Beginner here. When would you use the counter word 名 over 人?

I read online that 名 is used for formal situations, and literally every website gave counting customers as the example (as in, asking how many people are in your party at a restaurant). Is 名 used to count people in all formal situations, or does its use not extend beyond customers?

(I'm asking Korean has the equivalent counter word 분, except it is used for any formal situation, like in counting teachers, bosses, grandparents, etc.)

  • 1
    Partly related? japanese.stackexchange.com/q/57861/9831 / japanese.stackexchange.com/q/18787/9831
    – chocolate
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 5:21
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    I heard 名 just used for customers. I think number名 is suitable mostly for restaurants or similar. They asking politely how many people will use it. Maybe in some hotels... Not at home, and not with friends, definitely(use 人). As customer You may always use 人.
    – NoAngel
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 10:45
  • This is a bit tough to answer in terms of Korean, given that 분 is probably closer to 人 than 名 but in certain cases it is possible to use 사람 where in Japanese you'd respond to the question with 人 and not 名 (for example, at a restaurant, using 들사람 for a "table for two" equates to 二人 in the same use case scenario)
    – psosuna
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 21:26
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    @psosuna In Korean, 분 is the formal counter word for people. The informal counter word is 명 (名). 사람 is a noun meaning "person," but it can function as a counter word for small numbers of people. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 21:32
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    @psosuna The first two are definitely correct. 사람 is a little more vague. You can say 한 사람 (1) and 두 사람 (2), and maybe 세 사람 (3) and 네 사람 (4). After that you're pushing it a little imo. Sort of like how there's ひとり and ふたり but not usually みたり. Commented May 1, 2018 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


名 can be used in any formal or stiff situations. For example you can count the number of participants of a formal ceremony, the number of fatalities in an airplane accident, etc. 名 is the preferred counter in places like Wikipedia, although 人 is also commonly used.

I think beginner materials mainly take 何名様ですか as an example because it's the most typical chance where travelers can hear 名 in everyday conversations.

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