Japanese Adjectives

From a syntactic sense, the Japanese language does not actually have adjectives. Rather, there are a number of "psuedo-adjectives": words that can behave in the way we think of adjectives. There are four types:

Adjectives can also be used in two ways, just like in English:

"i" and "na" Adjectives

Most words that strike you as an adjective are either in the i-adjective category or na-adjective category.

  • Note that many of these "conjugations" involve the conjugations of "da" and "desu."
  • Note that many verb conjugations use i-adjectives, like "nai," "tai," and "nikui," which can be conjugated themselves like below.
  • Although ii, "good," is an i-adjective, it is originally derived from "yoi" and its stem when conjugated becomes "yo." For example, the past tense is "yokatta."

「 i 」 Adjectival Verbs

i-adjectives are considered a special closed-class of verbs because they can conjugate directly. Because they can conjugate to demonstrate aspect, you cannot use "da" with them. However, they cannot convey politeness on their own, so you can use "desu" after them.

i-adjectives, in their present tense, always end with the hiragana い. The only adjectives that end in い and are not i-adjectives are きれい ("kirei", clean) and 嫌い ("kirai", hate).

  • Stemhaya
Plain (hover for examples)
  • Attributive Present (u form)hayai [noun]
  • Terminal Present (u form)hayai
  • Negativehayaku nai
  • Past (ta-form)hayakatta
  • Past Negativehayaku nakatta
Polite (hover for examples)
  • Presenthayai desu
  • Negativehayaku nai desu or hayaku arimasen
  • Pasthayai deshita
  • Past Negativehayaku nakatta desu or hayaku arimasen deshita
Other (hover for examples)
  • Imperfective (a form)hayaku
    • Ookiku nakereba naranai. (It has to be big.)
    • Ookiku nakute mo ii. (It doesn't have to be big.)
    • Ashita wa samuku nakereba ikimashou. (If it's not cold tomorrow, let's go.)
    • Kono pasokon ga hoshiku nakereba, betsu no mise ni ikimashou. (If you don't want this computer, let's go to another store.)
  • Continuative (i form)haya (+sa for -nai adjectives)
    • Tanoshisou! (Sounds fun!)
    • Yokunasasou (Doesn't sound good)
    • Kono o-cha wa atsusugiru! (This tea is too hot!)
    • Kyou no shiken wa muzukashisugita. (Today's test was too difficult.)
  • Hypothetical (e form)hayakere
  • Volitional (o form)hayakarou
  • Participle (te form)hayakute
    • ookikute otonashii inu (a big, gentle dog)
    • ookikute kirei de otonashii uma (a big, beautiful, gentle horse)
    • Sukoshi furukute mo ii. (It's all right if it's a little old.)
    • Kantan de nakute mo ii. (It doesn't have to be simple.)
  • Adverbhayaku [verb]
  • Objectivizationhayasa ("speed")
    • Kare no yasashisa wa doko kara kuru deshou. (Where does his kindness come from?)
    • Kono oishisa wa sugurete iru! (This deliciousness is outstanding!)

「 n 」 Adjectival Nouns

na-adjectives are nouns that use "da/desu" to act like an adjective. For example, yuumei" is a noun that means "fame." Because they are nouns, they cannot show aspect or politeness themselves, so we must use "da" or "desu" to complete the phrase.

na-adjectives do not end in "na." They are named after the "na" verb-remnant (a contraction of "ni aru"), which they only use when they are attributive (in front of a noun). Keep in mind that n-adjs can end with an "i," such as "yuumei" 有名.

  • Stem (noun)yuumei
Plain (hover for examples)
  • Attributive Present (u form)yuumei na [noun]
  • Terminal Present (u form)yuumei da
  • Negativeyuumei dewa/ja nai
  • Past (ta form)yuumei datta
  • Past Negativeyuumei dewa/ja nakatta
Polite (hover for examples)
  • Presentyuumei desu
  • Negativeyuumei dewa arimasen
  • Pastyuumei deshita
  • Past Negativeyuumei dewa arimasen deshita
Other (hover for examples)
  • Imperfective (a form)yuumei de
    • Kantan de nakereba naranai. (It has to be simple.)
    • Kantan de nakute mo ii. (It doesn't have to be simple.)
  • Continuative (i form)yuumei
    • Kanojo wa kechi sugiru kara, tomodachi ga inai. (She doesn't have any friends because she's too stingy.)
  • Conditional (e form)yuumei nara
  • Volitional (o form)yuumei darou
  • Participle (te form)yuumei de
    • kantan de benri na kamera (a simple, handy camera)
    • ookikute kirei de otonashii uma (a big, beautiful, gentle horse)
    • Kyou no jugyou wa totemo fukuzatsu de, soshite totemo nagakatta desu. (Today's lesson was very complicated, and also very long.)
  • Adverbyuumei ni [verb]
  • Objectivizationyuumeisa ("famousness")

"no" Adjectives

no-adjectives are all nouns, but na-adjectives are a subset of nouns that have a tendency to use "na" instead of "no." Conjugated, no-adjectives are exactly like na-adjectives, except that they use "no" in their attributive present form.

Although it can sometimes be tricky to tell when a noun should use "na" instead of "no," most of the time the following can only use "no:"

  • Pronouns: like "me" and "her" (possession), "this" and "that", and "who" and "what"
  • Distributives: describe a single object within a group, like "another" and "next"
  • Numerals: like "2" and "5", and "a few" and "many"
  • Proper Nouns: like "Japan" and "Japanese (language)"
  • Qualifiers: including materials like "brick (house)" and "apple (pie)" or purpose like "sports"
  • Colors: like "red" and "green" (white, black, red, blue, and yellow also have i-adjective forms, but all other colors are no-adjectives)
  • Concrete: like "family"; in English, consider the difference between "familial" (an adjective based on a noun) and "family" (a noun that can be used as an adjective). "Familial" describes something that has to do with the concept of family, but "family" describes something more concrete, like "a family friend."
  • Some terms are so common that they often drop the "no." For example, to say "Japanese person" would be "nihonjin," but "Japanese cat" would still be "nihon no neko."

"f" Adjectives

There is a category of pseudo-adjectives in Japanese that many sources classify as "adj-f." I am not sure what the "f" stands for, but these "adjectives" are really just normal verbs being used as a relative clause to describe the noun that follows.

In English, a relative clause is usually used with the word "that" (to specify) or "which" (to describe). For example, "the cat that is fat [...]" or "the cat, which is fat, [...]." In Japanese, relative clauses are formed simply by putting the verb directly before the noun, just like an adjective.

The Japanese verb for "to get fat" is futoru and the past tense would be futotta, so the aforementioned clause would be translated as "futotta neko," "the cat that got (and therefore is) fat."

Although many of these "relative clause" adjectives take the past tense of a verb, even when talking in present tense, some of them more often use the continuous state: that is, the te-form followed by "iru." For example, okoru means "to get angry," but "angry cat" is most often written as "okotte iru neko," "the cat that is currently angry."

For more examples of relative clauses, please view the Clauses Page.

  • Remember that since relative clauses go in front of a noun, they are used attributively. Polite verbs cannot be used attributively, so even if you are speaking politely, you must use plain tense for f-adjectives.