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When people who know Japanese talk about "kanji" in English, is there a consensus with regard to whether you would say:

"I know about 10 kanji." // uncountable
"I know about 10 kanjis." // countable

This is more an English grammar question, but few native English speakers know what a "kanji" is.

My opinion is that "kanji" is uncountable since all Japanese nouns are uncountable and "kanji" is a Japanese word.

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  • Merriam-Webster says it is uncountable but the same dictionary lists "dojo" as countable. (And J-learners call Japanese illogical.) – l'électeur Mar 25 '15 at 15:09
  • OED calls it a mass noun as well. But I don't think there are enough people using the word. In practice, I can talk about kanji (in general) being hard to learn or having studies 20 kanjis (each of them in particular) today. And to some people, kanjis are easy. – blutorange Mar 25 '15 at 15:31
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I think that kanji is countable in Japanese (漢字一文字、漢字二文字) and I would say it should be countable in English, too (one kanji, two kanji). The plural form in English is often adopted (sometimes wrongly, but never mind exceptions) from the original language (one corpus, two corpora; one phenomenon, two phenomena). I'd say kanji in English should be countable with plural form kanji.

Since kanji already means "Chinese character", I think "10 kanji" or "10 Chinese characters" is perfectly natural. "10 kanji characters", which would be the literal translation of 漢字10文字, sounds a bit like the not uncommon "the hoi polloi", where "hoi" by itself is already the article "the" in Greek.

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  • That makes total sense. You can count kanji, but the plural and singular forms are the same word. I didn't understand what "countable" meant. – red shoe Mar 25 '15 at 18:35
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    A word is countable if it readily combines with the cardinal numeral determiners one, two, three, and so on. That is to say, Earthliŋ has it right :-) – snailplane Aug 12 '15 at 3:54
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A noun with a plural form that's the same as its singular form does not make it an uncountable noun. No English speaker would tell you that "sheep" is uncountable even though its plural form is still "sheep."

Kanji (and its plural form, kanji) is definitely a countable noun in English. I don't know what makes you think that Japanese nouns are uncountable in either Japanese or English, but that's not true at all.

EDIT: One could argue that "kanji," the concept of Chinese characters, is an uncountable noun, and that in order to classify it in English, one would have to say "characters of kanji." In this usage, I can agree that "kanji" is an uncountable noun. However, in the case where it's used as the OP said such as "I know about 10 kanji," where "kanji" is used as a gloss to mean the individual characters in the Chinese character set, it seems evident that it would be a countable noun.

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  • I am unaware that Japanese has any plural verbs. Other than corner cases like "我々" and "私達", I don't know any plural nouns. – red shoe Mar 25 '15 at 15:17
  • Just because a word does not have a separate plural form does not mean it is not countable. The fact that Japanese has an extensive classifier system specifically for the use of counting nouns reflects this. 車2台、葉書3枚、社員100人、 etc. are all examples of countable nouns without separate plural forms. Uncountable nouns are words like "math." I cannot study "five maths," but I can study "math." That makes it uncountable. – user6595 Mar 25 '15 at 15:22
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    This answer is consistent with my observation. In Wikipedia article about kanji, we can see many expressions like "these kanji" or "kanji are ...", but there is no instance of "kanjis". This means they're using kanji as a countable noun, whose plural form happens to be the same as its singular form. The same as fish, sheep, series, etc. – naruto Mar 25 '15 at 16:38
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    @naruto yes. That is the answer. "Kanji" is countable, but the plural and singular are just the same word. – red shoe Mar 25 '15 at 18:32

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