Please go easy on me if this seems too basic and obvious, I'm a beginner.

I always had the impression that there were counters that went with the native Japanese numbers and counters that went with the Sino Japanese numbers.

But now I'm wondering if I'm wrong and that only the Sino Japanese numbers are used with all counters except for some exceptions:

  • ~つ always uses native Japanese numbers:
  • For counting people, only "one" and "two" use native Japanese with ~り and all other numbers use Sino Japanese with ~にん:

For some reason I find it hard to search for this and what I do find seems to be poorly worded and convoluted such that I can't extract this little fact from the discussions easily at all.

  • 2
    There are words like 一文字{ひともじ} and 一口{ひとくち}, but I'm not sure they qualify. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:17
  • 1
    20 years old (二十歳{はたち}) also comes from a native numeral but I'm not sure if it also contains a counter.
    – Szymon
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:28
  • Yes I think true counters would have to be fairly consistently used over more than just one or two set phrases to qualify. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:52
  • 1
    If I understand correctly, "counters" are suffixes that combine with numerals to form words, and in some cases (including -つ, -り, and -か) those words are now in the lexicon and can't be derived synchronically through productive processes, so you'll have to memorize what they are and in which cases they're used suppletively.
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 16:44
  • I think I have a list of the combinations of the most common numerals and counters. I might find it later. But I think you can find it in the NHK accent dictionary or 数え方の辞典.
    – Yang Muye
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


Counters for days also use Japanese numerals, from 2 to 10: ふつか, みっか, よっか... . 20th also uses a native counter: はつか.

Some day numbers use mixed counters (14, 24): じゅうよっか, にじゅうよっか.

  • 4
    Evidently, ついたち comes from 月立ち{つきたち}. See ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9C%94 Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:29
  • @alexhatesmil Thanks, I updated my answer taking that into account.
    – Szymon
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:31

Chinese-derived numbers might be more common (although I don't know by what margin), but native-Japanese counter words are also ubiquitous.

To quote the first page (of 319 pages) from the counter word dictionary 数え方の辞典,



▲本 ●株【かぶ】 ▲個


●粒 ▲個




▲個 ▲片【へん】 ●かけ


▲個 ▲本 ●箱【はこ】 ●玉【たま】 ▲●★パック ●皿




▲=漢語数詞 (Chinese-derived numbers)
●=和語数詞 (native Japanese numbers)
★=英語数詞 (English-derived numbers)

(The dictionary gives usage notes for each entry, which I have omitted here.)

The general rule is that Chinese-derived numbers go well with 音読み counter words, Japanese numbers go well with 訓読み words, and all three of Chinese-derived, Japanese and English numbers go well with (non-Chinese) foreign words.

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