← Previous

Beginner 1 > Lesson 13

Lesson 13. What are Counters? (+Basic Korean Counters)

Before we start, you can check this for reference:
1) counter = counter word = measure word (they’re used to mean the same thing in this lesson!)
2) Native Korean Number = Pure Korean Number


In this lesson, you’re going to learn the usage of counter words and the question word “몇(how many)” that can be used along with it.


“몇” is a question word that means “how many,” and it’s always followed by one of the corresponding counter word of the noun you’re counting.

몇 + counter word? = (how many of ~?)


To understand what a counter word is, let’s look at some examples in English:

Three bottles of water

Two plates of lasagna

cup of coffee

bottles, plates, and cups are the counter words, but in Korean, these are a little bit different words.


Let’s look more closely at the most common ones:

개 > a counter word for non-living things/items/objects

명 > a counter word for people

마리 > a counter word for animals


So, if you want to say how many of something there are, you will need counter words:

Five pens > 펜 다섯 개

Six people > 사람 여섯 명 

Eight dogs > 강아지 여덟 마리


When we state the number of something, in most cases, a counter word is used along with a Pure Korean Number.

But remember, when 하나(1), 둘(2), 셋(3), 넷(4) and 스물(20) are used with counter words, they change their form:

하나 > 한 개

둘 > 두 개

셋 > 세 개

넷 > 네 개

스물 > 스무 개

열 하나> 열 한 개

열 둘> 스물 두 개

스물 셋> 스물 세 개

스물 넷> 스물 네 개

 *other numbers stay as they are.


방에 (사람) 스물 두 이 있어요. – There are 22 people in the room.

** it’s not always necessary to put a noun(사람), because it’s obvious that we’re talking about people from the counter word 명.


저는 사탕 열세 를 먹었어요. – I ate 13 candies.
***You can put the noun(사탕) here because it’s not obvious what you mean when counting “개,” since “개” can be used to count various items.) 


Besides the most common counter words like 개, 명 and 마리, there are counter words used for counting specific things:

잔 > a counter word for cups 

대 > a counter for big things (cars, buildings, machines etc)

권 > a counter word for books 


For example:

커피 한 잔 > a cup of coffee

컴퓨터 한 대 > one computer

책 세 권 > three books 

*** in all the examples above, all counter words can be replaced with “개,” because they’re counting non-living things. It is more desirable, though, to use these specific counters to sound more natural and native. 


Now, let’s look at how to build a question with “”.


몇 + (counter word for a specific noun) + 이다?

And we’ll get:

몇 개예요? – How many are there?

몇 명 이에요? – How many people are there?

몇 마리 예요? – How many animals there are?

사과가 몇 개예요? – How many apples are there?

아이들이 몇 명이에요? – How many children are there?


The counter word “몇”, can also be used with “있다” or other verbs.

연필 몇 개 있어요? – How many pencils are there?

가족이 몇 명 있어요? – How many people are there in your family?

애완동물 몇 마리 키워요? – How many pets do you have/raise?


“몇” can also be used when asking about 1) age, 2) time, and 3) duration.


 1) : a counter word for age

And if you want to ask somebody about their age, you can say:

몇 살이에요? Or, 몇 살이세요? (more polite)

* Pure Numbers are used with age


2) When talking about time in Korean, the word “시간(hours)” is used. But when we say a specific time “(o’clock)” is used. 

: a counter word for hour-based time

1 o’clock > 한 시

2 o’clock > 두 시

3 o’clock > 세 시 

12 o’clock > 열 두시

… and so on.


So, when asking the time, you can say like this:

몇 시예요?


If you also want to say minutes you need to use a counter word for minutes, which is “분”.

11:20 > 11시 20분 

Hours are used with Pure Korean numbers.

Minutes with Sino-Korean numbers.


Let’s look at more examples:

3:30 > 세 삼십  > 세 시 반

**삼십 분 can be replaced with “반” which means “half”.

(We’ll learn more about telling times in one of the next lessons!)


3) Also, we use “몇” when asking about duration, like “how many hours, months, years, etc…”.

Hours: 몇 시간 (Sino-Korean Numbers)

Months: 몇 달 (Pure Korean Numbers) or 몇 개월 (Sino-Korean Numbers)

Years: 몇 년 (Sino-Korean Numbers)

몇 시간 이에요? How many hours is it?

몇 시간 걸려요? – How many hours does it take?

한국에 몇 /개월* 동안** 있었어요? – How many months have you been staying in Korea?

* When we use 달(month counter), Pure Korean numbers are used. For 개월(month counter), we use Sino-Korean numbers.

1 month > 한 달 or 1개월 (일 개월)

10 months > 열 달 or 10 개월 (십 개월)

** “동안” can be used after a stated time to mean “for (the amount of time)”.


한국에 몇 년 있었어요? – How many years have you been in Korea?

1년 동안 있었어요. – I’ve been here for a year.

10년 동안 있었어요. – I’ve been here for ten years.



Here’s the summary of all the counters we learned :

몇 (counter word for a specific noun) + (이다)

개 > a counter word for non-living things

명 > a counter word for people

마리 > a counter word for animals

잔 > a counter word for cups

대 > a counter for big things (car, building, machines etc)

권 > a counter word for books

살 > a counter word for age

시 > a counter word for time

시간 > a counter word for hours

분 > a counter word for minutes

(native)달/(sino)개월 > a counter word for months

년 > a counter word for years

All of these counters are used with Pure Korean Numbers except for 분, 개월, and 년 (they’re used with Sino numbers).