So you have started learning Japanese. You already know the basics like how to greet someone and introduce yourself. But now you want to learn more about Japanese grammar. Knowing how to use Japanese adjectives in your daily conversations will make your speech brighter and more interesting to the listener.
I am going to explain to you Japanese adjectives in a simple way! Also, I will share my personal experiences learning Japanese adjectives! Follow the five steps to start using Japanese adjectives like a native!
This article "Guide to Japanese Adjectives" is a part of our extensive series of self-study guides on Studying Japanese.
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Step 1 to Japanese Adjectives: You already know 100 Japanese adjective words.
Do you know what ホット(hotto) or ソフト (sofuto) is in English? Yes, you guessed right! ホット(hotto) is hot, and ソフト (sofuto) is soft. Well, you know these words because ホット(hotto) and ソフト (sofuto) are borrowed from the English language. Moreover, the Japanese borrowed some words from English and other languages like Dutch, French, and German. These words are called Garaigo. Here is a list of Garaigo adjectives:
- ピンク(pinku) pink
- オレンジ (orenji) orange
- ホワイト (howaito) white
- ブラック (burakku) black
- グレイ (gurei) grey
- ネービー (ne-bi-) navy
- ゴルド (gorudo) gold
- シルバー (shiruba-) silver
- ファスト (fasuto) first
- スロー (suro-) slow
- クイック (kuikku) quick
- イブニング (ibuningu) evening
- ナイト (naito) night
- セカンド (sekando) second
- モーニング(mo-ningu) morning
- オートマティ ック(o-tomathi kku) automatic
- デジタル (dejitaru) digital
- ヘルシー(herushi-) healthy
- フレッシュ (furesshu) fresh
- デリシャス (derishasu) delicious
- セクシー (sekushi-) sexy
- パーソナル (pa-sonaru) personal
- ファンタジック (fantajikku) fantastic
- ユニック(unikko) unique
- エモい (emoi) emotional
- ソフト (sofuto) soft
- ビッグ (biggu) big
- ホット (hotto) hot
Once you have checked this list of Japanese adjectives, you can feel confident that you already know 10% of everyday adjectives. Most of the Garaigo are な-adjectives, but there are some exceptions like エモい (emoi) adjectives. Also, some of the Garaigo adjectives have become slang words that are commonly used in social media. Some examples may include エモい (emoi, emotional) チルイ (chirui, chill) and グロい (guroi, grotesque). If you spend a lot of time on social media and would like to learn more about Japanese slang, read this article, "Guide to Japanese Slang"
Step 2 to Japanese Adjectives: What are adjective groups?
In the Japanese language, there are only two types of adjectives: い-adjectives and な-adjectives. い-adjectives have a Japanese origin, and な-adjectives have a Chinese origin. How do you differentiate between them? The truth is that it is surprisingly easy to see the difference between the two groups. You just have to look at the ending of the word. Take a look at the example below of Japanese adjectives:
おいしい (oishii) tasty
きれいな (kireina) beautiful
The first word おいしい ends with an い, therefore it is an い-adjective. The second word きれいな ends with a な. Therefore, it is a な-adjective. See? That is not so hard to remember, is it? It just takes a little practice and a little patience! Here are a couple more examples of Japanese adjectives to help you make a start:
やすい (yasui) cheap
やさしい (yasashii) kind
かわいい (kawaii) cute
おおきい (ookii) big
きれいな (kireina) beautiful
すてきな (sutekina) wonderful
ユニックな (yunikku) unique
しずかな (shizukana) quite
ゆうめいな (yumeina) famous
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Step 3 to Japanese Adjectives: All you need to know about い-adjectives
い-adjectives: Present tense
There are two functions of い-adjectives. The first function is describing nouns, for example:
Adjective + い + Noun
おもしろいほん (omoshiroi hon) interesting book
おいしいケーキ (oishii ke-ki) tasty cake
ちいさいこども (chiisai kodomo) small child
In these examples, all the adjectives come before the noun, and it can be shown as Adjective-い + Noun. The い-ending should be kept.
The second function of い-adjectives is a predicate to the sentence. In other words, the adjective takes the verb position in the sentence. Here are some examples:
Noun は Adjective い です。
ほんはおもしろいです。 (hon wa omoshiroi desu) The book is interesting.
ケーキはおいしいです。 (ke-ki wa oishii desu) The cake is tasty.
こどもはちいさいです。(kodomo wa chiisai desu) The child is small.
