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Numbers and Counting in Japanese

Urza

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I have recently started learning Japanese and am at the moment a bit confused about the way numbers are used or referred to in Japanese.
1. Sometimes, the number Kanji are used and sometimes Arabic numerals are used. Can they be used completely interchangeably in modern Japanese?
2. The Kanji 号, 番 and 第 all seem to mean "number". What is the difference?
3. About the "counter for X" Kanji. I understand that each (countable, quantifiable) Japanese noun word W has an assigned counter Kanji which needs to be used if you want to say "five W" or "the fifth W", for example. For example, 匹 is the assigned counter word for 猫. If you want to say "n cats", you use 猫<number n>匹 and if you want to say "the nth cat" you use 猫<number n>匹目. Exceptions seem to include words for time like 日 (day) and 時 (hour), but there at least for the "how many" part, 間 seems to play a similar role : 二日間 is "two days" (although 二日 also can mean "two days") while for the "the nth W" part, no counter word is used (二日 also can mean "the second day", 二月 the second month or February etc.).
Did I get anything wrong here? Are there other important exceptions? For example, 5号室 can mean "the fifth room" or "room number five", is this because there is no assigned counter Kanji for 室 or is this an exception?
Another example I came across is 三階 for "the third floor". Here, neither a counter Kanji is used nor the Kanji 号 as in 5号室.
Any help much appreciated.
 

grapefruit

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I have recently started learning Japanese and am at the moment a bit confused about the way numbers are used or referred to in Japanese.
1. Sometimes, the number Kanji are used and sometimes Arabic numerals are used. Can they be used completely interchangeably in modern Japanese?

Generally speaking, Arabic numerals are used when text is written horizontally, whereas Kanji are primarily used for vertical writing.
 

grapefruit

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2. The Kanji 号, 番 and 第 all seem to mean "number". What is the difference?

号 as in 一号車、一号機、and 一号室 seems to be applied with another counter like 車, 機,and 室. The whole phrase constructed with 号 such as 一号車 appears to behave like a word. What is more, 号 seems to label inanimate physical objects that share similar characteristics. 一号車 and 二号車 should look almost the same, so that they usually refer to the first car and the second car of a train. If you use 番, on the other hand, 一番目の車and二番目の車 do not need to share common physical attributes. The first car can be a sport car and the second one can refer to a SUV. 番 also does not attach to a counter. For example, 一番目の人 and 一番 do not require a counter (I took the position that 目 is not a counter, and also 人 in this case is a noun not a counter).

第 seems to be often combined with a noun to construct another noun. For instance, 第二会場 and 第一試合. It can also be coupled with a counter―like 回,期, and 次―to signal ordinal number for events and create phrases like 第三回, 第三期、and 第二次.
 
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grapefruit

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3. About the "counter for X" Kanji. I understand that each (countable, quantifiable) Japanese noun word W has an assigned counter Kanji which needs to be used if you want to say "five W" or "the fifth W", for example. For example, 匹 is the assigned counter word for 猫. If you want to say "n cats", you use 猫<number n>匹 and if you want to say "the nth cat" you use 猫<number n>匹目. Exceptions seem to include words for time like 日 (day) and 時 (hour), but there at least for the "how many" part, 間 seems to play a similar role : 二日間 is "two days" (although 二日 also can mean "two days") while for the "the nth W" part, no counter word is used (二日 also can mean "the second day", 二月 the second month or February etc.).
Did I get anything wrong here? Are there other important exceptions? For example, 5号室 can mean "the fifth room" or "room number five", is this because there is no assigned counter Kanji for 室 or is this an exception?
Another example I came across is 三階 for "the third floor". Here, neither a counter Kanji is used nor the Kanji 号 as in 5号室.
Any help much appreciated.

It's getting more complex...😌 I hope I can clear up your questions.

To begin with, I believe 室 is a counter, for we can count like 一室、二室、三室, and so on. 五号室 and 五番目の部屋 should be glossed as "Room (Number) 5" and "the fifth room", respectively (the distinction stems from the issue of sharing common characteristics explained above).

The issue of 三階 is puzzling to me. My intuitions tell me that 階 is a counter, but it is a bit awkward to say この建物は何階ありますか?(how many floors does this building have?). It sounds better to say この建物は何階建てですか?(how many-story-building is this building?).

