LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Adjectives

Posted by Tae Kim

Properties of Adjectives

Now that we can connect two nouns together in various ways using particles, we want to describe our nouns with adjectives. An adjective can directly modify a noun that immediately follows it. It can also be connected in the same way we did with nouns using particles. All adjectives fall under two categories: na-adjectives and i-adjectives.

The na-adjective

Vocabulary

  1. 静か 【しず・か】 (na-adj) - quiet
  2. 人 【ひと】 - person
  3. きれい (na-adj) - pretty; clean
  4. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  5. 親切 【しん・せつ】 (na-adj) - kind
  6. 魚 【さかな】 - fish
  7. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) - likable; desirable
  8. 肉 【にく】 - meat
  9. 野菜 【や・さい】 - vegetables

The na-adjective is very simple to learn because it acts essentially like a noun. All the conjugation rules for both nouns and na-adjectives are the same. One main difference is that a na-adjective can directly modify a noun following it by sticking 「な」 between the adjective and noun. (Hence the name, na-adjective.)

Examples

  1. 静か
    Quiet person.
  2. きれい
    Pretty person.

You can also use adjectives with particles just like we did in the last lesson with nouns.

Examples

  1. 友達親切
    Friend is kind.
  2. 友達親切だ。
    Friend is kind person.

As shown by the following examples, the conjugation rules for na-adjectives are the same as nouns.

Examples

  1. ボブは好きだ。
    Bob likes fish.
  2. ボブは好きじゃない
    Bob does not like fish.
  3. ボブは好きだった
    Bob liked fish.
  4. ボブは好きじゃなかった
    Bob did not like fish.

If it bothers you that "like" is an adjective and not a verb in Japanese, you can think of 「好き」 as meaning "desirable". Also, you can see a good example of the topic and identifier particle working in harmony. The sentence is about the topic "Bob" and "fish" identifies specifically what Bob likes.

You can also use the last three conjugations to directly modify the noun. (Remember to attach 「な」 for positive non-past tense.)

Examples

  1. 好きな
    Person that likes fish.
  2. 好きじゃない
    Person that does not like fish.
  3. 好きだった
    Person that liked fish.
  4. 好きじゃなかった
    Person that did not like fish.

Here, the entire clause 「好き」、「好きじゃない」、etc. is modifying "person" to talk about people that like or dislike fish. You can see why this type of sentence is useful because 「好きだ」 would mean "People like fish", which isn't always the case.

We can even treat the whole descriptive noun clause as we would a single noun. For instance, we can make the whole clause a topic like the following example.

Examples

  1. 好きじゃないは、好きだ。
    Person who does not like fish like meat.
  2. 好きは、野菜好きだ。
    Person who likes fish also like vegetables.

The i-adjective

Vocabulary

  1. 嫌い 【きら・い】 (na-adj) - distasteful, hateful
  2. 食べ物 【た・べ・もの】 - food
  3. おいしい (i-adj) - tasty
  4. 高い 【たか・い】 (i-adj) - high; tall; expensive
  5. ビル - building
  6. 値段 【ね・だん】 - price
  7. レストラン - restaurant
  8. あまり/あんまり - not very (when used with negative)
  9. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) - likable; desirable
  10. いい (i-adj) - good

All i-adjectives always end in the Hiragana character: 「い」. However, you may have noticed that some na-adjectives also end in 「い」 such as 「きれい(な)」. So how can you tell the difference? There are actually very few na-adjectives that end with 「い」 that is usually not written in Kanji. Two of the most common include: 「きれい」 and 「嫌い」. Almost all other na-adjectives that end in 「い」 are usually written in Kanji and so you can easily tell that it's not an i-adjective. For instance, 「きれい」 written in Kanji looks like 「綺麗」 or 「奇麗」. Since the 「い」 part of 「麗」 is part of a Kanji character, you know that it can't be an i-adjective. That's because the whole point of the 「い」 in i-adjectives is to allow conjugation without changing the Kanji. In fact, 「嫌い」 is one of the rare na-adjectives that ends in 「い」 without a Kanji. This has to do with the fact that 「嫌い」 is actually derived from the verb 「嫌う」.

Unlike na-adjectives, you do not need to add 「な」 to directly modify a noun with an i-adjective.

Examples

  1. 嫌い食べ物
    Hated food.
  2. おいしい食べ物
    Tasty food.

Remember how the negative state-of-being for nouns also ended in 「い」 (じゃな)? Well, just like the negative state-of-being for nouns, you can never attach the declarative 「だ」 to i-adjectives.

Do NOT attach 「だ」 to i-adjectives.

Now that we got that matter cleared up, below are the rules for conjugating i-adjectives. Notice that the rule for conjugating to negative past tense is the same as the rule for the past tense.

Conjugation rules for i-adjectives
  • Negative: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective and then attach 「くない」
  • Example: くない
  • Past-tense: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective or negative i-adjective and then attach 「かった」
    Examples
    1. かった
    2. 高くな高くなかった
Summary of i-adjective conjugations
Positive Negative
Non-Past 高い 高くない
Past 高かった 高くなかった

Examples

  1. 高いビル
    Tall building.
  2. 高くないビル
    Not tall building.
  3. 高かったビル
    Building that was tall.
  4. 高くなかったビル
    Building that was not tall.

Note that you can make the same type of descriptive noun clause as we have done with na-adjectives. The only difference is that we don't need 「な」 to directly modify the noun.

Example

  • 値段高いレストランあまり好きじゃない
    Don't like high price restaurants very much.

In this example, the descriptive clause 「値段高い」 is directly modifying 「レストラン」.

An annoying exception

Vocabulary

  1. 値段 【ね・だん】 - price
  2. あまり/あんまり - not very (when used with negative)
  3. いい (i-adj) - good
  4. 彼 【かれ】 - he; boyfriend
  5. かっこいい (i-adj) - cool; handsome

There is one i-adjective meaning "good" that acts slightly differently from all other i-adjectives. This is a classic case of how learning Japanese is harder for beginners because the most common and useful words also have the most exceptions. The word for "good" was originally 「よい(良い)」. However, with time, it soon became 「いい」. When it is written in Kanji, it is usually read as 「よい」 so 「いい」 is almost always Hiragana. That's all fine and good. Unfortunately, all the conjugations are still derived from 「よい」 and not 「いい」. This is shown in the next table.

Another adjective that acts like this is 「かっこいい」 because it is an abbreviated version of two words merged together: 「格好」 and 「いい」. Since it uses the same 「いい」, you need to use the same conjugations.

Conjugation for 「いい
Positive Negative
Non-Past いい よくない
Past よかった よくなかった
Conjugation for 「かっこいい
Positive Negative
Non-Past かっこいい かっこよくない
Past かっこよかった かっこよくなかった

Take care to make all the conjugations from 「よい」 not 「いい」.

Examples

  1. 値段あんまりよくない
    Price isn't very good.
  2. かっこよかった
    He looked really cool!