Month [月] - Pronunciation differences

Something I struggle with is the reading for months in different contexts (meaning [がつ] vs [げつ]).

The rule I’ve generally been going by is ‘if it’s a named month (meaning Jan, Feb, etc.), or as a counter, use [がつ]’ and for pretty much all other uses, use [げつ] (except for the few exceptions where [つき]- which is usually when referring to the Moon itself).

I don’t know if this is actually a good rule to follow, but it’s how I’ve been rolling thus far.

I guess I’m wondering if anyone has a good way of remembering when to use each… I’m tired of randomly getting things from 5 levels ago wrong because of such a slight difference.

Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated!


You’ve pretty much got it. Specific months are がつ, other uses are げつ. がつ is also used when you are referring to a specific month like asking 何月.


I think what usually gets me is when talking about “last month,” “this month,” or “next month.”

I think “well that’s a specific month we have in mind, so surely it’s [がつ].”

And that’s a misstep in logic. I think, if you say I’ve mostly got it, maybe I just need to be more careful with those ‘time’ contexts.


I’d say you’ve mostly got it, except it’s “if it’s a numbered month, it’s がつ, otherwise げつ”. Last/this/next months aren’t specifically numbering a month. 何 is asking “which number month?”

Off the top of my head, this rule fits with no exceptions… but ofc it’s more likely that I’ve just not encountered the exception yet.


Use the force, Luke. (Search turned this up, basically what @kfri just said).

I’m an advocate of not worrying too much about rules, though, and just using rote memorization instead. There are 24 vocabulary items using the character on Wanikani. Review them frequently enough (and expose yourself to enough Japanese outside your lessons: listening or reading) and your brain will figure out the pattern on its own.

It’s worth learning about “rules” like this but realize they almost always have exceptions and rote memorization is often better in actual conversation because it’s faster and effortless.


Yeah, you basically have to ask “could the month in question be different based on when I’m saying it?” For January, no, January is always January. For “last month”, it is always changing.


This is interesting.

I think there may be a sort of meta-rule related to this kind of specificity with many Japanese pronunciation pairs, but I’ve had a couple drinks tonight and can’t think of any examples.

I have this intuitive feeling that Japanese often distinguishes between fungible things (next month, last month) and irreplaceable identifiers (January).

But I can’t think of another example — help! I can’t think of anyone more likely to know if I’m completely wrong or if this really is a thing.


One that I can think of was when Cure Dolly taught when to use に grammar point in a time-related sentence (Japanese past, present and future tense).

She described that there are “Relative-time expressions” like tomorrow, yesterday, last week, next year and so forth, as times that are relative to the present time. For those sentences, they don’t need に.

However, for “Absolute-time expressions”, like Tuesday, 6 o’clock, July and so forth, will only need に grammar point in Japanese, when in English, the sentence will need either “On, At, In”.

Perhaps there are more examples within this context too. If so, I’d love to know more. Thank you everyone for sharing!


The only one I can think of offhand is 一日, which is いちにち/いちじつ for one day and ついたち/いっぴfor first of the month.

Well, there’s 日日, which is ひび/にちにち for day-by-day and ひにち for number-of-days or the date, but I’ve only ever seen the latter as 日にち so I’m not sure it counts.


Do you have any examples in mind? I’m pretty sure that when we’re counting months, we use 一ヶ月 (いっかげつ). (That little kana is pronounced か here.)

I think that, like you said in your opening post, it’s better to go with the idea of ‘named month’ rather than ‘specific month’. Another example is 正月(しょうがつ): it has a special name (probably comes from the old lunar calendar names, honestly), so the reading is がつ.

That aside, I think your general rule should work very well, and is what I’ve been using so far. Just be aware that つき is sometimes used to mean ‘month’ as well: if 一月 is read ひとつき, it means ‘one month’, and is a synonym of 一ヶ月 (いっかげつ). Also, if you’re talking about every month, it’s 毎月 (まいつき). However, I guess that’s not that weird, and is still related to the ‘moon’ meaning, if you consider that in English, we can say ‘many moons ago’, albeit it’s a little old-fashioned.


I can’t find it right now but I remember reading a post in here not too long ago and the person gave his “rule” that his/her Japanese companion gave.
Basically if there is a number right in front of 月 then it’s がつ and the rest of the time it will be げつ.
Of course there are exceptions such as 正月 but overall this seems to be the best way to know which reading you should go with.


or 一月

But yeah がつ is pretty easy because its just the 12 months and new years for common usages.


Then you have things that are part relative and part absolute, like 〜までに…

See, I completely agree with the general logic, and it does help to think that way, but if we want to go up another level and link it directly to how に is used in general, we might notice a parallel with how に tends to be used to specifically identify things and places, in particular places that something reaches or is present at, as though it were some sort of ‘pointer’. To be honest, I guess you could say this is just me trying to force-fit my personal view that に is the ‘pointing particle’ onto Japanese, but it’s worked so far, and with regard to time expressions specifically, this is something I realised after my friend explained までに to me as though it ought to be easy to break down.

〜に allows us to identify (to ‘point out’) a specific point in time or time period. That’s the reason why it’s used with absolute time expressions, and why 〜までに means ‘by ~’ or ‘before ~’ (among other things). More specifically and accurately, it just means that 〜までに identifies the specific period defined by ‘until ~’ as the point/period of occurrence of whatever follows.

I guess you could say that when there’s a need for something to be specific or absolute, it becomes more natural to use に. Otherwise, に isn’t needed.


Regarding the counter thing, I could be entirely wrong on that. I would have sworn WK accepts “one month” as a correct answer for いちがつ (and other pairs like that), but looking it up now, I don’t think it does…

That was another thing I was confused about, but clearly I was mistaken.


Yeah, since the item they’re testing for is January, they can’t accept “one month” since that wouldn’t be read with the same reading.