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TYJ Small numbers

This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

5.1. Small numbers

5.1.1. Small integers

Being entirely decimal, the way of counting numbers (かず "kazu") in Japanese is much easier than in English, considering English has illogical number words (not wholly decimal) such as eleven, twelve, and twenty.

re i
The word ゼロ H L "zero" also means zero. The word まる H L "maru", which means a circle, is the same as oh in English and often used for zeros in phone numbers etc.
i ti
sa n
yo n
Another word し H "shi" also means four, but you cannot combine it with units. It is less colloquial and less useful.
ro ku
na na
Another word し L H "shichi" also means seven, but you cannot combine it with units. It is less colloquial and less useful.
ha ti
Another word く H "ku" also means nine, but you cannot combine it with units. It is less colloquial and less useful.
zyû i ti
10 + 1
じゅう + い
zyû ni
10 + 2
じゅう + に
ni zyû
2 x 10
に x にじゅ
ni zyû i ti
2 x 10 + 1
に x にじゅう + i ti
sa n zyû
3 x 10
さん x じゅう
hya ku
se n

To read numbers in Japanese, just read pairs of digits (2, 3, ...) and units (10, 100, ...). For example, the number 452 is pronounced as やん "yon" ひゃく "hyaku" ご "go" じゅう "zyû" に "ni", which means 4 × 100 + 5 × 10 + 2.

If a digit is zero, omit both the digit and the unit. If a digit is one, say only the unit.

Further reading:

5.1.2. Euphonic change

There is some complicated rule to change sounds. The sounds of some combinations of a digit and a unit are modified for ease of pronunciation. This rule is applied only for units which begin with voiceless phonemes (/k/, /s/, /t/, /h/, and /p/). Note that units don't combine with the trailing digit. Pronouncing numbers without using this rule is still understandable.

The rule is listed below. I think using phonemes is easier to understand.


*1 Even though they are not digits but units, they can combine with the trailing units when they are the last word in a group. See the chapters of large numbers and counters.
*2 Explained in the chapter of large numbers.

Number examples:

NumbersDigits and unitsDescription
156100 + 5 × 10 + 6
hya ku go zyû ro ku
Omit the digit of 100.
70087 × 1000 + 8
na na se n ha ti
Omit the digits and units of 100 and 10.
3923 × 100 + 9 × 10 + 2
sa n bya ku kyû zyû ni
The euphonic rule changes "san" × "hyaku" to "sanbyaku".
2132 × 100 + 10 + 3
ni hya ku zyû sa n
The euphonic rule is applied to a pair of a digit and a unit, not a unit and a digit. The number 10 + 3 is not "jussan".

Further reading:
Next article in series Large numbers
Previous article in series Punctuation
About author
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

I work as a display engineer.

One of my hobbies is creating things with computers; creating programs, computer graphics and web pages is the thing I spent a lot of time doing. I am also interested in a wide range of sciences, and linguistics is my favorite. I like English and I like using it, but my focus is mainly on Japanese, which is my native language. I'm proud of knowing the language, and the difference between English and Japanese has been fascinating me. I have been thinking whether I can introduce it to people outside of Japan. My attempt of introducing Japanese with some Java applets has had more than 1 million visitors.


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