How to conjugate Adjectives in Japanese

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'How to conjugate Adjectives in Japanese'

Anna Baffa Volpe

9 min reading time

Adjectives in Japanese work and are conjugated like verbs.

It is an aspect that differs from many Western languages. It also generates perplexity in many, but once you learn the form, its use will also become natural.

In this post we are going to learn how to conjugate adjectives. Check out our introduction to adjectives if you are just getting started.


Adjectives ending in "i" or "ii"

As with all conjugations in Japanese, we can distinguish two possible forms:

  • Informal (or colloquial)

  • Formal (or polite)

Informal form

Informal form is used in confidential, friendly situations: generally with family and friends.

Present affirmative

Ends in "i" or "ii": (とお)い (is far)

(とお)

Present negative

We omit the final "i" and add くない: (とお)くない (not far)

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くない

Past affirmative

We omit the final "i" and add かった: (とお)かった (was far away)

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)かった

Past negative

We omit the final "i" and add くなかった: (とお)くなかった (it wasn't far)

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くなかった

Polite form for adjectives in "i"

The Polite form is used in an environment outside our family or circle of friends. You should use this form when addressing superiors, in situations of interaction with unknown people, and in general where polite language is considered adequate.

The polite form is a unique concept of the Japanese language compared to many Western languages.

For this form it is sufficient to add です after the base expression.

Present affirmative

(とお)
(とお)です

Present negative

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くない
(とお)くないです

For the negative form we can also use ありません, which is the negative present in the polite form of ない (do not exist):

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くない
(とお)ない
(とお)ありません

Past affirmative

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)かった
(とお)かったです

Past negative

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くなかった
(とお)くなかったです

For the negative form we can also use ありませんでした, which is instead negative past courtesy of なかった:

(とお)
(とお)
(とお)くなかった
(とお)なかった
(とお)ありませんでした

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The adjective we saw in the introduction can be used with:

  • Attributive function when it precedes the noun it refers to

  • Predicative function when it is placed at the end of the sentence as happens for the verbal predicate

(とお)(まち)

A distant city.

Attributive form for "i" adjectives

As you can see, in the Attributive form the adjective ((とお)far away) is placed before the noun it describes ((まち) city):

(とお)(まち) (a distant city)

(とお)くない(まち) (a city not far away)

(とお)かった(まち) (a distant city)

(とお)くなかった(まち) (a city not far away)

Predicative form for "i" adjectives

In the Predicative form instead you can notice how the adjective ((とお)far away) is placed after the noun it describes ((まち) city):

あの(まち)(とお)い (that city is far away)

あの(まち)(とお)くない (that city is not far away)

あの(まち)(とお)かった (that city was far away)

あの(まち)(とお)くなかった (that city was not far away)


Adjectives in "na"

The second category of adjectives is called adjectives in "na", which some grammar defines as "false adjectives", as they behave like nouns in their basic form.

In fact, the addition of the "na" (な) is used to modify the noun that follows.

(ゆう)(めい)()(しゅ)

A famous singer.

Attributive form for "na" adjectives

To conjugate these adjectives the suffix "na" is omitted and replaced with the following verb forms:

  • だった (Past)

  • じゃない (Not negative past)

  • じゃなかった (Past negative)

Present affirmative

(ゆう)(めい)な (famous)

(ゆう)(めい)

Present negative

(ゆう)(めい)じゃない (not famous)

(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)じゃない

Past affirmative

(ゆう)(めい)だった (who was famous)

(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)だった

Past negative

(ゆう)(めい)じゃなかった (who was not famous)

(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)
(ゆう)(めい)じゃなかった

The form we have seen is used in the attributive function of the adjective: in conjunction with a noun to which it refers directly.

Let's see some examples:

(ちか)(まち)

A nearby town

(ちか)くない()(しょ)

A place not close

美味(おい)しいアイスクリーム

A good ice cream

美味(おい)しかった(りょう)()

A tasty dish (which was tasty)

(しん)(せつ)(ひと)

A kind person

(しん)(せつ)だった人

A kind person (who had been kind)

(むず)かしくなかったテスト

A not difficult exam (which was not difficult)

(ゆう)(めい)な人 (a famous singer)

(ゆう)(めい)じゃない人 (an unknown singer)

(ゆう)(めい)だった人 (a singer who was famous)

(ゆう)(めい)じゃなかった人 (a singer who was not famous)

Predicative form for "na" adjectives

Now let's see the predicative function of adjectives, when they are placed at the end of the sentence and assume the function of predicate.

It is a very simple conjugation as only the position of the elements changes, but the form remains exactly the same as in the attributive use:

(まち)(ちか)いだ

The city is nearby

()(しょ)(ちか)くない

The place is not far away

(ひと)(しん)(せつ)

The person is kind

テストは(むず)かしくなかった

The exam was not difficult

The suffix "na" is replaced by だ (the verb to be)

あの歌手は有名だ (that singer is famous)

あの歌手は有名じゃない (that singer is not famous)

あの歌手は有名だった (that singer was famous)

あの歌手は有名じゃなかった (that singer was not famous)

Polite form for adjectives in "na"

For the polite conjugation it is enough to substitute the polite forms of the verb だ (to be):

  • です (Not past)

  • じゃありません (Negative not passed)

  • でした (Past)

  • じゃありませんでした (Past negative)

あの()(しゅ)(ゆう)(めい)です。

That singer is famous.

あの(まち)はとても(しず)かでした。

That city was very quiet.


Here are some sentences in which various adjectives appear in various forms: let's try to recognize their forms!

今日(きょう)(さむ)()だ。

Today is a cold day.

あの()(しゅ)(ゆう)(めい)だ。

That singer is famous.

あの(まち)はとても(しず)かだった。

That city was really quite.

()(てき)(ふく)だ!。

What a beautiful dress!

(つめ)たい()(もの)()しい!。

I want a cold drink!

(たか)()(ちん)(ほん)(とう)()()

An expensive rent is really a waste.


That's all for this second introductory part on Japanese adjectives.

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