While having Ghengis Khan with some dou-min, one of them asked for "biiru hitotsu". While I could understand the biiru, I was surprised that ippai wasn't used.

I understand that (number)-tsu is valid Japanese, but not why it was used in this particular case. Is using a more vague counter word more casual and relaxed, akin to saying "a beer, please" rather than "one glass of beer, please"? Or would "ippai" be confusing because of the phrase "o-naka wa ippai (desu)" being used to indicate you're full?

  • 6
    That should be "biiru hitotsu"
    – dainichi
    Feb 17, 2012 at 3:57
  • I wonder if it would have something to do with the fact that the focus is more on "a beer that is a thing you can hold in your hand" (would be hitotsu) rather than "a beer that I am drinking/have drunk" (ippai). Like the difference between "There are two beers on the table" and "I went to the bar and had two beers". Or am I making things up? Feb 17, 2012 at 5:04
  • @dainichi: yes. My bad.
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 17, 2012 at 5:28
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    1. いっぱい (IPpai) "one glass" and いっぱい (ipPAI) "full" have different accents, so thay are not confusing. 2. お腹はいっぱいです is awkward. It should be お腹がいっぱいです.
    – user458
    Feb 19, 2012 at 20:30
  • @sawa: Thanks. Are the two forms of ippai etymologically related?
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 19, 2012 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


This is pretty common in restaurants etc, both by staff and by customers.

I think it's just to make counting easier.

For example, ビール is counted with 杯{はい} when seved in a glass, but 本{ほん} when served in a bottle. If rice is served in a chawan, it would be 杯{はい}, but when served on a plate, it would be 皿{さら}.

So ~つ is just being used as a generic "X servings of ..."

  • I thought that only non-native speakers would regard counter words as an inconvenience.
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 19, 2012 at 5:40
  • The fact that counter words are used is not seen as an inconvenience, but remembering and using the right one can be.
    – dainichi
    Feb 20, 2012 at 1:36
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    @AndrewGrimm I can tell whether to say a sheet of paper, a cup of paper, a cake of paper, or a pair of paper.
    – user458
    Feb 21, 2012 at 0:05
  • @sawa: English may have something vaguely like counter words, but many of its counter words are nouns, akin to dollar in Japanese. Do you agree or disagree with Dainichi's claim that counter words would be inconvenient in a restaurant?
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 21, 2012 at 0:59
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    @AndrewGrimm Japanese counter words are nouns as well (to the extent that you consider English counter words are nouns). I don't think dainichi is claiming that counter words are inconvenient at restaurants, nor do I think so.
    – user458
    Feb 21, 2012 at 2:01

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