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つ is a counter word (for generic inanimate objects), so that 七 (なな) "[the number] seven" 七つ (ななつ) "seven [objects]" Similarly you have 七日 (なのか) "the seventh [day of the month]" 七本 (ななほん) "seven [longish objects]" and many many more. Depending on the counter, the numbers may not be based on the native Japanese numbers (hito, futa, mi, ..., ...


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Think like this: All nouns in Japanese are uncountable. You can't count apples any more than you count water or light. Thus under Japanese grammar you always have to say "two 'objects' of apple", "four 'sticks' of banana" and "seven 'bodies' of dog", as if they are "two bottles of water" or "four rays of light" etc. りんご一つ/一個 an object of apple = an ...


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Without using counters, in general, you can't make it sure if it's trying to express natural numbers or ordinal ones. りんごを 一つ ください is valid because 一つ is an adverb here. リンゴ一つを ください is also valid because リンゴ一つ is a compound noun this time.


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The following Wikipedia article on Japanese counter word explains well about how the counter words or counters (josūshi 助数詞) work in Japanese. In Japanese, as in Chinese and Korean, numerals cannot quantify nouns by themselves (except, in certain cases, for the numbers from one to ten; see below). For example, to express the idea "two dogs" in ...



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