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On a news report, I heard the phrase 四五{しご}十{じゅう}メートル and it got me thinking about how to express other number approximations. Are the following correct?

  • 10 or 20 meters じゅうにじゅうメートル
  • 20 or 30 meters にさんじゅうメートル
  • 30 or 40 meters さんよんじゅうメートル
  • 40 or 50 meters しごじゅうメートル
  • 50 or 60 meters ごろくじゅうメートル
  • 60 or 70 meters ろくななじゅうメートル
  • 70 or 80 meters ななはちじゅうメートル
  • 80 or 90 meters はちきゅうじゅうメートル
  • 90 or 100 meters きゅうじゅうひゃくメートル
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にさん, さんよん (or さんし), しご, ごろく, ろくしち (or ろくなな) and しちはち (or ななはち) are very common and handy expressions. はちきゅう is understood, but is relatively less common. We don't use よんご for some reason. They are used like this:

  • にさんにち: 2 or 3 days
  • さんよんまんえん: 30000-40000 yen
  • ごろっぴゃくねん: 500-600 years
  • しちはっぽん: 7 or 8 (e.g. pencils)

It's even possible to say:

  • よんじゅうごろっキロ: 45-46 kg/km
  • せんろくななひゃっかい: 1600-1700 times

But じゅうにじゅうメートル and きゅうじゅうひゃくメートル are wrong. In these cases, you have to use から (or ないし) explicitly and say:

  • じゅう から にじゅうメートル: 10-20 meters
  • きゅうじゅう から ひゃくメートル: 90-100 meters

You also have to use から explicitly when you want to say 50-70, for example.

  • ごじゅう から ななじゅうえん: 50 to 70 yen
    (ご から ななじゅうえん is also acceptable when there is no chance for misunderstanding)

Related: How to read: the "~" (tilde) in "3~4 行"

  • Interesting stuff ! Thanks. – kandyman May 30 at 19:06
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    It’s interesting (though not entirely illogical) that a left-branching language like Japanese uses から/from where a predominantly right-branching language like English would use まで/to as the preposition. After all, the point is to break up the two numbers, so if the preposition is a postposition, it’s the first one that’s needed and the second one is superfluous; whereas if it’s a preposition, it’s the second one that’s needed. I wonder: is Japanese happy to use 四五六十 shi-go-rokujū as well? I’m fairly confident Chinese would be for instance (and ‘four-five-six hundred’ is fine in English too). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 at 22:29
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My speculations, but:

Might also be related to the fact that 10-20 is such a rough value that the person asking the question might be expected to know that. On the countrary, 70-80 or 80-90 are too tight tolerances in normal circumstances.

(Naruto-san, watch your speed! I guess the only circumstance you would use 45-46 km/h would, I think, normally only be used if you get caught speeding on a 30 km/h street and the police asks you how fast you were driving).

What does not sound logical (but may be related to similar reason why we have 60 mins in 1 hour) is that for any distance in meters even close to 600m one would use that. (Or say 500-600), but instead of saying "about 500m" one normally chooses to say "about 600m"

Tuomo

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    I guess the only circumstance you would use 45-46 km/h would, I think, normally only be used if you get caught speeding on a 30 km/h street and the police asks you how fast you were driving <-- "45~46キロ" や "45~6キロ" でググったら、それ以外の文脈で使われてる例しか見当たりませんが? 最も多い文脈は体重で、他は距離とか、自転車の最高速度とか。(なるとさんは「45-46 km/h 」ではなく「よんじゅうごろっキロ: 45-46 kg/km 」て書いてはりますし) – Chocolate Jun 5 at 15:32
  • Thank you, Chocolate! Yes, I am sorry, I misread the "kg/km" to km/h.... – Tuomo Jun 5 at 23:53

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