04 August 2017 @ 07:15 am
Japanese doesn't "really" have plurals so when they need/want to specify, they add in extra words that make the meaning clear. For example, "a bunch/group of", "ten", "diverse types", "all", "every", "countless". Usually people feel confused about this, but we have the same thing in English.

In a phrase like "every dog has its day", we know we're actually talking about multiple (countless) dogs even though we're using the singular "dog". In "they said that's their hat" we assume "they" refers to one single person because probably multiple people aren't sharing a single hat. But in "they announced it on the news" we can assume multiple people because we're referring to the multiple people who work at the news station.

With words like "milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream, icing, lard, blood, water, ink, sperm, floss, wood, salt, sugar, rice, cocoa, flour, sand, dirt, rain, snow, terrain, fabric, granite, cardboard, foam, bark, gravel, sheep, media, money, vocabulary, racism, poverty, motherhood" we never say a plural form (instead of "I drank bloods, I bought fabrics" it's "I drank [some amount of] blood, bought [different types of] fabric"). In other words we don't say a singular: goggles, scissors, tweezers, pliers, trousers, premises, clothes, goods, congrats, suds, dregs, pajamas. ("I threw a pajama-party" sure, but not "I have a pajama".) Then there's the just plain unclear words: "breast" can mean either a single breast, or your entire chest (= two breasts). "Hair" means either a single hair or all the hair someone has on their body, etc.

So after reading all this, it's obvious that the distinction between plural and singular isn't actually important even in English, and that we too already tell the difference from context alone. Japanese adds words like the following when specifically clarifying that something is plural:

"group" : ら(等, casual)、たち(達)、とも・ども(共, archaic/formal)
"collection" : しゅう(衆 people, 集 other stuff)
"tons of" : いっぱい(一杯)
"a pile/lot of" : たくさん(沢山)
"many" (as a prefix) : た(多)
"many" (standalone word) : おおい(多い)
"a small measure of, a bit of, not many" : ちょっと(一寸)、すこし(少し)、すくない(少ない)
"a number of, some" : すう(数)
"an unknown amount of, some" : 何(x)か
"various, each (out of an unspecified number)" : かく(格). the kanji literally means "character".
"various types of" : いろん、いろいろ(色々)
"chain (of)" : れん(連)
"ten thousand, everything" : まん、よろず(万)

Examples:

僕等 "my group" = we, us, people like me
ここら "here group" = hereabouts
本達 "book group" = a pile of books
友達 "friend group" = friends (or friend)
子供 "child group" = children (or child)
多数 "many number" = plural (form of a word)
沢山 人 "a pile of people" = many people
一寸 待って! "wait a small amount (of minutes/seconds)" = hold on a sec!
何年か 後 "an unknown number of years later" = some years later
格国 "various/character countries" = different countries, each country (ex. out of all the ones that signed the peace treaty)
いろんな シリーズ "various types of series"
連続殺人 "chain-continue-murder-human" serial murder(s) (= multiple murders)
国連 "country-chain" (the) United Nations
万国 "ten thousand countries" all countries, universal
万屋 "everything shop" jack-of-all-trades shop (= can do multiple types of tasks)

The second way to clarify something's plural is to double up the word. Because Japanese doesn't have the word "and" (it only has workarounds), "and" is thus implied. By association, this can mean a general ongoing action.

人々 : "human and human" humans
国々 : "country and country" countries
時々 : "time and time" from time to time
我々 : "i and i" we, us (or just "i, me", like our "me and myself")
どきどき : "heartbeat and heartbeat" heartbeats
にこにこ : "smile and smile" smiling
こそこそ : "sneak and sneak" sneaking around, being secretive
びくびく : "twitch and twitch" twitching, shuddering
いろいろ : "color and color" different types of (= various shades/colors of)
物事 : "objects and matters" things

Then there are various ways of simply implying that there must be more than one. "Including", for example, automatically means we have at least two things going on. Likewise "side" means there's at least two sides/parts to the thing. "Again, relentlessly" mean we've already done something at least once. Words like "clan, population, brood (of animals)" by default refer to more than one person/animal; "international" by default refers to more than one nation.

