Surprisingly, one of the more difficult parts of a new language to master is its numbers. I guess it might have something to do with just how many of them there are, but what about that number that is just a 0? What is zero in Japanese?
Well as it turns out there are three separate answers to that question!
To make matters even more complicated, one of the forms of the word zero in Japanese can only be used in very specific situations.
That’s why today’s post is totally dedicated to learning about, and going over the big goose egg. Let’s begin!
The Loan Word ゼロ
You know how the Japanese language just loves to import words from other languages? Well they sure are good at it, and they seem to have a real affinity for English.
I shouldn’t complain, because it makes learning Japanese easier for us!
All joking aside, the most common way to say zero in Japanese is with the word ゼロ (zero) which of course is a loan word from English.
I’ve seen it written in katakana as ゼロ many, many times. Whenever you see it written as the numeral 0 it will also be pronounced this same way.
So the romaji for both ゼロ and 0 is “zero.” That ought to be pretty easy to remember.
Although there are a couple of situations where you need to use a different Japanese word to say zero, and those will all be covered later on in this post.
But while we’re focusing on this loan word, let’s take a look at just a few example sentences that use it.
- zero kara machi o tsukuru.
- to create a town from scratch (zero).
The Japanese word ゼロ is definitely the most common ways that they say 0. In fact, many times a character’s name will be ゼロ in things like manga, anime, or video games.
- zero shinka no rekishi
- The Evolution of Zero
The First Use Of 零
Do you remember way back when, when I told you that there are certain situations that require a special Japanese word for “zero” and that we couldn’t use the loan word ゼロ?
Well, we have now come to that part of the lesson where we go over it in more detail.
First of all, the Japanese word 零 (rei) is actually the native word for “zero” in the language. Despite it not being as popular as the imported English word, there are two very specific situations where you have to use it.
I’m going to explain one of them now in this section, and then we will move on over to the second situation in the next part of this blog post.
As for this initial usage, the word 零 must be used when referring to temperature. Or to be more specific, when talking about how it’s zero degrees outside.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Man, that’s freaking cold!”
But actually, 0-degrees in Japan is not as cold as 0-degrees in America. Does that sound weird?
Well, I’m being a little flippant because the Japanese use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit!
That means that when it’s 零度 (reido) in Japan, it’s actually 32 degrees in America.
Yeah, I know. All the readers outside of America are shaking their heads at me right now.
I see you (•ˋ _ ˊ•);
All joking aside, when you see either 零度 or 0度 written in Japanese it is read as れいど (reido) and it means zero degrees Celsius.
Let’s move on to the second use of this word before someone tries to hurt me.
The Second Use Of 零
The second use of this original Japanese word comes into play when talking about fractions.
Or to be a bit more specific, it has to do with any number that is less than zero like the following examples:
In all of these we see that there is a zero, then a period, and then a number. For these situations we would again use the native word れい when saying those numbers.
For the record, the decimal point is read as てん (ten) which I will further illustrate in this next part.
So, if we wanted to read these number out loud to other people in Japanese and have them understand us we would do so in the following way:
- 0.2 = れい てん に
- 0.5 = れい てん ご
- 0.8 = れい てん はち
Pretty cool, right?
Maybe I’m the only one who finds this stuff interesting, I don’t know…
On a side note: click here to learn the Japanese numbers 1 to 10.
Let’s check out the final way to say this word in this next section. This one is also a pretty cool one.
The 〇 Word 丸
You may have seen a placeholder for numbers when reading Japanese manga or novels.
I’m talking about 〇 which is read as まる (maru) which literally translates as “circle” in English.
There is also a common kanji that has the exact same reading and meaning. It is 丸 (maru).
But how does this all tie into out word of the day?
Well to answer that, let me ask you something: How would you naturally read “English 101”?
Most people would respond by saying, “English one-oh-one” which is also what I would say.
Isn’t it interesting how in English we read that zero as an “oh” instead of saying the number’s name?
Well as it turns out, the Japanese do the same thing!
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, the Japanese word 丸 which is sometimes written as 〇 is used as a placeholder for the number zero.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all you need to know about the number zero in Japanese.
Actually, truth be told that is all that I know about the Japanese word for the big O, and so I have to end the lesson there.
But if you’ve got any questions or comments that you would like to make, then please feel free to do so by leaving them in the comment section below.
And as always, thanks for reading!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: