x-posted from linguistics stack exchange

According to the evolution of the English language, certain quantifiers (both, either, neither, each I think this is exhaustive) are remnant of the older dual number.

However, Japanese, if I recall her linguistic evolution correctly, never had a dual number. So how do Japanese language speakers quantify over dual elements? That is, what is the idiomatic Japanese version of usage of both, either, neither, and each?

1 Answer 1


When I read your question, I thought you might not be aware that Japanese doesn't even have a plural form in the first place. However, looking at your past questions, you do seem to know the basics of Japanese grammar, right? Many languages, including Japanese, don't have dual or even plural forms, but of course, you can still count numbers or say "both of the two", "either of us", etc. Conversely, English doesn't have honorific forms of verbs, but that doesn't mean you can't speak respectfully in English. From this answer:

every language can sufficiently convey any idea that can be expressed in another language. The difference is that for each language there are some properties that must be specified when an idea is conveyed, even though they may be entirely optional in another language.

Here are some Japanese ways to say both, either and each. Refer to any online textbook for details.

  • both = 両方, どちらも, いずれも

    Both of them are students.

  • either = どちらか, 一方

    Either of us is a student.

  • each = それぞれ, 各

    Each student has a textbook.

  • neither: (this indeed does not exist in Japanese; instead of "neither is A", we say like "both are not A")

  • Thank you Naruto for explaining the Japanese language. And while it is the case that Japanese does not have grammatical number, every language has a way of expressing such a concept because singular-plural is a universal concept. It is really a matter of how languages "divy up" the semantic space and the tactics that they use to accomplish this. It is good to know how each language maps these fundamental concepts.
    – Fomalhaut
    Oct 20, 2023 at 3:23
  • I think it is fairly well established that languages that lack explicit plural marking, are the very languages that use a classifier system for counting. Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese etc. Plurals can be marked in these languages but by means of an affix on the noun, たち, ら, ども, がた, in Japanese. And in Japanese it is generally only animate objects that will be so marked.
    – N. Hunt
    Oct 20, 2023 at 4:32
  • ...with the result that dual number is expressed with a lexical item like 'pair' or 'couple' in English. or explicitly counted.
    – N. Hunt
    Oct 20, 2023 at 4:58
  • 1
    Arguably, English also has counter classifiers: "a brace of ducks", "a pair of socks", "a school of fish", "a head of cattle", "a sheet of paper", etc. I'll certainly grant that they are not used as extensively, but they do exist. Oct 20, 2023 at 18:33
  • @N.Hunt This is the line taken by Chierchia 1998, and is borne out by the majority; however, there are many counterexamples and subtleties, see Her & Chen 2013.
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 24, 2023 at 18:48

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