Pluralization II: ~たち

第100課: Pluralization II: ~たち

Japanese is well known for not having an explicitly built-in distinction between the singular and plural forms. This does not mean that Japanese people cannot distinguish between these two concepts. Rather, the way this contrast manifests in Japanese is rather complex. Of course, there are many instances in which the distinction is vague to say the least. Needless to say, it is fair to say that a level of cognitive awareness is needed to not get overly confused.

Note: It’s not fair to say that English perfectly distinguishes singular and plural forms, though. After all, we have words like “fish” and deer” that are both. So, thinking about how we overcome such ambiguity in English with these words may help you understand what is going on in Japanese. 


Overall, there are several methods of pluralization or structures resembling pluralization in Japanese. Consider the following:

  1. Noun Repetition
    Ex. 山々, 木々, 神々, Etc.
  2. Suffixes
    -達: 男達、子供達、学生達
    -等: 子供等、友人等、彼等、彼女等
    -ども: 鬼ども、若造ども、悪漢ども、犬ども、野郎ども
    -がた: あなたがた
  3. Adding qualifiers to noun phrases:
    色々な人, 様々な場所, たくさんの外国人
  4. Prefixes to Sino-Japanese Phrase
    多文化, 多民族, 諸言語
  5. Implied by Certain Verbs and Adjectives
    集まる, 散る, 片付ける, 多い
  6. Counter phrases
    本が10冊ある, 女性が5人いる

This lesson will focus on ~たち as it is arguably the most difficult to master as its necessity is also something that is not straightforward. If it were simply a plural marker, we could just end there, but it isn’t.


Historically, ~たち started out as a suffix for the nobility and the gods, but from this historical note alone, we know that it has never been just for simple pluralization purposes. In fact, when it is used today, whether it is used with nouns of living things or non-living things, it is OK not to use it. However, using ~たち often shows a sense of empathy.

1. 男性(たち)が4人銃で撃たれて病院に搬送された。
    Four men were shot and taken to the hospital.

2. 色々な人(たち)が物理学学会に出席した。
    A lot of interesting people attended the physics convention. 

3. テキサス州の州都、オースティン市には数多くのホームレスの人(たち)がいる。
    In Austin, the state capital of Texas, there are many homeless people. 

In the next set of sentences, though, ~たち is not optional.

4. 私たちは今年も、全国各地から集まってきました。
    We have gathered this year as well from all over the country.

5. 池田さんたち3人は連帯意識が強い。
    Ikeda and his group of three have a strong common bond.    

6. あなたたちがいないと、私は生きていけないのです。
   I can’t live on without you all.

The plural meanings of these phrases cannot be supplemented by the basic phrases themselves without ~たち. For phrases like 池田さんたち, one is no longer just using a typical third person pronoun phrase, but as Makino (1996) has stated, but a part of one’s ‘uchi’. Thus, the term ウチ人称 becomes appropriate.

We continue to see that an emphatic role is present in ~たち’s use. It may be clearly obligatory with pronouns, but why? Is it because we have a keen emotional awareness towards the number of pronouns? This is likely the case, and this factor appears to be what controls when ~たち is used regardless of what kind of noun is being used.

Example Sentences

Now it’s time to look at example sentences. To be fair and objective, all example sentences will be from Google searches. The reason for this is that example phrases in isolation may be deemed ungrammatical without context, and native speakers themselves may not agree with whether any given expression is used or not.

7. 30年の眠りからめた木々たち
    These trees which have awoken from a 30 year slumber

8. 不揃ふぞろいのリンゴたち
    Uneven apples

9. そこの片隅かたすみに咲いているバラたちもれていくのでしょう。
    Those roses which have bloomed in the corner will also surely fade away.

10. 遠くの星々たちは誰にも知られずともかがやく。
      The stars far away will shine despite being not being known by anyone.

11. 私の住む京の地で、様々な場所からとらえたさくらたちの表情ひょうじょうをごらんください。
Look at the expressions of cherry blossoms I took from various places at my home place, Kyoto.

12. 奈良なら公園こうえん鹿しかたち大胆だいたんに道路を占領せんりょうして過ごしている!
     The deer in Nara Park have boldly taken over the roads!

     To the temple of foxes

      This is a story about the resistance and defeat of the tanuki.

15. 猫たちの集団しゅうだんがやってきました。
      A group of cats have arrived.

      The sparrows began to cry at once.

17. 我がにわとりたちをってみました。
     I took pictures of the chickens at my home.

18. 春にやって来て繁殖はんしょくする鳥たちを夏鳥なつどりと呼びます。
      We call birds who come to reproduce in the spring “summer birds”.

19. 蝉たちが死にかけている。
     The cicadas are dying.

20. 強風に巻き上げられたほたるたちが光の水しぶきのようにそそぐ。
      The fireflies caught up in the gale wind are raining down like a mist of light.

21. 池のこいたちが元気に泳いでいます。
      The coy fish in the pond are swimming lively.

22. 高級な日本酒を飲みながら、思い存分ぞんぶん魚たちを見ることができます。
      You can watch the fish to one’s heart’s desire as you drink high class sake.

23. 絵のような雲たち
      Group of clouds which resemble a painting

24. この雪たちのように、けてなくなってしまって欲しい思い出たち。
      These memories which I wish would melt and disappear like this snow.

A lot of other nouns may require a lot of personification to work. A built-up sense of empathy is needed in such a situation.

25. あたしが大好きな本たちを紹介しますわ。  
     I’m going to introduce you to my precious books! 

参照文献:認知世界の窓としての日本語の複数標示‐たち by 牧野成一