I am still in a very early stage in learning Japanese, and just I have just learnt some numbers and my first counter words, such as the ones for telling time and まい.

Do you ever use "regular" numbers (いち, に, さん, etc.) for anything or are they always modified (ひとつ, ふたつ, みっつ, etc.) or followed by some counter?

I still don't know any kanji; that is why I use kana, and I hope you can provide kana in your replies as well.

  • 4
    I don't understand what you mean by "Do counters have any reason for their 'assignment'?".
    – istrasci
    May 24, 2012 at 22:29
  • I had misread the linked question, where it said that "they are in fact words with their own meaning and not just simple suffixes". Already edited that out. Sorry and thanks!
    – JNat
    May 24, 2012 at 22:43
  • If you are wondering about the possibility of いち、に、さん not being ever used, then how do you think people know that these words exist? And, in what sense are they "regular" as compared to "irregular" ひとつ、ふたつ、みっつ?
    – user458
    May 25, 2012 at 3:13
  • 2
    I don't know if this'll help you. It was posted by the guys over a Tofugu a couple hours ago: cdn.textfugu.com/misc/counters-cheatsheet.pdf May 25, 2012 at 7:44
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    @sawa: they could be used only with counters, as seems to be the case unless you are counting to yourself or something like that.
    – JNat
    May 25, 2012 at 10:02

2 Answers 2


This isn't a dumb question at all! For the most part, you do have to modify the number, you can't just say it by itself. You can't ask for just two bottles of beer, you have to add the counter (ほん) or use ふたつ.

One scenario where you can just use the numbers is if you're just counting for the sake of counting. Like, for example, you're counting jumping jacks as you do them you'd go "いち!に!さん!し!...." and so on. Or, if you're trying to count how many people there are in a room, you might say just the numbers in your head or out loud. In the end however, you need to use the counter (にん) if you wanted to tell someone the total.

  • Thanks for the answer. I noticed you wrote し instead of よん. When are you supposed to use one or the other? And the same question goes for 7.
    – JNat
    May 25, 2012 at 1:01
  • 3
    @jnat japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/328 should help you with that
    – atlantiza
    May 25, 2012 at 1:12
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    @JNat atlantiza's link will answer your question :) It's sort of confusing if you think about it too hard, but IMO which "four" reading to use is one of those things you'll learn best learned by listening/getting a feel for it. May 25, 2012 at 1:29
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    @JNat Yes にん is the counter for people. The kanji for it is 人 which can also be read ひと and does indeed mean "person". Always keep in mind that kanji, as a general rule, have two or more readings. And I can't be 100% sure on the kanji from Naruto, but if I had to guess I would say that it means "The Legendary Three (people)", and the kanji that they use is archaic/special...It's read the same way as 三人 (which means "three people"), but they're trying to give it a feeling of power or strength because the kanji means "endurance; forbearance, etc". And as a minor note, 伝説 is written でんせつ :D May 25, 2012 at 20:57
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    @JNat, Oh, ok, here we go. I looked up 忍 by itself, and it told me it means "endurance", but it is indeed the first half of "ninja" (忍者). Shows what I know. 忍ぶ is "to conceal oneself, to hide, to endure". I guess that would make 伝説の三忍 still "The Legendary Three" but with the explicit understanding that they were ninjas. May 25, 2012 at 22:56

Another case where numbers are used by themselves is telephone numbers.

  • 1
    Hadn't thought about that one! Very good!
    – JNat
    May 27, 2012 at 18:39

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