Numbers as adjectives

3 December 2018 by wolfganghofmeier

Level: A1

When numbers are used as adjectives in Japanese, counting words have to be used. This is similar to English expressions like 2 loaves of bread, 3 sheets of paper.

The numbers that you learned in the previous lesson are of Chinese origin. For the numbers from 1 to 10, there also exist words of native Japanese origin. They are used as number adjectives in certain situations.

Below are the numerals, the hiragana representation, the Romaji transcription and the normally used kanji/hiragana representation.

1 ひとつ hitotsu 一つ

2 ふたつ futatsu 二つ

3 みっつ mittsu 三つ

4 よっつ yottsu 四つ

5 いつつ itsutsu 五つ

6 むっつ muttsu 六つ

7 ななつ nanatsu 七つ

8 やっつ yattsu 八つ

9 ここのつ kokonotsu 九つ

10 とう tou 十


These numbers contain the general counter tsu. If you don’t know the correct counter, use these numbers.


7 widgets _ nanatsu uijetto _ 七つウィジェット


Counting people

The counter word is used. It is pronounced ri for one or two people and nin for three or more.


one boy _ hitori no otokonoko _ 一人の男の子

[literally one of boy]

two boys _ futari no otokonoko _ 二人の男の子


three boys _ san-nin no otokonoko _ 三人の男の子



twenty seven girls _ ni juu nana nin no on'nanoko _ 二十七人の女の子

of _ no _ の

[Literally: two ten seven ‘counter nin’ of girls]


Counting long objects

The counter word is used which oddly enough also means book and is pronounced hon or pon, depending on the syllable before it.

1 ip-pon

2 nip-pon

3 san-pon

4 yon-hon

5 go-hon

6 rop-pon

7 nana-hon

8 hachi-hon

9 kyo-hon

10 juu-hon


six pencils _ rop-pon no enpitsu _ 六本の鉛筆

eight pencils _ hachi-hon no enpitsu _ 八本の鉛筆


Counting machines

The counter is dai.


two pianos _ ni-dai no piano _ 二台のピアノ

three cellular phones _ san-dai no keitai denwa _ 三台の携帯電話


Counting small objects

The counter is ko.


six eggs _ roku-ko no tamago _ 六個の卵

73 gimmicks _ nana juu san-ko no shikake _ 七十三個の仕掛け


Counting flat thin objects

The counter is mai. The noun can be placed before the number and the counter.


three tickets _ chiketto san-mai _ チケット三枚

seven flyers _ nana-mai no chirashi _ 七枚のチラシ


Counting animals

The counter is pronounced hiki, piki or biki, depending on the preceeding syllable. The first i in hiki is silent, making the word difficult to pronounce for English speakers. The initial h turns into voiceless palatal fricative, to use linguistics terminology. See link below. For a pronunciation of ni-hiki, refer to Forvo. See link below.


one dog _ ip-piki no inu _ 一匹の犬

two dogs _ ni-hiki no inu _ 二匹の犬

three dogs _ san-biki no inu _ 三匹の犬

four dogs _ yon-biki no inu _ 四匹の犬

five dogs _ go-hiki no inu _ 五匹の犬

six cats _ rop-piki no neko _ 六匹の犬

seven cats _ nana-hiki no neko _ 七匹の犬

eight cats _ hap-piki no neko _ 八匹の犬

nine cats _ kyu-hiki no neko _ 九匹の犬

ten cats _ juu-biki no neko _ 十匹の犬


There are more counters, but this is probably plenty for a beginner’s course.


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