How many readings do the number kanji have?

So far, I have learned the numbers’ on readings, and the kun readings used with the 「ーつ」 and the 「ー人」 counter (which are pretty much the same). Now, WaniKani introduced to me the 「ー日」 counter, which uses different readings when used with some number kanji. How many readings can the number kanji have, and, is there a trick (other than brute force and SRS) to remember which one to use with which counter?

The numbers are particularly tricky. Even if you know all the readings, remembering which ones use the different variations comes down to just experience I think.

Like, whether to use よん or よ for 4. Whether to use きゅう or く for 9.

The more you use them, the more you’ll absorb them and stop having to use mnemonics.

At the end of the day, I can’t tell you a trick that I used. But now I’m fairly confident in counting.


So, just like everything in language, it’s a matter of acquiring intuition. For now, I guess I will have to learn the individual reading + counter combinations.

I think the main issue is that there are so many ways of counting, that coming up with a rule would be pretty complex.

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And counters that modify the numbers they are attached to is a very Japanese concept, so I guess it will take some getting used to.

I have the most trouble with counting days. So I have to repeat them regularly and use a separate vocabulary sheet. If I solely rely on the SRS I always come back to making faults.

Using a separate vocabulary sheet for words that give one trouble is a sensible course of action, regardless of what these words/kanji might be :slightly_smiling_face:

In the appeddix section of both the “A Dictionary of Beginner Japanese Grammar” and intermediate one, are some handy rules and table for counters. They might help a little…

I will definitely keep that in mind once I buy that book :slight_smile:

The day counters are the most difficult ones I know. I think that’s because they come up so often. It often seems to be the way of languages that the most used verbs/words are irregular or weird… So my advice would be to keep at it, look up some video’s on youtube if it doesn’t make sense and you need it explained in a different way, and you’ll get it eventually. After that counting things should get easier.

English counters (and plural nouns) are pretty amazing and (if you squint) kinda comparable.

Sure, we say two dogs, three goldfish, five horses. But we don’t say “two rices” or “two butters” or two wheats. We say:

two grains of rice
two sheaves of wheat
two grains of wheat
two sticks of butter (okay, that’s american)
two pats of butter
three pairs of scissors

That’s even before you get to a flock of sheep, or a herd of cows or a mob of kangaroos.

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If you havent yet, you should get one of the Quiz plugins. I find the SRS system lacking in the repetition I require for early learning, it gives you a lesson, gives you an ez modo test, then says “come back in an hour, if you pass wait 4 hours, if you fail wait another” and personally… that doesn’t work for me. I would rather spend 10-30 minutes repetetively doing a few lessons of new kanji/vocabulary because that sticks with me… luckily thats what I get out of the Quiz plugin I use… (quick minor gripe… why doesn’t the Review tests have sound based questions like the Quiz does, or asking for the meaning based on the Hiragana? Those are excellent for getting the word in my head)

Plugin I use: [Userscript] Self-Study Quiz

This is a point I always want to bring up when English speakers complain about the Japanese counting system. Yes, it is a pain, but I think the English system of countable and uncountable nouns (and the accompanied counters for the uncountable nouns) make both learning and teaching the English system really complicated.

Trading off some of the characteristics that make Japanese less difficult (e.g., one conjugation form for all cases to memorize), it all evens out in the end.


If it makes you feel any better, English has a bunch of different number readings too! Take the number 1 for example:

  • One
  • First
  • Primary
  • Mono- (~rail, ~tonous, etc.)
  • Uni- (~cycle, ~corn, etc.)

Not to mention special readings like “single”. If English used kanji, they would probably all be written with 一.

Point is, you’ve conquered that sort of system once (ha! there’s another one) and you can do it again.


Everyone, thanks for the kind replies. I am now more than determined to learn all the counters I have to!

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