)
七分 (なな ふん)
八分 (はち ふん)
九分 (きゅう ふん)
十分 (じゅっぷん or じっぷん*)

Counter: hai | cups of liquids, drinks

一杯 (いっぱい) one cup
二杯 (に はい)
三杯 (さん ばい)
四杯 (よん はい)
五杯 (ご はい)
六杯 (ろっぱい)
七杯 (なな はい)
八杯 (はっぱい)
九杯 (きゅう はい)
十杯 (じゅっぱい or じっぱい*)

Counter: mai | sheets of paper; flat objects

一枚 (いち まい) one piece
二枚 (に まい)
三枚 (さん まい)
四枚 (よん まい)
五枚 (ご まい)
六枚 (ろく まい)
七枚 (なな まい)
八枚 (はち まい)
九枚 (きゅう まい)
十枚 (じゅう まい)

* notice this can be pronounced as じっ instead of じゅっ.
This is to make it clearer and is often used in broadcasting. You may also encounter this with hon and hiki. For now, you can just say, じゅっ…


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