Japanese Counters – How many are there?

Q: Hi!! I just came across your site and I have found it really helpful. I have one question. I started learning Japanese two months ago and just when I though I had the hang of it I came across counters. They are SO confusing!!! How many counters are they???? – Lorena

A: Hi Lorena, glad you like the Genki Japan site!   The easy answer to the questions to “how many counters are there?” is …..  ” a lot less than there are in English!”

For example there are loads of English words that need a counter, e.g. a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a sack of potatoes, a bar of chocolate, a pair of scissors etc. etc.

So Japanese is actually easier because even though every word needs a counter,  they tend to be grouped together e.g. flat things are 枚 (mai) ,  long things are 本 (pon), machines are 台 (dai) etc.

If you think of it that way it makes things a lot easier.

Again the textbooks give you loads and loads of stupid grammar rules to memorise (just so they can produce more pages of text to make the books look bigger and hence more expensive!) but that’s not the way real Japanese, or English for that matter, speakers learn to speak.

Just like English the only real way to learn them without going completely crazy is just to listen to lots and lots of Japanese.    That way you’ll learn that 紙一枚 ( kami ichi mai – one sheet of paper) sounds right, whereas 紙一人 (kami hitori – one “person” of paper ) sounds wrong.

Just like you know that ” a pair of pants” just sounds right, whereas “a pants” sounds wrong.  or like you know that “a can of coke” is  different to a “bottle of coke”

Take it easy, learn the easy counter rules if you have to (wikipedia has a good list of the most popular 13 counters) , but don’t worry, make lots of mistakes and watch lots of Japanese TV!

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