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形容詞 [けいようし] (adjectives)
    Meaning: Adjectives
    Example: 静かな人。- Quiet person; 高いビル。- Tall building
    JLPT Level: 0
    Category: lesson
    Author: TaeKim

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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. We will see how they are different and how they act in sentences.

The na-adjective

The na-adjective is very simple to learn because it acts essentially like a noun. In fact, they are so similar; you can assume that they behave the same way unless I specifically point out differences. 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.)
(1) 静か。- Quiet person.

In addition to this direct noun modification which requires a 「な」, you can also say that a noun is an adjective by using the topic or subject particle in a [Noun] [Particle] [Adj] sentence structure (for instance 「静か」) This is essentially the same thing as the state-of-being with nouns that we've already covered in the previous two sections. However, since it doesn't make sense for nouns to be adjective, you cannot have a [Adj] [Particle] [Noun] sentence structure (for instance 「静か」). This is pretty obvious because, for instance, while a person can be quiet, it makes no sense for quiet to be a person.

(1) 友達親切。- Friend is kind.

(2) 友達親切。- Friend is kind person.

Remember how na-adjectives act almost exactly the same as nouns? Well, you can see this by the following 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 subject and topic particle working in harmony. The sentence is about the topic "Bob" and the subject "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.)

(1) 好きなタイプ。- Type that likes fish.

(2) 好きじゃないタイプ。- Type that does not like fish.

(3) 好きだったタイプ。- Type that liked fish.

(4) 好きじゃなかったタイプ。- Type that did not like fish.

Here, the entire clause 「好き」、「好きじゃない」、etc. is modifying "type" to talk about types (of people) that like or dislike fish. You can see why this type of sentence is useful because 「タイプは好きだ。」 would mean "The type likes fish", which doesn't make much sense.

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.

(1) 好きじゃないタイプは、好きだ。
- Types (of people) who do not like fish likes meat.

The i-adjective

The i-adjective is called that because it always ends in the hiragana character 「い」. This is okurigana that will change as you conjugate the adjective. But you may know some na-adjectives that also end in 「い」 such as 「きれい(な)」. So how can you tell the difference? The bad news is there really is no way to tell for sure. However, the really good news is that I can only think of two examples of na-adjectives that end with 「い」 that is usually written in hiragana: 「きれい」 and 「嫌い」. All other na-adjectives I can think of that end in 「い」 is usually written in kanji and so you can easily tell that it's not an i-adjective. For instance, in the case of 「きれい」, which is 「綺麗」 or 「奇麗」 in kanji, since the 「い」 part of 「麗」 is encased in kanji, 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 having it affect the kanji. In fact, 「嫌い」 is the only na-adjective I can think of that ends in hiragana 「い」 without a kanji. This has to do with the fact that 「嫌い」 is actually derived from the verb 「嫌う」 Well, you can treat i-adjectives in the same fashion as the negative state of being for nouns. And just like the negative state of being for nouns, you cannot attach the declarative 「だ」 to i-adjectives like you can with nouns or na-adjectives.
Do NOT attach 「だ」 to i-adjectives.

Now that we got that matter cleared up, we can learn the conjugation rules for i-adjectives. There are two new rules for i-adjective conjugations. To negate or set to past tense, we first drop the 「い」, then add 「くない」 for negation or 「かった」 for past tense. Since 「くない」 ends in an 「い」, you can also treat the negative just like another i-adjective. Therefore, the rule for conjugating to negative past tense is the same as the rule for the positive past tense.
Conjugation rules for i-adjectives
  • Negative: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective and then attach 「くない」
  • 例) くない
  • Past-tense: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective or negative i-adjective and then attach 「かった」
  • 例) かった
  • 例) 高くな高くなかった
Summary of i-adjectives

You can directly modify nouns by just attaching the noun to the adjective.

(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.

You can also string multiple adjectives successively in any order in any form.

(1) 静か高いビル。- A quiet, tall building.

(2) 高くない静かビル。- A not tall, quiet building.

Note that you can make the same type of descriptive noun clause as we have done with na-adjectives. The only difference, of course, is that we don't need 「な」 to directly modify the noun. In the following example, the descriptive clause 「値段高い」 is directly modifying 「レストラン」.

(1) 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.

An annoying exception

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
Conjugation for 「かっこいい

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


(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!

Copyright © 2003-2006 Tae Kim (
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