い-adjectives: Present tense, negative state
Making い-adjectives negative (e.g. not interesting) is also quite easy. Take a look at the following structure:
(tanoshii/ tanoshikunai) fun/not fun
To transform い-adjectives in negative form, omit the ending い. Then instead of ending い insert くない. Let’s look at a few more examples:
あぶない (abunai) dangerous
(abunakunai) not dangerous
あかい (akai) red
( akakunai) not red
あまい (amai) sweet
(amakunai) not sweet
おもしろい (omoshiroi) interesting
(omoshirokunai) not interesting
わかい (wakai) young
(wakakunai) not young
And here are some example sentences to give you a clearer picture:
(kyou wa atsukunai desu)
Today was not hot.
(zenzen muzukusikunai shukudai desu)
The homework was not difficult at all.
(omoshirokunai eiga ga mimashita)
I watched an uninteresting movie.
い-adjectives: Past tense
Similar to the steps I mentioned before, to use い-adjectives in the past tense, い-ending should be omitted, and かった should be added to show the affirmative state of past tense. Here are a few examples in action:
(semai/semakatta) was narrow
(hayai/hayakatta) was fast
(mazui/mazukatta) was bad tasting
(yasui/yasukatta) was cheap
Have a look on sentence examples:
(kinou no semina- wa omoshiro katta)
Yesterday’s seminar was interesting.
(nihongo shiken wa muzukashikatta)
Japanese exam was difficult.
い-adjectives: Past tense, negative state
To show the negative form in the past tense, the い-ending should be omitted and くなかった should be added. It is similar to the negative form in the present tense, くない represents negative state and かった represents the past tense. Check out these examples:
（ suzushikunakatta）was not cool
(semakunakatta) was not narrow
(hayakunakatta) was not fast
(mazukunakatta) was not bad tasting
(yasukunakatta) was not cheap
And here are some more sentence examples:
(konsa-to no chiketto wa takaku nakatta)
Concert's ticket was not expensive.
(sono kissaten niwa ko-hi ga oishikunakatta)
Coffee in that coffee shop was not tasty.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes, there is ... Luckily, there is only one exception for Japanese adjectives! The word いい（good）is an irregular い-adjective. It will conjugate in the following way:
|Present affirmative||いい (ii) or よい (yoi)||good|
|Present negative||よくない (yokunai)||not good|
|Past affirmative||よかった (yokatta)||was good|
|Past negative||よくなかった (yokunakatta)||was not good|
This rule is also applies to the word かっこいい (kakkoii, good-looking) , and it conjugated in the same way as いい or よい. Take a look: :
|Present affirmative||かっこいい (kakkoii)||handsome, good-looking (guy)|
|Present negative||かっこよくない (kakkoyokunai)||not handsome|
|Past affirmative||かっこよかった (kakkoyokatta)||was handsome|
|Past negative||かっこよかった (kakkoyokatta)||was not handsome|
Remember! Try not to confuse いい with the word かわいい (kawaii, cute/pretty). These are different words. かわいい is not an exception and it should be conjugated as い-adjective with the same rules mentioned earlier. Check this out:
|Present affirmative||かわいい (kawaii)||cute, pretty|
|Present negative||かわいくない (kawaikunai)||not cute|
|Past affirmative||かわいかった (kawaikatta)||was cute|
|Past negative||かわいくなかった (kawaikunakatta)||was not cute|
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Step 4 to Japanese Adjectives: All you need to know about な-adjectives
な-adjectives: Present tense
な-adjectives are also used to describe nouns or to take the verb position in a sentence when you are describing a noun. な-adjectives can function as a noun and serve as the subject or object of a sentence. Below are some examples of the descriptive function of な-adjectives:
Adjective + な + Noun
(anzenna bashyo) safe place
(shizukana kafe) silent cafe
(benrina kuruma) convenient car
Also, it is important to note that if you use な-adjectives as a noun modifier, the な-ending should be kept, as it is shown in the examples above.
When a な-adjective functions as the predicate of a clause and comes at the end of a sentence, it describes the sentence's subject. Check out these examples:
(kono kissaten wa shizuka desu)
This coffee shop is quiet.
(bakkupakku wa bakku yori benri desu)
Backpacks are more convenient than bags.
Rule 1: If the な-adjective comes at the end of a sentence, the な-ending should be omitted. You can see this in the examples provided above if you’re not sure.
