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Just curious about this one. I'm never sure what to say when I ask for chopsticks in Japanese. I know that "by-the-book", you can count them with ~そろい (揃い) or ~ぜん (膳). So I always say 「お箸を 一揃い(ひとそろい)/一膳(いちぜん) お願いします。」 to ask for a pair. But as with other things I say in Japanese, I'm afraid that this sounds too "textbookish".

So I'm just wondering how native speakers ask for chopsticks (if they ever need to). Do they use these counters, or the basic ひとつ/ふたつ/... counters, or something completely different? I hate sounding too textbookish.

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I wonder why ~本 didn't make it to your list .. –  Lukman Jun 5 '11 at 2:58
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Because you get them as a pair, not individually. If I said 2本, does that mean 1 pair (of 2 sticks) or 2 pairs? –  istrasci Jun 5 '11 at 3:00
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@Lukman: If I am a waiter and someone asks me “お箸を一本お願いします,” I would interpret it as one chopstick (not a pair but one stick) as istrasci said, and I would probably assume that it is a mistake for 一膳 because it is strange to ask for one chopstick. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 5 '11 at 16:33
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@TsuyoshiIto Maybe you dropped one chopstick on the floor :-) –  dainichi Feb 7 '12 at 16:11
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@istrasci No, I'm eco-friendly ;-) –  dainichi Feb 7 '12 at 16:43
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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In a restaurant it is usually enough to simply ask for お箸を下さい. It is perfectly understood that that means "enough chopsticks for me [and my companions], please". Anything more specific is usually unnatural.

If you do need to specify how many pairs of chopsticks exactly, you'd usually use 〜膳 -zen.

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there are correct ways of speaking that mostly we don't use. Although 揃い is the correct way of counting chopsticks, but actually very rare people use it. We mostly use it in articles and books, but when it comes to talking, it sounds very strict.

We mostly count chopsticks with 本(hon). In a restaurant we prefer to ask for it as: 箸を二つ(三つ、四つ)もらいますか? it's makes the request more softly than using a very rare word as 揃.

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If you get a number of items from a convenience store in Japan the clerk will ask you how many chopsticks you want, and even these staff (not always the most educated of Japanese) will properly ask "ohashi nanzen" お箸何膳, i.e. how many (pairs of) chopsticks do you want? This is proper and natural and not bookish. I have never heard anyone use "hon" 本 as a counter for chopsticks.

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I agree with stayjin, it happened to me yesterday when I bought some food in a combini. [Still, I would not say the clerk was not educated ! And I'm not saying that was your point.] –  user3317 Mar 27 '13 at 3:46
    
@Antoine Hello! Welcome to JLU! I've converted your answer to a comment. Please do not post answers to questions unless you intend to answer them. Once you've accrued 50 reputation, you can post comments yourself. –  snailboat Mar 27 '13 at 3:51
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The zen counter is the correct counter, but again one of those things that the avg. Japanese person may not know. There have been occasions where I have used zen and have been complimented by Japanese people for knowing correct Japanese. So you won't sound weird if you use zen, but in fact will sound educated.

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Saying the average japanese doesn't know how to say a "pair" of chopstick is a little excessive... That's what they learn when they start to eat and they have lessons on counters very early... :/ –  repecmps Jun 5 '11 at 5:28
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how is that excessive? There are tons of things native speakers don't know about their own language. It is also a question that I have seen on Japanese quiz shows as well as having Japanese friends who don't know it. Either way, I only stipulated that "the may not know" –  Mark Hosang Jun 5 '11 at 6:05
    
"tons of things" yes (etymology, grammar, history...etc) but surely not the counter for chopsticks (or we don't associate with the same people :D) –  repecmps Jun 5 '11 at 6:11
    
that may be true, most of my Japanese friends aren't the most educated of people. –  Mark Hosang Jun 5 '11 at 6:17
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Especially obscure counters are a thing many people don't know. I had a discussion once about the correct counter for doors. Since you get by perfectly without zen in daily life I wouldn't be too surprised if people don't know it off the top of their head. –  deceze Jun 5 '11 at 11:26
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