Japanese basic grammar topic Adjectives


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


1.    静か しず・か (na-adj) - quiet

2.    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.    さかな - fish

7.    好き す・き (na-adj) - likable; desirable

8.    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.)


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.


1.    友達は親切
Friend is kind.

2.    友達は親切な人だ
Friend is kind person.

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


1.    ボブは魚が好き
Bob likes fish.

2.    ボブは魚が好きじゃない
Bob does not like fish.

3.    ボブは魚が好きだった
Bob liked fish.

4.    ボブは魚が好きじゃなかった
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.)


1.    魚が好きな
Person that likes fish.

2.    魚が好きじゃない
Person that does not like fish.

3.    魚が好きだった
Person that liked fish.

4.    魚が好きじゃなかった
Person that did not like fish.

Here, the entire clause 魚が好き」、「魚が好きじゃない」、etc. is modifying "person" to talk about people that like or dislike fish. You can see why this type of sentence is useful because 人は魚が好き 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.


1.    魚が好きじゃない人は、肉が好きだ
Person who does not like fish like meat.

2.    魚が好きな人は、野菜も好きだ
Person who likes fish also like vegetables.

The i-adjective


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.


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

1.     → かった

2.    高くな → 高くなかった









Summary of i-adjective conjugations


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.


·         値段が高いレストランはあまり好きじゃない
Don't like high price restaurants very much.

In this example, the descriptive clause 値段が高い is directly modifying レストラン.

An annoying exception


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.    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










Conjugation for かっこいい

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


1.    値段があんまりよくない
Price isn't very good.

2.    彼はかっこよかった
He looked really cool!


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Basic grammar

  • 1 :Addressing People
  • 2 :Adjective Practice Exercises
  • 3 :Adjectives
  • 4 :Advanced proximity of actions
  • 5 :Advanced Topics
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  • 46 :Polite Form and Verb Stems
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  • 49 :Review and more sentence-ending particles
  • 50 :Saying something is easy or difficult to do
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