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Where do you place the counter in Japanese when you want to specify how many of something there are, especially if you're listing multiple things?

I believe the counter usually goes after the particle associated with the noun:

I bought 3 pencils => 私は鉛筆{えんぴつ}を三本{さんぼん}買{か}いました。

But what do you do when there are multiple things you want to count? Are these sentences correct?

I bought two books and three pencils. => 私は本{ほん}を二冊{にさつ}と鉛筆{えんぴつ}を三本{さんぼん}買{か}いました。 ?

Two books and three pencils are on the desk. => 本{ほん}が二冊{にさつ}と鉛筆{えんぴつ}が三本{さんぼん}机{つくえ}の上{うえ}にあります。

Can you use the の particle to mean the same thing? Would it change the meaning or nuance?

私は二冊{にさつ}の本{ほん}と三本{さんぼん}の鉛筆{えんぴつ}を買{か}いました。 ?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In basically all daily conversations, the only natural way to express the numbers and items is:

Name of item + (particle) + number + counter + verb phrase

Natural: 「ビッグマックをふたつ[食]{た}べた。」 = "I ate two Big Macs."

Natural: 「みそラーメン(を)よっつ[下]{くだ}さい。」 = "Four miso-ramens, please!"

Unnatural though grammatical: 「ふたつのビッグマックを食べた。」 & 「よっつのみそラーメンを下さい。」

The "unnatural" versions will be understood by virtually all native speakers, but you will definitely sound foreign if you say those.

When you have to express an action involving a list of mutiple things, simply place them one by one.

「ビール(を)2本(と)、ラーメン(を)よっつ(と)、ギョウザ(を)みっつ下さい。」

= "Can we have 2 bottles of beer, 4 orders of ramen and 3 orders of pot stickers, please?"

In informal conversation, these particles are often omitted.

Finally, even though using the "number + counter + の + item name" is unnatural in everyday convos as I stated above, it is used in literature, legal papers, business communication, etc. when the number needs to be emphasized for a reason.

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