Learn Japanese: Know Your Age
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
Depending on your age, you’ll either want to let everyone know (18-years-old) or you cringe at the thought of having to say it out loud to anyone (40-years-old).
In Japan, like the rest of the world, it’s not okay to run around asking every one about their age, however given the Japanese predilection for being respectful to their elders, you’ll find that they may ask your age so they can address you properly.
I’ve collected a few sentences below that you can use in these situations plus a table of example ages.
In English, you simply add the phrase “year old or years old” to your numerical age and that’s all there is to it.
In Japanese, it works in much the same way, except (and there is always an exception, isn’t there??) for a few changes to some numbers. Remember that さい (sa-i) means “years old” in Japanese and the counter for years-old is 才.
Our first exception starts with 1-year-old, which is written as いっさい (i-s-sa-i) rather than いちさい (i-chi-sa-i) as you might expect as いち is the Japanese word for the the number one.
The phrase for 8-years-old also breaks the pattern as it is pronounced はっさい (ha-s-sai) rather than the expected はちさい (hachi-sai) – はちさい being the Japanese word for eight.
For those of you who are very new to Japanese, you’ll want to make a special note of the small tsu (っ), which functions as consonant doubler and the small yu (ゅ). Read more about how they work here.
Between 11 and 19, you’ll need to add the relevant number from the table below to the end of the word for ten, which is じゅう. So sixteen (16) becomes じゅう (ju-u) plus ろくさい (ro-ku-sa-i) to get じゅうろくさい.
The same patterns repeat the higher you get.
How do you think 41 would be pronounced? Let’s break it down.
41 is made up of よん (4) and じゅう (10) to give us よんじゅう (40) and then add on いっさい (1-year-old) to get よんじゅういっさい (yon-juu-is-sai)
Why not try a few for yourself now. 56? 72? 99?
Whoops almost forgot to mention 20-years-old. The Japanese celebrate this age with a holiday as it is said to be the “Coming of Age”, which is called はたち (hi-ta-chi) and as such the age of 20 is often referred to simply as はたち (ha-ta-chi) – there’s no さい (sa-i) at the end.
So can I just use にじゅっさい (ni-ju-s-sa-i) to say 20-years-old? Yes, you can. ^_^
E: How old are you?
E: I am 17-years-old.
E: How old is your daughter?