For example, the kanji for "one" has a kun reading of "hito(tsu)." I looked it up and found that it's the difference between "one" and "one thing," but how could you have known that without specifically looking it up? I'm looking to learn whether there is a pattern to the significance of okurigana.

Also, when are the kun readings of numerals used if you count with on readings?

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    (I didn't downvote but) as usual, your question is unanswerably vague and seems to look for a one-answer sum-up of an entire language structure and grammar. It is pretty hard to understand, let alone satisfyingly answer your question (as shown by current attempts). Furthermore, you seem to be making strong (and inaccurate) assumptions on what okurigana are and how they work. Perhaps a much better question would have been along the line of "what is the role of okurigana with numbers" (the answer having to do more with counters than okurigana anyway). – Dave Jul 23 '12 at 2:51
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    Each "Learn Japanese" site that I've found takes a slightly different approach and seems to leave large gaps in understanding, and I'm trying to piece things together by asking questions here. As I better my understanding, my questions will be better informed and more precise, and this spate of initial questions will subside. However, in the meantime, it would be great if the Japanese.SE community could tell me on each occasion what's wrong with my questions so as to help me get there sooner, rather than one huge 4-up-voted comment to say that As Usual I Asked A Bad Question. – temporary_user_name Jul 23 '12 at 3:56
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    @Aerovistae: If you have a chance, please check the meta site for excellent Japanese learning resources: meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/q/756/1328 – Chris Jul 23 '12 at 4:30
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    Chris beat me to it, but I was going to recommend you had a look at the meta site, and particularly the entry on resource. My "as usual" comment referred to the fact that you acknowledged yourself that most of your questions were getting downvoted: it would seem a reasonable approach then to look into the problems (and possibly ask on meta), rather than keep throwing questions. Finally, I honestly did not quite see how Flaw's (otherwise very informative) answer fit with your question, but your own comment to his answer was: "That actually didn't really answer the question". – Dave Jul 23 '12 at 6:45
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    As an aside (and please, if you want to discuss it further, take it to chat or to meta, where it could become a useful point of FAQ): I don't think JLU is a good fit for a 100%-from-scratch learning of Japanese. That is not to say that you necessarily need to invest in classes or textbooks, but you cannot expect JLU Q&A format to replace an actual structured lesson, that is not its purpose. – Dave Jul 23 '12 at 6:47

Verbs and い-adjectives may be inflected with different okurigana

For example, the verb 歩く may be inflected to form:

  • polite: 歩きます

  • negative: 歩かない

  • polite negative: 歩きません

  • past tense: 歩いた

  • past polite: 歩きました

  • negative past: 歩かなかった

  • negative past polite: 歩きませんでした

  • te form: 歩いて

  • desiderative: 歩きたい

  • volitional: 歩こう

  • polite volitional (cohortative): 歩きましょう

  • plain negative volitional: 歩くまい

  • hypothetical: 歩けば

  • potential: 歩ける

  • passive: 歩かれる

  • causative: 歩かせる

  • causative passive: 歩かせられる

  • negative imperative: 歩くな

And there are still many more inflections, these are the few I recall off hand.

They serve to disambiguate kanji with multiple readings:

  • 食べる (taberu) and 食う (kuu)

Worth noting is that for counting, what you see are not okurigana. They are counter words. The change in sound is not inflection at all. It is just simply a change in sound.

For numbers, it depends what you are counting. Different objects require different counter words:

  • For 一 : When followed by a counter starting with a は—column syllable, いち becomes いっ and the counter changes to a 'p' sound

  • For 三 : When followed by a counter starting with a は—column syllable, that syllable changes to a 'b' sound

  • For 六 : When followed by a counter starting with a は—column syllable, ろく becomes ろっ and the counter changes to a 'p' sound

  • For 八 : When followed by a counter starting with a は—column syllable, はち becomes はっ and the counter changes to a 'p' sound

  • For 十 : When followed by a counter starting with a は—column syllable, じゅう can become either じっ or じゅっ and the counter changes to a 'p' sound

Also, when are the kun readings of numerals used

This counting system is not complete. There is also the native Japanese counting system of ひ、ふ、み、よ、いつ、む、なな、や、ここの、とお for one through ten. It does not extend to eleven and beyond.

