Counting From 1 To 10 In Japanese Is Deeper Than You Think
Ahh the basics. Basics beyond basics. It brings you back to your first textbook. The numbers 1-10. The building blocks of all other numbers. Gotta learn those. And this is usually that blissful number phase before you learn what a number counter is, and the world of number pain you are in store for.
So you learn how to count.
Yes, there are two ways to do something as simple as counting from 1 to 10. 4 can be よん or し. 7 can be なな or しち.
At least it’s only 2? Well, 9 can actually be きゅう or く, and depending on where a person learns, there can be a bit of a mix and match with these variations.
This wasn’t a satisfactory answer enough for me, as there are often a lot of ways to say certain things, usually with one slightly clearer winner. Time for some important life changing number research.
And here’s what I’ve found about 1-10 (based on multiple Japanese opinions and discussions about the subject on the Internet).
1. Japanese people often want to know which one is more “correct.” Most likely they want to teach their young children, they remember how they were taught, but have some slight doubt due to the ambiguity of the matter.
2. There really is no “correct” or “standard” way (at least that I could find.)
3. When counting, if someone uses し for 4, they most likely will use しち for 7. And the reverse, if he uses よん for 4, he will most likely use なな for 7. So they act as pairs.
4. きゅう for 9 is almost always more common than く.
5. There is a theory that when counting forward, pattern one is used, and when counting backwards, pattern two should be used.
6. Depending on who you ask, they will tell you there is a more correct or common way.
The ultimate answer?
There is none. When I learned counting, I actually started with pattern 2, but from personal experience I “thought” I saw pattern 1 a lot more, so switched to that about a year into learning Japanese.
How do you do it?
How do you count from 1-10? What have you heard is more correct or proper? Let’s see if we can get some stats on this and maybe find out the most common way foreigners count.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I count using pattern 2. But I actually have heard a lot more often native speakers counting using pattern 1. I think foreigners, except for in karate classes, are taught pattern 2 way more often because they are told し and しち are “taboo”. It’s a good lesson on culture at least because し is used as a cultural reference in media. But I think it’s overdone.
I teach kids pattern 2 as well. Just to be different from what kids learn in karate (^_^) I’m also slooowly teaching counters. We’ve learned ひとつ and ふたつ so far and they are still struggling with that (they always guess number two is ふとつ). I teach older kids both patterns.
It’s kind of strange that foreigners are more often taught pattern 2 because of the 死 taboo even though Japanese use pattern 1 more.
While it may not exactly apply to this, it kind of reminds me of sometimes when teachers with good intentions try to teach Japanese the way it should be, instead of the way it is (which they don’t like).
Ive learned both at the same time really, in the page I had read about that, they showed both at once because they can both be used, I was so confused as to why there was 2 ways haha
Yea usually they are taught at the same time, and I felt the same way.
That “why?!” can linger a bit.
I actually tend towards a mix: いち、に、さん、し、ご、ろく、なな、はち、きゅう、じゅう. I think I picked it up from a 実況プレイ video. It sounds the most natural to me. If I had to choose, I think I’d opt with pattern 2 though.
Yea I know plenty of people who mix it too. It eventually becomes so natural to you that when you hear it a different way it stands out.
My husband just mentioned the theory about counting backwards! He thinks it might be because it’s easier to say “nana” after “hachi” and “shichi” after “roku”.
He counts with pattern 1. He thinks he would also do pattern 1 for counting backwards.
Interesting. If you say it out loud it is easier to say nana after hachi so that sounds about right to me.
I learned to count to 10 in my karate class when I was 5, and we used “shi” and then “nana.” I think “shichi” and “hachi” sound too similar to be used right after each other anyway. I use “yon” when I’m just using the number four though (not when counting through, but if I’m, say, giving my phone number), as I try to avoid saying 死.
There are actually many Japanese that pronounce the し in しち as ひ.
There’s also pattern 3 「ひ、ふ、み、よ、いつ、む、なな、や、ここ、とお」 though it’s nowhere as common as the other 2.
I remember hearing it in an episode of 古畑任三郎 as well as one of the Trick movies.
Thanks for bringing that up! I completely forgot to mention that. And yes I remember that is the way 上田次郎 from Trick counts (I think he does it a few times throughout the series). And what 上田次郎 does is good for anyone.
I always use pattern one, and I think it’s because when I went to high school in Japan as an exchange student, we always used the first one for gym class stretching (which if you’ve ever heard them count for stretching, it’s really funny and sounds rather cult-like “ich! ni! san! shi! go-rok-shich-hach”). It was rare to hear any native Japanese use pattern two.
And I think the same goes for the standard ラジオ体操. Maybe pattern 1 has more power in it for exercise.
Just to add: in the traditional linguistic sense, when counting from one to ten, numbers have two morae: いち にい さん しい ごお ろく しち はち きゅう じゅう.
I’ve always done it like いち に さん し ご ろく なな はち きゅう じゅう