Is 片方 only used for things that come in pairs? For example I can say:

He raised an eyebrow.

But can I say:

He broke one of the fingers on his left hand.

or would it have to be just 彼は左の手の指を一本折れていた (or whatever the counter for fingers is)?

2 Answers 2


片方 means one of a pair. But 片方の眉を吊り上げる、somehow sounds awkward to us, though there's no grammatical problem. We say simply 眉を吊り上げる when we are angry, or heard a shocking thing. This is possibly we Japanese don't have the idea of singular / plural forms of noun. You cannot say 彼は左の手の片方の指を折れていた for "He broke one of the fingers on his left hand." You can say 彼は左の手の一本の指が折れていた, or 彼は左の手の一本の指を折った。But be aware that 一本の指が折れていた means status of his fingers, i.e. One of fingers of his left hand is broken , while 一本の指を折った refers to his action, i.e. He broke the bone of one of his fingers. You cannot say '指を一本折れていた.' You should say '指が一本折れていた.'The function of noun, 指 in "指を" is an objective. 指 in "指が" is a subject.

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    I'm suprised that you say the first sentence is not natural. It is directly from a ちびまる子ちゃん book. 丸尾君が片方のまゆを吊り上げ、たまちゃんを見上げた。Thanks for the grammar correction on the second sentence. That was my own effort and I thought I'd messed it up. Is there any reason I should say 左の手の一本の指が... rather than 左の手の指が一本...? Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 23:59
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    As I said, there’s no grammatical problem with the expression, ‘片方の眉を吊り上げた’. I’m saying we don’t hear such expression very often, apart from inclusion in ちび丸ちゃん,of which I’m not the target reader.「きりりと眉を吊り上げる」is an popular idiom, meaning someone shows angry face when he or she (in many case, she) is given uncomfortable remarks such as a slur. I guess the reason why it’s simply ’眉を吊り上げた’, not ’片方の眉を吊り上げた’ is it’s difficult to raise only one-side of brows by using a voluntary muscle on two sides of your face. You can say either way of ”左の手の一本の指が”.and “左の手の指が一本.” To me it sounds the same. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 0:41

Yes, it is limited to just two.

In fact, all the monolingual dictionaries I searched defined it using the word 対{つい} (pair). For example, dictionary.goo.ne.jp:

One item from a pair

So it would make sense to use it to mention one of your two hands, but not one of your five fingers.

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