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おはよう,

In lesson 11 of minna no nihongo:

  • Counting is always done in wago. It seems when I look online, kango is used for nearly all the example counters in minna no nihongo. Is minna no nihongo just more “conservative”? Should I just learn both or use kango primarily? It seems most online sources say kango is preferred nowadays. Minna no nihongo teaches no kango for now.

By the way, 年 is used for counting years, even in duration, in minna no nihongo. I notice 年間 is more common. Is there any subtle difference?

お願いします!

  • Good evening. I don't know what it is like in minna no nihongo, but it seems to me that you are asking very different things with no relative context at all. Would you mind dividing it into two questions? – broccoli facemask - cloth Sep 12 at 12:38
  • They both relate to counters... I’ll just move the second question to a “btw” – buddhabrot Sep 12 at 14:37
  • i would say “just learn the appropriate counter what it is you wish to count!”. i’m not sure why you’re concerned about whether it’s wago or kango. if you’re counting years 年 and 年間 may apply, depending on your meaning. but since these are usually read respectively ねん and ねんかん if they’ve got a number in front of them, i’m not sure how you’re drawing a distinction between wago and kango here. if you have a counterexample, then please provide it so we can explain to difference. – A.Ellett Sep 12 at 14:51
  • Minna no nihongo uses wago for both “nen”, “nenkan’ and “dai” while I see kango being used online for these. – buddhabrot Sep 12 at 21:08
  • @buddhabrot What do you mean it 'uses wago for "nen", "nenkan", and "dai"'? Do you mean it labels them as wago? If so it's wrong, because all three of those are kango. – Aeon Akechi Sep 12 at 21:34
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I don't believe this distinctions between wago and kango is going to help you with counters.

Often you may have a choice how to count things. For example, you can say

りんごをふたつください。

You can also say

りんごをに個{こ}ください。

which does use the counter 個 used for small objects like apples, eggs, bars of soap, etc. However, not everything can be treated like this.

Counters, in a manner of speaking, clarify what you're talking about. Just consider in English the difference between saying "two sheets of paper", "two reams of paper", and "two papers". All three make sense, but express very different ideas (particularly the third).

On many points of grammar, Japanese is very regular--particularly when compared to Indo-European languages. However, when it comes to counting, there are numerous exceptions.

I think a good principle to keep in mind is that the numbers one, two, and four frequently enough have their own idiosyncratic forms of expression. And, it is this that is perhaps leading to some confusion for you.

For example, when counting people, the following are the standard:

一人{ひとり}、二人{ふたり}、三人{さんにん}、四人{よにん}、五人{ごにん}

But if you were counting large objects like cars, you would use

一台{いちだい}、二台{にだい}、三台{さんだい}、四台{よんだい}、五台{ごだい}

I would recommend that you learn the following

  • how to say the names of months
  • how to express the ages of people up through 20 years old
  • how to count people
  • how to express hours and minutes for telling time

If you say something like 彼女はにじゅうさいです, you'll still be understood and most likely someone will point out that the Japanese say はたち.

Years ago when I was living in Japan, late at nightreturning home from work, I might stop off at a yatai for some ramen and yakitori. Whenever I ordered や きとりをにほんください, I always got teased. For example, someone might chime in saying I was a cannibal; someone once made a comment about whether I intended to eat my chopsticks. I have no idea whether they were just punning me, pulling my leg or whatever (I learned a lot of interesting Japanese eating at yatai). But, if I said, やき とりをふたつください, no one blinked or made a comment.

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  • typo にじょうさい → にじゅうさい – By137 Sep 14 at 15:00
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    ^「にじゅっさい」やね。。。。。 – Chocolate Sep 14 at 15:08
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    @Chocolate Are you saying that Japanese say にじゅっさい or are you correcting my にじゅうさい? Because it seems to me a nonnative speaker might say either. – A.Ellett Sep 14 at 15:44
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    I mean, 二十歳 can be pronounced はたち or にじっさい or にじゅっさい. – Chocolate Sep 14 at 15:59
  • Thanks! Very helpful and indeed I am less mistified now – buddhabrot Sep 15 at 12:16
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By the way, 年 is used for counting years, even in duration, in minna no nihongo. I notice 年間 is more common. Is there any subtle difference?

Both 年 and 年間 are used for durations in Japanese.

三年ここに住んだ

三年間ここに住んだ

I don't know which is more common, but 年間 is more formal or correct here.

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