This difference suggests that morphologically 階 does not exhibit the normal behavior of prototipical counters like 冊、本、and 枚. My guess is that 階 is a device to signify ordinal number for building floor. It seems to behave in the similar way to 番.
一番 一番の人 一番目
一階 一階の住人 一階建て

I have no confidence in what I'm describing here, though.😌
 

grapefruit

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3. About the "counter for X" Kanji. I understand that each (countable, quantifiable) Japanese noun word W has an assigned counter Kanji which needs to be used if you want to say "five W" or "the fifth W", for example. For example, 匹 is the assigned counter word for 猫. If you want to say "n cats", you use 猫<number n>匹 and if you want to say "the nth cat" you use 猫<number n>匹目. Exceptions seem to include words for time like 日 (day) and 時 (hour), but there at least for the "how many" part, 間 seems to play a similar role : 二日間 is "two days" (although 二日 also can mean "two days") while for the "the nth W" part, no counter word is used (二日 also can mean "the second day", 二月 the second month or February etc.).
Did I get anything wrong here? Are there other important exceptions? For example, 5号室 can mean "the fifth room" or "room number five", is this because there is no assigned counter Kanji for 室 or is this an exception?
Another example I came across is 三階 for "the third floor". Here, neither a counter Kanji is used nor the Kanji 号 as in 5号室.
Any help much appreciated.

It's getting more complex... 😅 I hope I can clear up your questions.

To begin with, I believe 室 is a counter, for we can count like 一室、二室、三室, and so on. 五号室 and 五番目の部屋 should be glossed as "Room (Number) 5" and "the fifth room", respectively (the distinction stems from the issue of sharing common characteristics explained above).

The issue of 三階 is puzzling to me. My intuitions tell me that 階 is a counter, but it is a bit awkward to say この建物は何階ありますか?(how many floors does this building have?). It sounds better to say この建物は何階建てですか?(how many-story-building is this building?).

This difference suggests that morphologically 階 does not exhibit the normal behavior of prototipical counters like 冊、本、and 枚. My guess is that 階 is a device to signify ordinal number for building floor. It seems to behave in the similar way to 番.
一番 一番の人 一番目
一階 一階の住人 一階建て

I have no confidence in what I'm describing here, though.
 

tada

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Generally speaking, Arabic numerals are used when text is written horizontally, whereas Kanji are primarily used for vertical writing.

The way I see it is kanji are like spelling out a number in other languages, and writing a number in Arabic numerals is more like... writing a number in Arabic numerals.
 

Tsurugi

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What counter word should be used to say "three problems" or "three lifes" and for other abstract nouns? Could it be "mittsu no mondai" and "mittsu no inochi"?
 

grapefruit

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What counter word should be used to say "three problems" or "three lifes" and for other abstract nouns? Could it be "mittsu no mondai" and "mittsu no inochi"?

Both "mittsu no mondai" and "mittsu no inochi" sound fine.
"Mittsu" sounds most natural to native speakers. "sanko" is a bit awkward, but it could be acceptable to some speakers.

However, if these expressions are combined with verbs, say "aru" and "toku" (to solve), the particle "no" disappears and the phrase mittsu is going to be placed after the particle associated with the verb.

Mondai ga mittsu arimasu.
Mondai o mittsu tokimashita.

Unlike English, the phrase "mittsu" in these examples behaves like an adverb in the sense that it can be moved freely as long as it is before the verb. So you can also say, "mittsu mondai ga arimasu" and "mittsu mondai o tokimashita."

Watashi wa mittsu mondai ga arimasu.
Mittsu watashi wa mondai ga arimasu.
Watashi wa mondai ga mittsu arimasu.
 

