Complete introduction to Japanese Adjectives

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'Complete introduction to Japanese Adjectives'

Anna Baffa Volpe

7 min reading time

Adjectives in Japanese are another building block of a Japanese sentence, together with verbs, particles, and nouns.

Adjectives in Japanese are special, as they behave as if they were verbs. In fact, we are talking about "conjugation" of the adjective.

We generally divide adjectives into two categories:

  • Adjectives in "i" (い)
  • Adjectives in "na" (な)

In this post we are going to introduce adjectives in Japanese. We will learn the 2 categories of adjectives and see their various uses and forms.


Adjectives in "i" (い)

Adjectives in "i" end in "i" or "ii":

  • (うつ)くしい (beautiful)
  • (たか) (high)
  • (ちか) (close)

This category is called in Japanese (けい)(よう)(), a term that means:

  • (けい)(よう) means description, qualification, modification
  • () indicates the particle

Adjectives in "na" (な)

The other category is represented by adjectives ending with "na". This category is called in Japanese (けい)(よう)(どう)():

  • (けい)(よう) means description, qualification, modification
  • (どう)() indicates the verb

Because of this, we can also call them as “adjectival verbs”.

Below we can see some examples of both い-adjectives and な-adjectives:

Adjectives in “i” e “ii” (い)Adjectives in “na” (な)Meaning
高いHigh
好きなFavorite
美味しいDelicious
上手なSkillful
美しいBeautiful
稀なRare
面白いInteresting
親切なKind
温かいWarm
静かなQuiet

How to use adjectives in Japanese

We recall a characteristic of the Japanese language: the absence of gender and number for the noun and therefore all the elements attributed to it.

This feature is also reflected in the adjectives. For example, the adjective (たか) (takai) is translated both as is tall and are tall.

However, there are also adjectives referring preferably to the female gender and others to the male gender.

For example (うつく)しい (utsukushii) and ()(れい) (kirei) are both used to say that a person is good-looking, referring to women.

When we instead want to say that a man is handsome we use for example ハンサム (handsome from the English language).

Adjectives with attributive and predicative functions

Adjectives in Japanese have 2 primary functions:

  • Attributive function
  • Predicative function

Let's see more in the details how the various adjectives are used in the attributive and predicative functions.

Attribute function

In the Attributive function the adjective is used with a noun and the rule ​​is that it always precedes the noun it refers to:

(たか)
(たて)(もの)

A tall building

()きな
()(しゅ)

Favorite singer

美味(おい)しい
(ちゃ)

A good tea

(じょう)()
(せん)(しゅ)

A good athlete

(うつく)しい
(かい)()

A nice picture

(まれ)
(げん)(しょう)

A rare phenomenon

(おも)(しろ)
(しょう)(せつ)

An interesting novel

(しん)(せつ)
(かた)

A kind person

(あたた)かい
(はん)

Hot rice

(しず)かな
()(しょ)

A quiet place

Predicative function

The predicative use of the adjective instead requires to attach either:

  • The predicate
  • The verb
  • The copula, represented by the verbs だ (da) and です (desu), that both mean to be

At the same time the ending "na" is omitted:

AggettivoSignificatoForma predicativaSignificato
難しいdifficult難しいis difficult
便利なconvenient便利だis convenient
狭いnarrow狭いis narrow
大切なimportant大切だis important
寒いcold寒いis cold
明らかなclear明らかだis clear
The adjectives in "i" or "ii" are not accompanied by the copula (だ / です) but contains in itself the verb. For this reason, this category of adjectives behave as verbs in their base form
Note that in the polite form instead the verb です (desu) is added also for adjectives in "i" and "ii"
AdjectiveMeaningPredicative FormMeaning
美しいbeautiful美しいですis beautiful
親切なkind親切ですis kind

Examples of adjectives

Let's see some examples with adjectives in the attributive and predicative form:

(ほん)
()んだ。

I read a book.

(おも)(しろ)
(ほん)
()んだ。

I read an interesting book. (Attributive)

In this first example we see the use of the attributive form. In fact, the adjective (おも)(しろ) (interesting) is placed before the noun it refers to ((ほん), book).

We can see that (おも)(しろ) (interesting) is an attribute of (ほん) (book), which specifies something more about the book, which in this case is the fact that it is interesting.

Also note how (おも)(しろ) is placed before the noun without the copula だ (da) or です (desu).


日本(にほん)
()(てき)
(くに)
だ。

Japan is a beautiful country. (Predicative)

In this second example we see a use of the predicative form of the adjective. In fact, we see the presence of the copula だ at the end of the sentence. The copula in this case is necessary to specify that the adjective (てき) (beautiful) applies to the noun (くに) (country).


Finally, let's see some further examples of adjectives in various forms:

ローマ
コロッセオ
(ゆう)(めい)
だ。

The Roman Colosseum is famous. (Predicative)

()きな
(はい)(ゆう)
()()えた。

I met my favorite actor. (Attributive)

美味(おい)しい
ラーメン
()べた。

I ate some good ramen. (Attributive)


That is all for this first introduction to Japanese adjectives.

We learned the 2 categories of adjectives, how to use them, and how to conjugate the attributive and predicative forms.

In the next post we are going to dive deeper into the い-adjectives and な-adjectives.

Thanks for reading.

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