Another way to say it is if the な-adjective has a modifies (basically, comes before) a noun, the な-ending is kept which you can see below:
(obaasan wa genki na hito desu)
A grandmother is an energetic person.
(obaasan wa genki desu)
Grandmother is energetic.
In sentences 1 and 2 , the な-adjective has a descriptive role . In sentence 3, the な-adjective is a predicate. Therefore, the な-ending is omitted.
な-adjectives: Present tense, negative state
な-adjectives become their negative forms in the same way that nouns do. Let’s take a look!
flower/ not flower
beautiful/ not beautiful
As you can see, the process is similar, but there is one minor difference. To make な-adjectives negative, you have to omit the な-ending and then add じゃない or ではない at the end. Also, note that choosing between じゃない or ではない depends on the speech style. じゃない form is casual, and ではない is polite form. Here are some examples:
And here are a few sentences to help you see them in action:
(genkijyanai kedo, gakkou ni itta)
I was not energetic, but I went to school.
(watashi wa amaimono ga sukidewanai desu)
I do not like sweets.
(kare no heya wa itsumo kireijyanai desu)
His room is always unclean.
な-adjectives: Past tense
Using な-adjectives in the past tense is the same as it is for nouns. To indicate the past tense for な-adjectives, you just have to use だった or でした at the end. Depending on the speech style, you will use だった in casual conversations with friends and でした as a more polite way of speaking.
(ninkina/ninkidatta) popular/ was popular
(ninkina/ninkideshita) popular/ was popular
Here are some in sentence examples:
(shyumatsu ga himadatta)
I was free on weekends.
(kinou jiko ga ate taihendeshita)
Yesterday, there was an accident, it was serious.
な-adjectives: Present tense, negative state
To use な-adjectives in the past negative form, you just have to add じゃなかった after the な-adjective stem without the な:
(taihenna/ taihenjyanakatta) was not tough
Check out sentence example:
(kodomo no koro, e wo kaku jyozujyanakatta)
When I was child, I was not good at drawing.
な-adjectives: Common mistakes
People often make the same common mistake with the word きれい, when learning Japanese adjectives. Many students think that it is an い-adjective because it ends with い. However, きれいな is actually a な-adjective, and it should follow all the rules for な-adjectives when changing it to negative, past, etc. — for instance, きれいなはな (kireina hana, beautiful flower). This is also the same for the word きらい (kirai) , which is also な-adjective—for example, きらいなひと (kiraina hito, hated person).
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Step 5 to Japanese Adjectives: Are there any tips for learning?
Don’t feel like you need to overstress and overexert your brain by learning 100 words a day everyday. You can start just by learning around 10-20 words per hour of study. Beginner learners really only need to get a grip on the essential vocabulary that you will use in everyday situations and a lot of textbooks are structured in a way that will help you gradually build your knowledge. Do not feel like you have to rush to memorize all the difficult words and all the words that you barely have any use for. You probably will not remember them until you really need them anyway! In my experience, the words I remembered quickest and easiest are the ones that I saw or heard a couple of times in different situations. Once you learn a new word, try to use it in conversation with your friend, teacher, or in a journal.
But do you want to know the real secret? Just be consistent in learning new vocabulary every day and reviewing. For me , I usually set myself a reminder "Time to study" on my phone with little notes reminding me WHY I was studying. These little reminders like ‘Time to study some Japanese adjectives from the Doraemon manga’ would help me keep the reasons I wanted to learn Japanese at the forefront of my mind. I made it a habit to learn 10 new words a day and always tried to go over words that I had memorized before the day before. I also tried using a bunch of study apps which were really useful in helping keep things interesting! If you aren’t sure which app is right for you, there is an absolutely fantastic list of study apps here: "The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Learning Apps."
Finally, learn words depending on your Japanese knowledge level. There are different levels between N1, and N5. N1 is considered to be the advanced level and N5 is for beginners. Here is the list of the Japanese adjectives you need to know:
Japanese adjectives for N2 level
Japanese adjectives for N1 level
There is no specific list.
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To Sum up
In this lesson, you have gone through five steps on how to learn Japanese adjectives (い-adjectives and な-adjectives), how to use them in the present and past tenses, and in an affirmative or negative state. Don’t forget about the exceptions いい and かっこいい! Also, remember that かわいい is not an exception and it follows the rules of い-adjectives. Words like きれいな and きらいな are commonly confused with い-adjectives when the な-ending is omitted so please remember it is a な-adjective and should be conjugated as a な-adjective.
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