Urza

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Thanks alot for the explanations, @grapefruit .
If I understand you correctly, the main difference in use between 第 and the other two Kanji for "number" is that it is used only with certain other words and in set phrases while 号 and 番 can be used more freely?
Concerning 号 and 番, to sum up a bit of what you said, would the following be correct:
四車 four cars
四車目 the fourth car (?)
四号車 the fourth car (of a fixed series or of similar appearance), more like „car number 4“
四番目の車 the fourth car (not of a fixed series, reasons for being called the „fourth“ have little to do with the car itself, like in „the fourth car I saw“)
Also, can I use 番目 with arbitrary other words, such as 四番目の猫 as an alternative to 四匹目の猫 ?
 

grapefruit

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Thanks alot for the explanations, grapefruit.
If I undestand you correctly, the main difference in use between 第 and the other two Kanji for "number" ist that it is used only with certain other words and in set phrases while 号 and 番 can be used more freely?
Concerning 号 and 番, to sum up a bit of what you said, would the following be correct:
四車 four cars
四車目 the fourth car (?)
四号車 the fourth car (of a fixed series or of similar appearance), more like „car number 4“
四番目の車 the fourth car (not of a fixed series, reasons for being called the „fourth“ have little to do with the car itself, like in „the fourth car I saw“)
Also, can I use 番目 with arbitrary other words, such as 四番目の猫 as an alternative to 四匹目の猫 ?

My bad. Actually, 車 is not a counter. It must be a morpheme (a morpheme is a building block for nouns. It combines with other morphemes to create words. Similar to anti-, dis-, penta-, -er, and so on in English.)
四車 and 四車目 are incorrect. If it was a counter, what you said would be correct. In other words, 四人 and 四人目 or 四室 and 四室目are grammatically correct, since 人 and 室 are counters.

So, I take back what I wrote about 号.
号 as in 一号車、一号機、and 一号室 seems to be applied with another counter like 車, 機,and 室. The whole phrase constructed with 号 such as 一号車 appears to behave like a word.
My "improved" postulation is that 号 should be combined with another morpheme like 車、線、船, 館, and 棟(tou) or with a noun like 室, 車両, and 機 to produce nouns like 一号車、一号線、一号船、一号棟、一号室、一号車両、一号機, and so on.

ナスlツ坂??ナステ the fourth car (of a fixed series or of similar appearance), more like „car number 4ツ“
ナスl窶敕披?禿壺?堙固ステ the fourth car (not of a fixed series, reasons for being called the „fourthツ“ have little to do with the car itself, like in „the fourth car I sawツ“)
Also, can I use 窶敕披?禿 with arbitrary other words, such as ナスl窶敕披?禿壺?堙娯?扠 as an alternative to ナスl窶「C窶禿壺?堙娯?扠 ?

Yes. What you summarized is correct.🙂
 
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Urza

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OK, this will get me started. The rest will be up to getting a feel to it with practice, I think. Thanks.
 

Elizabeth

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As you pointed out, it is not a good idea to generalize the behavior of 日, 月, and 時 (units of time) to that of other counters.
Besides, 日and月(I also believe 人) are distinct from other counters in pronunciation, since native Japanese pronunciation sometimes replaces sino-pronunciation ("onyomi").

ついたち、ふつか、みっか、よっか... (for date)
A quick question on the date of the 11th/17th (or 21st/27th). About how often or around what % of the time does じゅうななにち get replaced with じゅうしちにち in normal conversation ?


Because I just survived a very unfortunate mishap with the starting date of a week long hotel reservation being confused by a clerk and me long distance -- hmmm....what did she just say ? was that really the 11th, or the 17th ?? :eek: I was sooooo happy a open room was there for even half the days, but he didn't catch day of the week confirmation over the phone either, so, anyway...it was a mess (that wasn't entirely my fault)...😊


とにかく、「じゅうしちにち」を「じゅういちにち」と間違えることを防ぐために「じゅうななにち」と発音したほうがいいでしょうね。
 
特に電話のやりとりでは、こういう配慮は重要ですね。👍
 
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Elizabeth

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A quick question on the date of the 11th/17th (or 21st/27th). About how often or around what % of the time does じゅうななにち get replaced with じゅうしちにち in normal conversation ?
OK, well I tried searching online....maybe 10% or less...😊
 

Elizabeth

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Yeah, I personally use じゅうしちにち, too. But, interestingly, 17番(目) is じゅうななばん(め).
そして、特に、電話などで、「じゅういちにち」と明確 に区別する時に使う程度ほとんど使わないでしょうね。😅
 

Putrefaction

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It seems to me at least, so you probably shouldn't count it much, that juunananichi takes longer and may be more "clearer" than juushichinichi, but...yeah.
 
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