Following up from this question, I'm curious how Japanese people naturally describe the numbers of things when NOT used like an adverb. Do they still use 「thing + number + counter」, just like when used adverbially, or would they tend to use 「number + counter + の + thing」 instead? A couple examples to clarify what I mean:

Here is a picture of eight students. Would a Japanese person more naturally describe this as 「8人の生徒」 or 「生徒8人」?

Suppose you wanted to use "number + counter" as a subject: "The two dogs watched the squirrel." Would the sentence more naturally start as 「その2匹の犬は...」 or 「その犬2匹は...」?

Edit: Another example, "I saw three flowers." I have a hunch adverbial usage could sound unnatural with a verb like 見る, but I'm not sure. Would 「3本の花を見た」 or 「花を3本見た」 sound more natural?

2 Answers 2


I feel [Num][Counter]の[N] tends to be used when the speaker is referring to specific instances and the listener already knows their existence, and probably their quantity, too. その2匹の犬は〜 is a typical example of this. When you say “those two dogs”, the count “two” is probably not new information.

3本の花を見た is possible, but it sounds a bit dramatic as if those three flowers will play an important role in the story the speaker is going to tell. This effect is similar to that of titles like 七人の侍, 三匹の子豚, etc. You may not know about those warriors or pigs before you see the movie or read the book, but you can tell those titles refer to specific warriors or pigs and wouldn't question the use of a definite article in The Seven Samurai or The Three Little Pigs. (The official English title for 七人の侍 seems to be Seven Samurai with no article, though.)

If the quantity is part of the new information to be conveyed, and if you don't need to sound dramatic, then 花を3本見た would be more natural, or neutral.

Choosing the right caption for the linked image is not so straightforward as it seems. 8人の生徒 would seem to give those eight special attention they probably don't deserve, like saying the eight students. On the other hand, 生徒8人 would sound a bit incomplete as a noun phrase, which a caption is expected to be. If I have to include the count, I might settle for the former only because there seems no better option.

8人の wouldn't sound too "specific" if the phrase contained another qualifier as in 笑う8人の生徒. I guess the "specificity" gets diluted compared to when only the number is specifically said.


Possible expressions are:

A1 - 生徒が8人います
B1 - 生徒8人がいます
C1 - 8人生徒がいます
D1 - 8人の生徒がいます

A2 - 花を3本摘んだ
B2 - 花3本を摘んだ
C2 - 3本花を摘んだ
D2 - 3本の花を摘んだ

It believe A and C are considered to have an adverbial counter.

As you said, 「花を3本見た」 might be less common, possibly because the act of seeing might correlate less frequently with counting. (As in, you can vaguely look at flowers without counting them.) However, it doesn't seem like it will affect adverbial and non-adverbial usages differently.

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