Apologies if this has been asked before — I spent a few minutes trying different search terms for this topic but nothing came up!
I’m having a hard time keeping the meaning of 何 straight between three vocabs:
何日— How many days, what/which day
何月— What/which month
何年 — What year, how many years
I don’t understand why 何月 skips the ‘how many’ meaning, and I’m constantly messing this up in my reviews. I’ll probably just force myself to always use the ‘what [unit of time]’ meaning for all three of these for the sake of reviews, but I’m more generally curious if anyone can explain the situation with 何月. Any insight? (Or tips for keeping this clear in my memory?)
Also, more of a minor question: can 何年 not technically mean ‘which year’? (Just not sure why the other meanings use both ‘which’ and ‘what’, but this one is only ‘what’.)
Someone else might have a better answer, but I believe this is because 日 and 年 can reflect a period of time, even with numbers before them (i.e. 3日 = 3rd of the month or 3 days, 2000年 = the year 2000 or 2000 years), whereas for a duration of time with 月 you would say ヶ月(かげつ) (i.e. 3月 = March, but 3ヶ月 = 3 months), so for how many months you would say 何ヶ月 (なんかげつ).
Wow, that would explain a lot. Thanks, I didn’t know that!
Aside: is it just me or does communicating durations of time in Japanese feel super complex to anyone else? I’m only on level 6, but I’ve already grappled with the similarities and differences between 先 and 去 — and 先月 and 去年 by extension — and now with these three vocab, I’m starting to feel a little hopeless with any vocab having to do with measures of time
Most of it is context, you’ll get used to it with practice and fluency. It’s difficult to grasp it at first when it’s just abstract vocabulary devoid of any real meaning, but if you start doing basic reading or beginner speaking things, it’ll become apparent pretty quickly.
I think something like this happens in most languages. At some point it will just become second nature to you from hearing / seeing it as you expose yourself to more of the language, but until then you have to find some way to remember that works for you.
In English we have “last year”, “last month”, “last week” and “next year”, “next month”, “next week” as a pattern but for days we use “yesterday” and “tomorrow.”
In Japanese you have:
去年 (きょねん) - last year
来年 (らいねん) - next year
先月 (せんげつ) - last month
来月 (らいげつ) - next month
先週 (せんしゅう) - last week
来週 (らいしゅう) - next week
昨日 (きのう) - yesterday
明日 (あした) - tomorrow
And then there are my favorites, the “one before” and “one after”, which we don’t have specific words for in English:
一昨年 (おととし) - the year before last
再来年 (さらいねん) - the year after next
先々月 (せんせんげつ) - the month before last
再来月 (さらいげつ) - the month after next
先々週 (せんせんしゅう) - the week before last
再来週 (さらいしゅう) - the week after next
一昨日 (おととい) - the day before yesterday
明後日 (あさって) - the day after tomorrow
The more you learn, the more fun it gets, so don’t get discouraged!
Have you begun studying grammar yet? If not, this is a good example of why I always recommend people start immediately and to not wait. There are lot of vocabulary that WaniKani teaches that you’ll understand much more easily if you already have some grammar under your belt.
Makes sense, however I’ve been following Tofugu’s Learn Japanese guide and am waiting to hit Level 10 before I start on grammar. I do know some basics from previous studies, as far as some of the particles, basic sentence structure, and counters go, though.