こいつ も そいつ も(?) "this dude/thing including that dude/thing including" = both this and that guy; everyone (around me)

When specifically stating a number, the number describes what we're counting so it comes before the name of what we're counting:

一発 "one send-out" = one launch, one shot bullet, one leaving train, etc.
一匹 "one creature (critter, little bugger)" = one dog, fish, fly, pokemon, monster, etc. used a lot for captured animals, ex. to name your prey when you're hunting, or to insult people (like our "that little bugger!!")
三人 "three human" = three people
二本 "two cyllinders" = two bottles (of beer), pencils, etc. 本 is also the normal kanji for "book" because in Asia books used to just be big fat scrolls (you'll see them a ton in anime).
三台 "three machines" = three cars, robots, appliances etc.

Including those, you'll eventually learn to recognize the words below. People act like Japanese is so complicated and special with these words it uses to describe what it's counting (called "counters") but in fact most of them are completely normal words you shouldn't even have to think about. Ex. 例 "example" is totally normal; 例文 is "example sentence". So is 問 "question"; 質問 "character-question" = a question, 疑問 "doubt and question" = a doubt. It then makes perfect sense that 4例 means "4 examples" and 50問 means "50 questions (on a test etc)". So you'll just learn all these things automatically as you learn vocabulary/kanji.

The remaining strange-seeming ones I'll list below.

頭 "heads", a more neutral word for creatures (whales, cows, horses, etc)
杯 cups (of water, alcohol, etc). 一杯 is a phrase that also means "a ton of". 乾杯 literally "dry cup" means "let's dry our cups = let's toast!".
個 individual = ignoring obvious ones like 個人 "an individual human", this gets used to mean "individual pieces, units", ex. "this toy contains small (individual) parts that may be a choking hazard".
枚 2D-looking thing = banknotes, PPT slides, bread slices, etc
名 name = formal for "people", ex. when you're picking up your reservation at a restaurant.
巻 roll = volumes (of manga, story collections etc). same word as for sushi roll and to "roll someone up in" (= get someone involved in) something.
課 department = chapters (in textbooks etc). same word as in "department boss" (section chief).
話 talk/story = episodes, chapters (in manga, anime etc). same word as in "tele-talk", phonecall.
カ月 number of months. カ can be different (ex. smaller or, rarely, a kanji).
番 turns (as in "it's my turn to clean"). when not used to count stuff can mean "number x" as in 一番 "1st turn" meaning "number one, the best, my favorite" etc.
着 things to wear = clothing. 着物 "kimono" literally means "object (to) wear".
段 stairs = used for ladder-ranks, ex. ichi-dan "one-stair" = first-rank in karate or something like that. if you can't move upwards (ex. you've won a prize, and now the contest is over so you can't increase your prize) you use 位, the word for rank in general (ex. your rank in society).
行 "go, action" = lines of text that "go" along the page (ex. "turn to the 3rd line on page 5")
軒 eves (= houses, shops), ex. 10 shops line the street.
輪 wheels, flowers (probably because of the round inner part on ex. a dandelion)
冊 copies (of books etc), ex. a bookshop's sold over 100 (copies/titles of) books.
品 "sold stuff", used to mean courses at a restaurant. ex. 1-course meal.
食 "eats", used for pre-made meals (ex. packs of instant ramen)
通 "letters". 通 gets used in a lot of words to do with communication (ex. 通話 phonecall, skype call etc).
羽 "wing", used for birds and (depending on the writer) rabbits. rabbit ears look like bird wings.
間 "spaces", used for timeframes (ex. 3 hour spaces = 3 hours long).
つ things/doohickeys = anything unspecified. when you don't know how to describe what you're talking about.

Finally note that these are all indeed simply individual words, it's not like they come in a set package every time you want to say something. For example, if you want to insult a human you can call them a "creature" instead of a "human". If you want to act like your drawing of a girl is alive you call it a "creature" and not a "2D object".
 
 
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