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Is 前 being used as a counter word here? If so, what meaning of 前 is being assumed as a counter--perhaps the serving placed "before" a person?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The counter is [人前]{にんまえ} and is usually used for 寿司, 餃子, 甘酒, 蕎麦 or other (usually Japanese) foods. It corresponds to the concept of a "serving", which is served in front of the customer, whence 人前.

It is counted using the Chinese-based numbers, i.e. いちにんまえ, ににんまえ, さんにんまえ, etc.

EDIT: I checked with a chef and recipe book author about the use of 人前 vs. 人分. The counter 人前 is supposed to be used only for prepared (料理された) food, or, by extension, for food (like 甘酒, for example), which is sold in near servable state. (甘酒 is usually sold in concentrated "ready to serve" form and only needs to be diluted with water. A 10人前 pack of 甘酒 is thus a pack of 10 servings, after dilution.)

As Teno points out, 人分 is a related concept and refers to the quantity of food (ingredients). 人前 would thus be used in menus; 人分 is the preferred choice for recipes.

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thanks, i edited my question in response to the answers – yadokari Oct 4 '12 at 23:45

「~人前」 can be rephrased 「~人分」 meaning, "for n people/person", where n is a number.


[接尾] 1 名詞や動詞の連用形などに付いて、それに相当する分量や部分などを表す。「五人―」「分け―」

source: 大辞泉 http://dic.yahoo.co.jp/dsearch?p=%E3%81%BE%E3%81%88&stype=0&dtype=0


10人前の食事. a dinner of 10 covers - 研究社 新英和中辞典

食事二人前 dinner for two - 斎藤和英大辞典

三人前の食器 covers for three - 斎藤和英大辞典

source: weblio http://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/%E4%BA%BA%E5%89%8D

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thanks i edited my question in response to the answers – yadokari Oct 4 '12 at 23:45
do u agree that 前 has the meaning of "before" or "in front of" as in, "a serving in front of a person?" – yadokari Oct 5 '12 at 6:19
@yadokari I don't know. The ~前 suffix is sort of prevalent in words representing a person such as 板前, 男前, 江戸前, お前 etc. According to 語源由来辞典 (gogen-allguide.com/na/namae.html), "名前の「前」は、「名」に敬称として「前」が付けられたと考えられる。", which says 前 can be considered an honorific. If you go to a Japanese restaurant, you'll sometimes hear the server says something like "~名{めい}様{さま}ご案内{あんない}します". Here 様 is an honorific similar to 前. However, 前 in contemporary Japanese language is not considered an honorific. – Teno Oct 5 '12 at 6:49
I think that お前 (with the rough meaning of "you") also makes sense as stemming from 前 (with the meaning of "front, before"), as one is talking to the person in front of oneself. Similarly for 板前 and 男前. 江戸前 doesn't really refer to a person, I would say. – Earthliŋ Oct 5 '12 at 8:48
I wouldn't say that 人前 is equivalent to 人分, though. 人分 refers to the quantity of food (e.g. ingredients), whereas 人前 refers to the number of servings (of prepared food). – Earthliŋ Oct 5 '12 at 10:26

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