Japanese counters such as 一つ are adverbs even though they describe nouns such as in the following sentence.


It is clear that 一つ refers to the amount of apples. However, what do adverbs such as たくさん and ちょっと refer to when they are used, the amount of nouns the verb was done to or the amount of the verb that was done? For example


Does たくさん refer to the amount of apples eaten or does it refer to the amount of the verb done such as how "a lot" describes how much running was done in a sentence like "yesterday, I ran a lot"? Some other examples are


Many people died.


I died a lot.

I am not sure if these interpretations are correct, mainly because I don't know if たくさん as an adverb describes the noun or the verb. The former has たくさん seemingly describe the amount of nouns, but the latter has たくさん describe the amount of the verb done. ちょっと is also confusing. りんごをちょっと食べた sounds natural, but 人がちょっと死んだ doesn't sounds natural and does not feel like an opposite of 人がたくさん死んだ.

2 Answers 2


It has to do a lot with the particle used after the subject, but the thinking is a little bit different than in English.

You can use just たくさん食べた without any subject before it, and it still works depending on the context.

These kind of adverbs are ambiguous in nature. If there is a context then it modifies the context, but if there isn't one, it's a verb modifier.


(I) ate a little


(I) ate a little of the apple

Also, if you want to be less ambiguous, you should use these modifiers before the subject (But be careful, not all modifiers can be used)


(I) ate a lot of apples (ambiguous)


(I) ate a lot of apples (unambiguous)


It's the excellent question! I've never thought it, but it is obviously confusing.


"食べる" is a transitive verb, so it requires an object.
The statement just "たくさん食べた" is incomplete, an object is required.

Even you can say "たくさん" of "たくさん食べた" modifies "食べた," but semantically "たくさん" modifies the object of "食べた" or "りんご." Thus "りんごをたくさん食べた" means "たくさんのりんごを食べた." "たくさん" semantically modifies "りんご."


Actually we say "たくさんのりんご," "一つのりんご," but don't say "ちょっとのりんご." Even "ちょっとのりんご" is an odd expression it could make sense as "small amount of apples".

OK: "人がたくさん死んだ" = "たくさんの人が死んだ"
NG: "私はたくさん死んだ" = "たくさんの私は死んだ"
"たくさんの私" doesn't make sense.

"死ぬ" is an intransive verb, it doesn't require an object. It requires a subject.

In the senence "<主語>がたくさん死んだ," "たくさん" semantically modifies <主語> as "たくさんの<主語>," then <主語> in this context has to have plural form. So we can take "人", "魚{さかな}" or "兵士" as the subject of "たくさん死んだ", but we can't take "私."

I as a Buddhist can say "神がたくさんいます。" I can't say "妻がたくさんいます。"

  • Is it okay to say 「私たちはたくさん死んだ」 then? I have a feeling that it isn't XD Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 22:33

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