Its use is reflected in the use of the counter つ (generic counter for up to 10 things), the sequence is as follows:


Also there is irregular counting for days (日 can be にち or か and is not okurigana):


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  • That actually didn't really answer the question... sorry. – temporary_user_name Jul 23 '12 at 2:11
  • @Aerovistae I'm not sure what you're looking for. I just answered based on what okurigana does. – Flaw Jul 23 '12 at 2:12
  • You said what an okurigana does generically. Not how you can understand the specific impact of them on a singular kanji. For instance, is there a certain okurigana which is always used to turn a verb to past tense? Does the addition of tsu to a number always mean "that many things"? Are there patterns, or is it just memorization for each new kanji? – temporary_user_name Jul 23 '12 at 2:12
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    @Aerovistae. No. What you see are only for く-ending 五段 verbs, for 五段 verbs ending in う す つ ぶ む ぬ る, they follow the consonant of their respective column (歩く→歩き and 休む→休み etc.). る ending verbs may be 一段 verbs and they inflect differently from 五段. – Flaw Jul 23 '12 at 2:42
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    I think @Chris said it best: "To answer your questions, it might be helpful to know the reason Japanese use kanji. Then you can see that the Japanese spoken language is left in tact for the most part." Once you grasp that the kanji is just a meaning and not really a "letter" or word, it might be easier to understand the relationship between the kanji and how it used used (like with okurigana, furigana, etc.) Pretend English used kanji, you could write 走 (to run) with okurigana like this: 走un; 走an; 走unning – BillyNair Jul 23 '12 at 5:51

Your question assumes that people typically learn the kanji, for instance 歩, and then go on to try to figure out what extra meaning the okurigana impart on the kanji -- for instance, the addition of く creates a verb 歩く "to walk", and the addition of いた to 歩 creates the past tense verb "walked".

This is not the typical approach.

The typical approach is to learn the word あるく, and learn that it is written with the kanji 歩, and that the okurigana part is く (so it's not, say, 歩るく). And you know how to inflect the word into various tenses because of its type (く verb) and the grammar rules you've learned for that type of word.

Looking at all your questions, I get the impression that you view Japanese as a series of kanji (which each have many different on and kun readings that could potentially be used) with okurigana and particles mixed in.

Instead, you should view it as a series of words divided by particles, with some of the words being partially written using one or more kanji, and each word being read in usually just one way which is learned when you first see the word.

I've never heard of people teaching or learning "how to use okurigana" -- they learn "how to inflect verbs and adjectives", and the fact that the kana you use for this are called okurigana when they follow a kanji is incidental.

With regards to the example used in your original question, then, you are asking for the meaning of the word created when you add the character つ to 一. In that case, if you are unfamiliar with the word, you should look up in a dictionary (or probably a textbook since it's a simple word). You say "without specifically looking it up", but it is unnatural to expect a kanji resource to teach you the meaning of specific words.

The type of resource that lists kanji along with their readings and meanings is useful for the following tasks:

  • I've never seen that kanji before. I wonder what words it's used in (that I can then look up and learn if I don't recognize them)?
  • I wonder if this kanji is read in any ways that I'm not familiar with from the words I know, and how it's read in names? How might it be read in an unfamiliar compound that isn't listed, so I can look that compound up in a dictionary?
  • I wonder what the common thread of meaning is between words that use this kanji? What is the "general meaning", "general sense" imparted by this kanji? (aids in understanding the etymology of words and keeping straight which kanji to use)
  • Am I writing the right kanji or one that looks very similar? (check meaning/readings/compounds to see if they line up with what you expect)
  • I wonder how the okurigana is broken up for this kanji? Was it o(konau), oko(nau) or okona(u)?

...things like that. Expecting the kanji dictionary to teach you the specific meaning of specific words is a bad idea.

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「[一]{ひと}」 is the number while 「[一]{ひと}つ」 is the count. 「~つ」 is used as a "generic" counter for counts less than 10 when the actual counter is unknown.



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    These aren't okurigana per se; I suspect that whatever tool you're using to look at them doesn't have or isn't presenting enough context to be able to distinguish from it. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 23 '12 at 2:18
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    @Aerovistae: as hinted by Ignacio, you seem to be confusing okurigana (which belong to the word) and counter suffixes (which are separate words added to the word). In many cases, dictionaries give you "example" uses of the kanji that include non-okurigana parts (such as 'ひと-つ'), presumably to put that particular reading in context. – Dave Jul 23 '12 at 2:55
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    I wouldn't say 一つの林檎を下さい・・・I'd say リンゴ(を)[一個]{いっこ}ください or リンゴ(を)[一つ]{ひとつ}ください – user1016 Jul 23 '12 at 3:24
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    Is 一果 read as いちか or いっか?I googled it, but I only found that it's used as a girls name... I don't think 果 is normally used as a counter word for fruits or vegetables... – user1016 Jul 23 '12 at 3:34
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    I do not think such counter is used either. – user458 Jul 23 '12 at 7:02

I'm suspecting you're confusing two different things, morphological rules and orthographic rules.

Okurigana do not have any semantic meaning per se. That would not be a logical way to think about it. They attach to the kanji, thereby creating a word which has a reading and a meaning.

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