The Japanese numbering system is quite simple to learn and apply.
We learn the first ten numbers and, with some exceptions, everything else will be a combination of them.
Arabic numbers are generally used, but the transcription with the kanji can also be found in texts. We are therefore going to see also the corresponding characters for each number.
For the numbers represented by the kanji we have the two readings:
- on: the reading coming from Chinese
- kun: the proper Japanese reading
This difference in reading concerns the numbers from 1 to 10. For numbers above 10 only the pronunciation
on is used (with some exceptions). Some grammars speak of
Chinese series and
Japanese series, depending on the reading used.
Let's start with the Chinese reading of numbers:
- 1 一
- 2 二
- 3 三
- 4 四
- 5 五
- 6 六
- 7 七
- 8 八
- 9 九
- 10 十
How do we form the numbers 11 to 99?
Each number that follows 10 十 is formed by adding a number (1-9) after 十: 11 = 10 + 1 (十一)
- 12 十二
- 13 十三
- 14 十四
- 15 十五
- 16 十六
- 17 十七
- 18 十八
- 19 十九
Each number that precedes 10 十 is formed by adding a number (1-9) before 十: 20 = 2 x 10 (二十)
We can obtain the other multiples of 10 in the same way:
- 30 三十
- 40 四十
- 50 五十
- 60 六十
- 70 七十
- 80 八十
- 90 九十
Combining this two principles, now we can get any number we want up to 99:
- 23 二十三
- 34 三十四
- 56 五十六
- 72 七十二
- 95 九十五
Here below we propose you a video made for Japanese primary school children where you can listen to the pronunciation of the numbers from 1 to 100.
Proceeding with the counting, let's see how the same rule applied for 10, also applies to 100 and 1000.
We just need to know the kanji and the pronunciation of 100 百 and 1000 千 and we can continue with the numbering up to 9999.
We only have variations in some pronunciations for phonetic reasons, but it is a few terms:
- 103 百三
- 115 百十五
- 145 百四十五
- 170 百七十
- 300 三百, in the reading we see how the
b, sonorous sound さんひゃく becomes さんびゃく
- 600 六百, ろくひゃく instead becomes ろっぴゃく
- 800 八百, はちひゃく becomes はっぴゃく
We end for today with the numbering that provides the 1000 千, also by reporting the irregular pronunciations for some terms:
- 3000 三千, さんせん diventa さんぜん
- 8000 八千, はちせん becomes はっせん
We learn the numbers from 1 to 10, the number 100 百 the number 1000 千, the few irregular pronunciations and we are ready to count to 9999!
The counting itself is quite simple to learn. The unique aspect of the Japanese language regarding numerals is represented by the
classifiers, or also called
These are elements that are placed after the number expressed and identify the category to which the noun belongs.
We will see in another post the various categories and their use, but we can anticipate that they refer to shape, size, gender, type of the reference object.
To cite an example, a category is represented by flat and thin objects, such as a sheet, a panel, a shirt, a plate, a sheet, the slices of pizza, and the suffix following the number is 枚.
A4の紙2枚 (Two A4 sheets): A４の紙 + ２ + 枚 => noun + number + counter
Numeric suffixes are learned gradually, it is not necessary to memorize them all together.
Let's start immediately with the application of the numeric suffix for the
months of the year.
It is sufficient to report the numbers from 1 to 12 by following the kanji month counter which is 月,
Here's how we can transcribe and read the 12 months of the year:
- 一月 January
- 二月 February
- 三月 March
- 四月 April (other reading of 四 is し)
- 五月 May
- 六月 June
- 七月 July
- 八月 August
- 九月 September (other reading of 九 is く)
- 十月 October
- 十一月 November
- 十二月 December
We are also able to read and transcribe the year that reports the thousands.
As we have said, Arabic numerals are also widely used in Japanese, but let's see how the current year would be expressed using kanji.
Where 年 indicates the calendar year and is used as a counter.
And if we also want to count the days of the month, do we use the same rule?
Of course, with the exception of the first ten days and a few more during the month, where we are going to use the Japanese series mentioned at the beginning, the
kun reading of the kanji.
The numbers reading
The counter for the days is expressed by the kanji 日 which means
For the other numbers the Chinese reading is used, with some exceptions that we report here below:
- 14 becomes 十四日
- 20 becomes 二十日
The order in the transcription of the date includes the year, month and day.
That's all. Now you know how to count and comand dates work in Japanese.
In the next post in the series, let's find out more about numeric suffixes.