5

after a counter implies some sort of ordering, right?

Say that you are shopping for a cat.

scenario #1
You look into a room with 5 cats in it. Does saying 五匹めが好きです。 mean anything?
In that context, saying I like the fifth one. sounds ridiculous.

scenario #2
You look into a room with 5 cats in it. Then you have a dialogue:

A-さん: 黒くって小さいのが好きですか。
B-さん: そうですね。私の好みよく知っているよね。五匹めが好きです。

Could that mean that "B" likes the smallest black cat? The ordering is implied to be size?
I like the fifth one. does not make sense.
I like the fifth **smallest** one. makes sense.
五匹めが好きです。 only makes sense when you use context to imply in size as the ordering criteria.

scenario #3
You are, one by one, shown 5 cats. Then you say 五匹めが好きです。 And that means that you like the 5th cat that was shown to you? Showing the cats sequentially tees-up time as the criteria. There is no need to establish context.

scenario #4
You are, one by one, shown 5 cats. Then you have a dialogue:

A-さん: 黒くって小さいのが好きですか。
B-さん: そうですね。私の好みよく知っているよね。五匹めが好きです。

Now, we have 2 possible ordering criteria. Since size is explicitly established as the immediate context, implied "size ordering" supercedes the default "time ordering"?

  • 目 (め) is used turn a number into an ordinal number, eg "the fifth one". Ordinal numbers do imply an ordering, which is sequential, ie one after another. – user11589 Apr 13 '16 at 19:19
  • 4
    You're really over-complicating things. 「目」 carries no special meaning distinguishable from English. It denotes plain ordinal numbers. When you would use ordinal numbers in English you could use them in Japanese as well. Just imagine all of those situations you described being in English, and you got your answer. – strawberry jam Apr 13 '16 at 19:29
  • 1
    @konishiki 'I like the fifth one' is a complete sentence in English under ordinary analysis. – Aeon Akechi Apr 13 '16 at 20:43
  • 1
    Sure, it's a complete sentence. But let's say someone said to you "I like the fifth one" without any context. Your response would probably be something like "The fifth what?" And the reason for that is because you can't tell what set of items they're talking about unless ① it's specified or ② it's clear from context. – snailcar Apr 13 '16 at 20:56
  • 1
    Japanese is a contextual language, but not so much so that you can say stuff out of nowhere and expect people to know what you're talking about. Using 小さい in the previous sentence does not automatically mean you will use that to rank them. It sounds like just a small detail more than anything else. – Blavius Apr 13 '16 at 21:29
6

Among these scenarios, 5匹目が好きです makes sense only in Scenario 3. 5匹目が好きです never means "the fifth smallest cat" in any of these situations.

"The fifth smallest cat" is translated as 5番目に小さな猫 in Japanese (general rule is found here). If you say 5番目に小さな猫が好きです, it's at least a valid and understandable Japanese sentence. Of course, a normal person will never say such a thing when there are exactly five cats in the room. They simply say 1番大きな猫 ("the largest cat")!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.