Question about 三つ “three things” vocab lesson


I am confused as to why “three things” is written with both a small and a large tsu character. Would someone please help me to understand this better?



The small つ is a glottal stop and the second is the usual つ. You say it as it’s spelled (with romaji) MITTSU, and not MITSU (which would be みつ)


The little つ or ittsu. It is used for long consonants, or double consonants. So, みつ is mitsu. Adding a little つ makes it みっつ or mittsu. It always makes whatever consonant comes after it double.


To further clarify the difference, listen carefully to the audio for みっ (three things) vs みつ (honey). The pitch is also different, but by far the biggest difference between them is the っ.


(it’s not a glottal stop unless it’s at the end of a sentence. Sometimes in music it’s pronounced as such, but a glottal stop sounds very different. Yes I realise that this is the phonetic hill I will die on :rofl:)

@stevis84 the small っ typically denotes what’s called gemination (not germination) in linguistics, but gets called “doubling” by everybody else I’ve discussed this with. Its job is to make the next consonant take 2 beats. You can also find this phenomenon in Italian (pizza, espresso), and Arabic (Alla).


To expand on this, Japanese is a metered language. If you were to start a metronome ticking, each syllable would last exactly one tick - with two exceptions.

  1. vowel lengthening - except at the end of a sentence, a double vowel does not indicate saying the vowel twice, it indicates that a vowel is to take two ticks. This is actually really important, as many words differ greatly in meaning, when the only difference is a vowel tick. しゅじん, for example, is husband, but しゅうじん is prisoner. Something the group I study in finds funny.

  2. consonant lengthening - what you’re encountering here. Except the consonants don’t really lengthen, they just pause for one tick. So mittsu (みっつ) is みつ, except the second つ takes two ticks instead of one. If it were つう, that would be a vowel lengthening, so the consonant has to take two ticks as well. Since the defining characteristic of a consonant is a stop of some kind where vowels are essentially open (I may not have that entirely right as I’m not a linguist, but I couldn’t find the right words for it), the only way to not make it a lengthening of a vowel is to lengthen the stop instead.

Hope that helps. This is one of those things that requires a bit of context that you won’t often find spelled out in detail, like rendaku.

(at the end of a sentence, vowels can be lengthened, except the ‘u’ at the end of a verb. That is pronounced. Why, Japanese people, why?!)


Length of time differs from Japanese to English. みっつ usually isn’t romanized because of how hard it is to remember.

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Everyone above is right! But perhaps an example of an English word with the described sound would help: cattail. It’s pronounced like “cat tail”, where there’s just the smallest space between the words to distinguish that you have a word ending with “t” followed by a word beginning with “t”. (Not doing that results in something like “cat ale”.) That’s a good approximation of what the small つ does to the following consonant in words like this one.


Thank you very much!!!

Thank you for your help!!

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Awesome idea, thanks!!

Thank you for the examples!!!

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Thank you so much for the time you took to help on this!! I appreciate it!

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Oooh!! Fantastic example!!! Thanks!!

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