If it’s not one, it’s a crowd. This is, in a nutshell, the basic rule to distinguish between singular and plural in English and most other Western languages. In Japanese the situation is a little different, though, as grammatical marking of plural is optional and — as a result — organized quite a lot less systematically.

The form that finds itself most commonly entrusted with the expression of plurality is the suffix -tachi. It turns 子供 (kodomo, child) into 子供たち (kodomo-tachi, children), 男 (otoko, man) into 男たち (otoko-tachi, men) and 私 (watashi, I) into 私たち (watashi-tachi, we). While this looks fairly straightforward — in fact, it’s the English plural forms that are irregular in these three examples — the situation is way more complex.

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