How Numeric Suffixes Work in Japanese

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'How Numeric Suffixes Work in Japanese'

Anna Baffa Volpe

11 min reading time

Updated on 13 January 2023

Here we are at the second part of our series on Japanese numbers.

As we anticipated in the first part dedicated to the numbering system, numbers always appear together with an element that is called in various ways: Counter, Classifier, Numeric suffix.

This aspect of the Japanese language is often a source of perplexity for many foreigners who approach the study.

In many Western languages ​​there is no difference in counting one object over another.

We can simply say 3 eggs, 3 books or 3 times, without the need to attach to the number some element that refers to (for example):

  • a small object (egg)
  • a printed material (books)
  • how often we do an action (times)

It is at the same time an interesting aspect of the language and we don't need to learn the number suffixes all together. Always remember to ...:

ステップバイステップで(がく)(しゅう)(すす)める

... learn things step by step


Numeric suffixes for dates - 年, 月, 日

We already found numeric-suffixes earlier, in the transcript of dates:

  • 年 for years
  • for months
  • for days

2022年3月21日

March 21, 2022

Remember that the order for the date transcribed in Japanese is: year / month / day. We should also keep in mind that Arabic numerals are used in most cases.

How numeric suffixes work

Let's see an example to understand how to use numeric suffixes in a sentence:

Element to count+Particle+Number+Numeric suffix+Verb
(ほん)++()+(さつ)+(くだ) さい

In this case the object to be counted is of the book category, so we use the suffix 冊:

  1. The first element is 本 book
  2. The noun is followed by the particle を which indicates the object
  3. Then follows the number 二 (2) + the counter 冊
  4. Finally the verb (くだ)さい, which is the verb give in its polite form (give me please)

Let's also see how to read the various combinations of number and numeric suffix:

  • 一冊 reads いっさつ
  • 八冊 reads はっさつ
  • 十冊 reads じっさつ or じゅっさつ

Asking "how much" with numeric suffixes

The question to ask how much? / how many? is formed by prefixing 何 to the numeric suffix.

あなたは(ほん)(なん)(さつ)()んでいる?

How many books do you read?

---

In the interrogative sentence with numerical suffixes, the order of the elements also changes. The sentence quoted above can also be expressed as:

あなたは(なん)(さつ)(ほん)()んでいる?

How many books do you read?

何冊 is made up of:

  • Interrogative 何 ​​(what, which, how much)
  • Numeric suffix 冊

These two terms precede the noun with the particle の.

What happens when I only use numbers without numeric suffixes?

Generally, if we interact directly with a Japanese person, we understand the meaning of what we are asking even without the use of the numeric suffix.

Whoever has been in Japan can confirm this: Japanese people, even in cases of communication difficulties, always does their best to understand what we are trying to say and ask

Speaking of expenses, if you go to 八百(やお)() (greengrocer) and say:

リンゴを(いち)(くだ)さい。

An apple please.

In this case, use only the number 一. You will probably then be asked:

一個(いっこ)ですか(いち)キロですか。

Do you want a single apple or a kilo?

Generally, as we said, we communicate using only numbers in a colloquial context. However, keep in mind that the sentence is not correct and complete in grammar.

Flat Objects - (まい)(すう)

---

The kanji (まい) is used to count flat, thin objects such as sheets, handkerchiefs, shirts, plates, music CDs.

切手(きって)を5(まい)とはがきを2(まい)()ってきました。

I bought 5 stamps and 2 postcards.

Counters and E-commerce

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Small Objects - ()(すう)

---

The kanji () is used to count small objects such as an apple, an egg, a cup.

As we have seen previously, in reading some numbers we have some sounds that are contracted, usually the number 1, 6, 8 and 10, but it depends on the numeric suffix:

  • 一個 reads いっこ
  • 六個 reads ろっこ
  • 八個 reads はっこ
  • 十個 reads じっこ or じゅっこ

(たまご)は1(にち)(なん)()まで()べていいですか。

(How many|3) eggs can I eat each day ?

The literal translation of the quoted sentence would be Each day, up to how many eggs (何個まで) can I eat?.

Recall that the form in て + いいですか is used when asking for permission to do something.

Objects with an elongated and narrow shape - (ほん)(すう)

---

The kanji (ほん) is used to count objects with an elongated and narrow shape such as pencils, pens, umbrellas.

It is also used for audio and video material such as audio cassettes, video cassettes, DVDs, some musical instruments.

  • 一本 reads いっぽん
  • 三本 reads さんぼん
  • 六本 reads ろっぽん
  • 八本 reads はっぽん
  • 十本 reads じっぽん or じゅっぽん

ギターを2(ほん)()ってきました。

I bought two guitars .

Printed material - (さつ)(すう)

---

The kanji (さつ) is used to count printed material, such as books, notebooks, dictionaries, tomes, brochures, handouts.

  • 一冊 reads いっさつ
  • 八冊 reads はっさつ
  • 十冊 reads じっさつ or じゅっさつ

Email and Text Messages - (けん)(すう)

---

(けん) is used to count the number of messages or emails received. You often find this kanji if you use the Japanese language on your smartphone or pc.

Japanese notification
A new message on WhatsApp uses the numeric suffix 件.

Means of locomotion - (だい)(すう)

---

The kanji (だい) is used for means of locomotion (cars, bicycles, motorcycles).

(だい) is also used for household appliances (televisions, telephones).

Counting people - (にん)(ずう)

---

With the suffix (にん) in this case we don't count objects, but human beings, people.

  • (がく)(せい)一人(ひとり) a student: the reading is ひとり
  • (せん)(せい)二人(ふたり) two teachers: the reading is ふたり
  • (とも)(だち)(さん)(にん) three friends: the reading is さんにん

From number 3 onwards to read we apply the following rule: reading of Chinese origin of the number + suffix 人

(かい)(しゃ)(おとこ)(しゃ)(いん)が4(いと)います。

There are 4 male colleagues in the office.

Number of times - (かい)(すう)

---

To express the number of times an action is performed we use the (かい) counter.

  • 一回 reads いっかい
  • 六回 reads ろっかい
  • 八回 reads はっかい
  • 十回 reads じっかい or じゅっかい

(しゅう)一回(いっかい)日本語(にほんご)のレッスンを()けています。

I have a Japanese lesson once a week.

Age - (ねん)(れい)

---

The age (ねん)(れい) of the person is expressed by the suffix (さい) also in the variant in use (さい).

---

If we want to ask the age in a polite way we can use the phrase:

おいくつですか。

How old are you?

いくつ is a question that translates to "how much?" / "how many?"

35(さい)です。

I'm 35.

  • 一才 reads いっさい
  • 八才 reads はっさい
  • 十才 reads じっさい or じゅっさい

Price - (きん)(がく)

---

To express the price, cost (きん)(がく) of an object instead, we use the term relating to the currency of the reference country.

  • (えん) Japanese yen
  • ユーロ euro
  • ドル US dollar
  • ポンド British pound
  • ルピー Indian rupee
  • ウォン Korean won
  • 元 Chinese yuan

すみません、このバッグはおいくらですか。58ユーロになります。

Sorry how much does it costs this purse ? It's 58 euro .

Numeric suffixes and Japanese cuisine; ingredients to make Japanese fried rice: audio and vocabulary

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つ Series or Japanese Series

We had already mentioned kun reading, the Japanese kanji reading of numbers. We can call it Japanese series or つ series, as all numbers end with this kana.

This numerical series is used when you want to count an object that has no particular category to which it belongs.

ハンバーガーを7つ

Seven burgers

すみません。サンドイッチをいつつください。

Excuse me, five sandwiches please.


Examples of use of numeric suffixes

りんご5キロは(なん)()

How many apples are there in 5 kilos?

(やく)14~18()

It's about 14 to 18 apples.

(やく) before the number translates "approximately, around ..."

(にん)()りの(くるま)

A 7 seats vehicle

日本(にほん)(じん)(へい)(きん)(ねん)(かん)(どく)(しょ)(ほん)(すう)は12,13(さつ)

The average number of books read annually by the Japanese is 12-13 books.


That's all for today. We have seen how numeric suffixes in Japanese work. We then saw several examples of suffixes and when they are used.

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