And kanji with manga
Sunday, August 19, 2018

ヶ - Small Ke ケ

In Japanese, the small katakana ke ケ, ヶ, is a bit different from the other small kana, in that it's not usually read ke, but instead as ka か, ga が, or even ko こ. Similar to how the small tsu isn't read as tsu つ.

For example, ni-ka-getsu 二ヶ月 is how you say "two months," as in counting the months. It's not read ni-ke-getsu despite having a ke in the middle.

Why is ヶ Read Ka か?

The reason why ke ヶ is read as ka in the scenario above is because it's the abbreviated way of writing a kanji. This one: ka 箇. Notice how there are two ヶ-looking components atop of it? The take 竹, "bamboo," part? (「ヶ」はカタカナではない -

So originally, formally, you'd write nikagetsu 二箇月. But nobody got time to write that much kanji, too many strokes, gotta go fast, that's why handwritten it would be abbreviated nikagetsu 二ヶ月 instead.

The ヶ of ヶ月, coming from 箇月, with an example diagram of the word nikagetsu 二ヶ月.

Given this usage, it's said that this ke ヶ, or rather, ka ヶ, is not a katakana like the bigger ke ケ, but actually just a different way of writing a kanji.

That explains why you never see the small ke ヶ actually being read as ke ケ: they're totally unrelated, except for their appearance. Regardless, people still call it small ke ヶ or chiisana ke 小さなケ because that's literally what it looks like.

More examples:
  • suukagetsu 数ヶ月
    sukkagetsu 数箇月
    A number of months. Several months.
  • ikkasho 一箇所
    ikkasho 一ヶ所
    One place.

By the way, ka か becomes kka っか in ikkagetsu 一ヶ月, "one month," because of sokuonbin 促音便.

Usage in Names

You'll find that some Japanese names contain a small ke ヶ in the middle of the kanji, sticking out like a sore thumb. In this case, the small ke ヶ is normally read as ga が instead.

ヶ used in names. Example: nandayo Senjougahara なんだよ戦場ヶ原, from the manga Bakemonogatari 化物語

Some examples:
  • Senjougahara Hitagi 戦場ヶ原 ひたぎ
    From the Bakemonogatari 化物語 series.
  • Kasumigaoka Utaha 霞ヶ丘 詩羽
    From SaeKano.
  • Yuigahama Yui 由比ヶ浜 結衣
    From OregaIru.
  • Kirigaya Kazuto 桐ヶ谷 和人
    From Sword Art Online.

Why is ヶ Read Ga が?

The reason why the small ke ヶ is read as ga が in names like the above is a bit complicated.

Where it Comes From

Alright, if you look up in a dictionary the kanji readings of 箇, you'll see that ga が is not one of them. So we can safely assume that's not where this usage came from, right?

That's not right. The pronunciation of Japanese changes over time, as do the readings of kanji. It's possible that, in the past, ka 箇 could be read as ga 箇 in some words as well. (「ケ」の読みが「が」になるのは何故ですか? -

Point of Abbreviating

Alright, so ga ヶ does com from ga 箇. But what does this abbreviated ga 箇 mean in names of people? Why are they abbreviating the ga 箇 in their names? Why not just write ga 箇 instead of ga ヶ? I mean, the name is probably full of complicated kanji anyway, what's the point of abbreviating one of them, right?

That's not right, again. Although ga ヶ does come from ga 箇, that doesn't mean ga ヶ is always this ga 箇. Indeed. Because ga ヶ was read ga が, it was sometimes not used as the counter ga 箇, but as the particle ga が, instead. Specially names of places, lands, and so on, which then became the names of people.

So this ga 箇 and the particle ga が were homonyms, they had the same sound. That was the only connection they had. But that was enough to make ga ヶ go from meaning one to meaning the other.


Alright, so now we know ga ヶ is the particle ga が, but that doesn't make much sense. That's the subject-marking particle, or sometimes a conjunction. What is it doing in somebody's or someplace's name? It's turning their name into a clause, right? Where's the verb?

That's not right, again, again. Although this usage is not very normal, the particle ga が has another function: it creates possessive adjectives, similar to what the particle no の does.

For example, ware 我 means "I," first person pronoun. But to say "my" using that, you don't say ware no 我の, you say waga 我が.

In the same principle, Akihabara 秋葉原 was once called Akiba-no-Hara 秋葉の原 or Akiba-ga-Hara 秋葉ヶ原, "Autumn Leaves' Plains." With "plains," hara 原, being a field, meadow, etc. You'll see this pattern in a lot of names of places, because they were plain plains before complicating a city onto them.

So now we can translate the ga ヶ in names of people. From the examples of before:
  • Senjou-ga-hara 戦場ヶ原
    Senjou no hara 戦場の原
    Battleground's Plains.
    Plains of the Battleground.
  • Kasumi-ga-oka 霞ヶ丘
    Kasumi no oka 霞の丘
    Haze's Hill.
    Hill of the Haze.
  • Yui-ga-hama 由比ヶ浜
    Yui no hama 由比の浜
    Cooperation's Beach.
    Beach of Cooperation. (or something like that, according to Wikipedia's entry on the Yuigahama beach.)
  • Kiri-ga-ya 桐ヶ谷
    Kiri no ya 桐の谷
    Paulownia Trees' "Valley" (tani 谷? Or is it a "marsh," yachi 谷内? Wait, what's a "paulownia" tree?)
    Valley/Marsh of the Paulownia Trees.

Anyway, you get the point. It's usually an adjective, the ga ヶ, and a kind of place, like a plain, hill, beach, valley, marsh, or whatever.

Why is ヶ Read Ko こ?

In some cases, the small ke ヶ may be read as ko こ instead. Indeed, ka and ko are both readings of the kanji ka/ko 箇, but there's more to know about that.

You'll notice that niko 二ヶ, sanko 三ヶ, and so on mean "two things," "three things," etc. This is a counter for individual things.

Written with kanji, it would have been niko 二個, sanko 三個. That's a kinda complicated kanji, too, however, unlike 箇, 個 doesn't have a ヶ-looking component in it. So why can 個 be abbreviated to ヶ?

This seems to happen because 個 was a kanji variant of 箇. (個と箇は使い分け - So words that were written with 箇, were usually written with 個 instead. For example:
  • nikagetsu 二箇月
    nikagetsu 二個月
    Two months.

We can assume the opposite also works, and you could write niko 二個 as niko 二箇, so you could also write niko 二箇 as niko 二ヶ. But just because you could maybe do that doesn't mean you should do that. Stick to niko 二個, which's the normal way of writing "two things" in kanji.

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