Basics of Japanese: Numbers
Numbers in Japanese are very easy and follow a very predictable, and mathematical, system. Once you know the numbers 1-10, you can count all the way to 99! Let’s first take a look at this system.
To go higher than 10 just requires a little bit of math. But don’t be scared! It’s only addition and multiplication.
You’re going to add when you’re making a number like 11-19, and the formula looks just like you expect.
11: 10 + 1
This means, in Japanese, 11 is じゅういち (jyuu ichi). 12 is じゅうに (jyuu ni). So how about 13?
じゅうさん (jyuu san) is right!
And then you’ll multiply to create a new 10’s place (20, 30, 60, 90).
20: 2 x 10
As you can probably guess, 20 is going to be にじゅう (ni jyuu). 30 will be さんじゅう (san jyuu). And 40?
よんじゅう (yon jyuu)!
You can then combine these two rules to create every number from 11-99.
25: 2 x 10 + 5
Just like in real math, you always want to do multiplication before you do addition.
25 would be にじゅうご (ni jyuu go). 33 would be さんじゅうさん (san jyuu san). 98?
きゅうじゅうはち (kyuu jyuu hachi)!
Time for the math test–don’t worry, it’s open note! Write down how you think these numbers will be said and then check your answers below. For an added challenge, try writing down how to say them in hiragana!
Check your answers
14 – じゅうよん (jyuu yon)
29 – にじゅうきゅう (ni jyuu kyuu)
55 – ごじゅうご (go jyuu go)
76 – ななじゅうろく (nana jyuu roku)
68 – ろくじゅうはち (roku jyuu hachi)
37 – さんじゅうなな (san jyuu nana)
One Last Thing…
You’ve probably noticed by now that the numbers 4 and 7 have two different pronunciations. There are two reasons why. The first is superstitious. Shi (4) is also the same as the word for death, and so the number 4 is considered unlucky. The second reason is for practicality. Shichi (7) sounds a lot like ichi (1).
For now, it’s best to remember 4 = yon and 7 = nana. As we continue with our numbers lessons, you will learn the instances where shi/shichi is preferred to yon/nana. One culturally-significant instance where 7 is pronounced as shichi is for the Japanese holiday Shichigosan!