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The ヶ in e.g. 一ヶ月 is a bit of an odd character - it looks a lot like a small version of the katakana ケ, but is it derived from that katakana originally? Or is it a normal kanji? Or is it something else entirely?

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up vote 20 down vote accepted

It has two main usages:

  • As an abbreviation of the counter word 個/箇.
    • More often it has a further word after it and it's read か. In this case it's sometimes written as ヵ or even か so the reading is more obvious. Examples: 一ヶ月(いっかげつ) 二ヶ国語 三ヶ所
    • Sometimes it's used alone just like 個 is (and it's read こ too), perhaps as shorthand. I've rarely seen people do this, but then again I rarely see handwritten text, where shorthand would be handy. Example: 1ヶ(いっこ)
  • As something that roughly corresponds to the modern particle の in place names. In this case it's usually read が (especially in old Japanese the particle が has a close resemblance to the modern の). Examples: 西ヶ原(にしがはら) 鳩ヶ谷市

Place names will have some exceptions, as always, but I think these rules cover by far most cases.

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I hate when a 地名 has this 'ga' in it, but the ヶ is not written with in the name. Same with 'no'. – istrasci Jun 1 '11 at 22:06
+1. This is a way better answer than mine. – Amanda S Jun 2 '11 at 0:01
I wonder ヶ in place names is derived from 之. [真]{ま}[神]{かみ}[之]{が}[原]{はら}[尓]{に}, [瞿麦]{なでしこ}[之]{が}[花]{はな} as in [万葉]{まんよう}[集]{しゅう}. – jovanni Oct 19 '13 at 7:59

From Wikipedia:

It is an abbreviation for the kanji 箇, which is used as a counter word. Although it resembles the katakana character ke (ケ), it is pronounced ka, ga or ko, not ke.

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Actually, it's a simplified version of any of the following: 箇・個・个

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Note that the character is the simplified version of 個, and that the form 个 is very rare in Japanese. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 2 '11 at 1:30
Yes, but you can clearly see how ヶ is closer to 个 than the other ones. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen 个 in any written Japanese. – istrasci Jun 2 '11 at 2:12
Me either, except in a dictionary. :) – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 2 '11 at 2:49
@Tsuyoshi Ito: I assume by "the simplified version" that you mean Simplified Chinese and not a Japanese simplification better known as "shinjitai"? – hippietrail Jun 3 '11 at 23:47
@hippietrail: Yes, I meant Simplified Chinese, not Shinjitai. Sorry for the unclear explanation. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 3 '11 at 23:49

It results from one of the components in 竹 , which is in turn taken from the radical sitting on the top of 箇 (a generic counter for pieces).

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