I'm wondering if there are consistent (or at least fairly reliable) rules for how to read numbers next to irregular counters, i.e. counters where you can't just put together the number and counter word in every situation. For example, the counter さい, the first number is not いちさい but いっさい. This is as opposed to counters like まい, where all you need to do to form the counter is add the number (e.g. ろく) and the counter, e.g. ろくまい.

  • Never heard the term "irregular counters". What are the regular ones, then?
    – user4032
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 22:05
  • Well I'm probably misusing it or being confusing then, in which case I apologise. By regular counters, I mean counters where the number or the counter doesn't change, for example for まい, the counters 1 to 10 are いちまい, にまい, さんまい... just the number, and the counter. Against counters such as さつ, where the first one is not いちさつ but instead いっさつ.
    – Lou
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 22:08
  • I've edited the OP in an attempt to make it a little clearer to understand.
    – Lou
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 22:11
  • I'd say no. The counters can differ from one counting type to another with seemingly no rhyme or reason...as far as I can tell. Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 23:45
  • 3
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_counter_word#Euphonic_changes has a pretty good summary. is this the kind of thing you're looking for?
    – rintaun
    Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 3:05

1 Answer 1


The changes you're talking about are actually pretty regular. There are some irregular ones (一人【ひとり】、二人【ふたり】、三階【さんがい】), but what you're looking for is pretty straight-forward.

Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the sound changes.

  • It is straight-forward? How come I always hear J-learners using the wrong pronunciations for both the counters and the numbers, then?
    – user4032
    Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 23:35
  • @TokyoNagoya Yes, I would say that something that is able to be fully described with a short table is straight-forward. As for why, I imagine it has something to do with the way that it is taught - for example, I was never taught that there was a pattern at all, only how individual counters were pronounced.
    – rintaun
    Commented Nov 30, 2013 at 1:08

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