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I'm having trouble figuring out how to express vague amounts of time in Japanese, such as some number of months or some number of hours.

I want to use this in a context where the specific number is neither important nor known, but the factor of time passing/occurring is important. For example:

Some hours later, he finished the test.

Traveling to and staying in another country requires some number of months free.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Two constructions spring to mind here.

数{すう} can be used in place of a specific number, followed by a counter, to mean "some" / "a few" / "several" (it doesn't really make a distinction in this respect...).


This can be used in ways you might not expect:

数十秒 some tens of seconds
十数秒 ten-(and-some)-odd seconds (between 10 and 19)
二十数年 twenty-(and-some)-odd years

Alternatively, you can use 何 + counter + か.


The same kind of uses seen above for 数 also apply to 何.

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(I'm hoping I haven't made mistakes elsewhere in those sentences...) –  Hyperworm Feb 3 '12 at 22:07
a few (2 to 3) and several (more than that) make distinction. Usually, only means a few, not several. –  user458 Feb 3 '12 at 22:34
there's also も like 何回も –  oldergod Feb 3 '12 at 23:44
Shouldn't it be '試験を終えた'or'終わらせた'...? 終わる is an intransitive verb and 終える is a transitive verb, no? –  user1016 Feb 4 '12 at 2:59
@Chocolate: I believe 終わる is used transitively as well (though perhaps 終える is more strictly correct?). Sense 4 on Daijirin. –  Hyperworm Feb 4 '12 at 11:49

I think Hyperworm already did a good job of answering the question, so I'll just focus on saying "later"/"before".

Adding 前{まえ} or 後{ご} after any of these to mean "a few ... ago" or "after a few ...", e.g. 数{すう}分{ふん}前{まえ} "a few minutes ago" or 数{すう}分{ふん}後{ご} "after a few minutes":

  • 数{すう}秒{びょう}: "a few seconds"

  • 数{すう}分{ふん}: "a few minutes"

  • 数{すう}時{じ}間{かん}: "a few hours"

  • 数{すう}日{じつ}: "a few days"

  • 数{すう}週{しゅう}間{かん}: "a few weeks"

  • 数{すう}[ヶ]{か}月{げつ}: "a few months"

  • 数{すう}[年]{ねん}: "a few years"

I don't think you can say 数{すう}時{じ}(後/前). I'm not sure whether 数{すう}月{げつ}(後/前) or 数{すう}週{しゅう}(後/前) are valid or not, but 数ヶ月(後/前) and 数週間(後/前) seem to be much more commonly used.

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