plural suffixes

Japanese grammar: ~たち

So Japanese doesn’t really do the plural noun thing. If you really want to say “books” instead of “book” you can add a number or say “several book” or something, but mostly you just accept that 本 means some amount of book and move on with your life.

One thing that’s like English plurals is the suffix たち (達 in kanji but often just written in hiragana):

  • 学生たち(がくせいたち) students, the students
  • 私達(わたしたち) us (=me + たち)
  • 猫たち(ねこたち) cats, the cats

Seems simple enough, right? But there’s a twist!

See, in English, “cats” means more than one cat, a group made entirely of cats:

ねこたち looks the same at first:

But ねこたち actually means that there’s a group, and at least one prominent member is a cat. The cat’s group. Cat and friends. Cat et al.

This is called the associative plural, and it has some quirks that English plurals don’t!

  • たち is mostly used on people and animals (if it’s on an inanimate object it sounds like you’re personifying it a little). It’s hard for rocks and pens to have a squad, you know?
  • You can use it on people’s names. Steveたち is Steve and whatever other people he’s with. Not just a bunch of people named Steve (probably).
  • Not 100% sure, but I feel like if I heard ねこたちはかわいいです (the cats are cute) I might think you have a specific group of cats in mind, as opposed to a blanket statement about all cats ever, like you can get with ねこはかわいいです (cats are cute, the cat is cute)

So keep that in mind if you see a  confusing たち : )