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What are adjectives?

An adjective is a word whose main role is to modify a noun or pronoun. Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns by giving more information about them. In other words, adjectives are used to describe a person, a place or a thing:

Let’s see examples in English of how adjectives modify the following nouns:

  • flower 
  • person


1. That is a pretty flower.

2. He is a kind person.

(In the first example, “pretty” is the adjective that is describing or giving more information about the noun ‘flower’. In example 2, “kind” is the adjective since it is describing or giving more information about the noun ‘person’.)

Now let’s take a look at how those same sentences are formed using adjectives in Japanese:

Adjectives in an English sentence Adjectives in a Japanese sentence
A. That is a pretty flower. A. sore wa kirei na hana desu.
B. He is a kind person. B. kare wa shinsetsu na hito desu.

As you can see by looking at the examples above, Japanese adjectives are similar to English adjectives in that they both serve the same purpose which is to modify/describe nouns.

That’s great news since that means that Japanese adjectives are not a hard concept to grasp since they function the same way English adjectives do!

Japanese Adjective Placement:

Japanese adjectives are usually placed right before the word it is describing. The same is true for English adjectives.

Japanese adj:    kireina hana

English adj:      pretty Flower

However, Japanese adjectives are not always placed directly before the noun it is describing, it can be placed after. In English we can place the adjective before or after the word it is describing, for example:Denyse love illustration amor sweet GIF

A. It is a pretty flower.
B. The flower is pretty.

The good news is that Japanese adjectives are as flexible as English adjectives in terms of their placement in a sentence in relation to the noun it is describing. So, just like English adjectives, Japanese adjectives can be placed before or after the noun it is describing.

A.   It is a pretty flower.  green checkmark small  |    A.  kirei na hana desu. green checkmark small
B.   The flower is pretty.  green checkmark small |    B.  sono hana wa kirei desu. green checkmark small


Okay, so far so good! We have learned that Japanese adjectives have the same function as English adjectives which is to describe a noun or a pronoun. We also learned that Japanese adjectives have flexible placement within a sentence and therefore can be placed before or after the word it is describing (Just like English adjectives can).

However, there is one major difference between Japanese and English adjectives…There are actually two types of adjectives in the Japanese language. This brings us to the next section!

Two types of Japanese adjectives:

The first peculiar thing you’ll learn about Japanese adjectives is that there are two types. You might have a puzzled look on your face since no such thing exists in the English language, but don’t worry, learning about Japanese adjectives and how to conjugate them just requires memorizing a set of rules and few exceptions to those rules.

  • The first type of Japanese adjectives are called “i-adjectives” since they end in the vowel (i).
Type 1: Type 2:
i-adjectives na-adjectives
  • The second type are called “na-adjectives” since they require the suffix (na) when placed before nouns.

Let’s take a look at some examples of (i) & (na) adjectives:

i-adjectives na-adjectives
ii = good benri na = convenient
ureshii = happy genki na = healthy, lively,energetic
isogashii = busy shinsetsu na = kind

Looking at the above table, you might be thinking to yourself :

okay, that’s easy enough! i-adjectives end in (i) and na-adjectives end in (na).

While that is the case 90% of the time, there are some exceptions to that rule.

Tom doesn’t like rule exceptions.

alert (1)Exceptions:

  • Not all adjectives that end in (i) are i-adjectives
    Not all adjectives that end in “i” are i-adjectives. So just because it ends in (i) doesn’t mean it’s an i-adjective, in fact a couple of adjectives that end in (i) are actually na-adjectives.
    For example, the adjective (genki) which means ‘healthy’ ends in (i), but is actually a na-adjective!
  • na-adjectives are not always written with the na-ending, however, they are still considered na-adjectives. For example, the adjective (benri) which means (convenient/ Useful) is still a na-adjective even without the -na ending.

    The rule goes as follows:

    If the na adjective is directly before the noun, then the -na ending must be added to the adjective.

    benri na mise
    a convenient store
    (We added  the -na to the adjective since it comes directly before the noun “store”)

    If the na adjective is not directly before a noun, then you do not add the -na ending to the adjective.

    kono waapuro wa taihen benri desu.
    This word processor is very useful.
    (Here, we did not add the -na ending to adjective “benri” since it is not directly before the noun “word processor”, instead benri comes after the noun, thus we do not need to add the -na ending to our adjective.)

  • Watch out for adjectives ending in (ei)
    While it is true that Japanese i-adjectives end in (i), they however, never end in the combination (ei). So if you come across and adjective like “kirei” which means (pretty;clean) remember that it’s automatically disqualified as an i adjective since it ends in (ei).

    Q. So, if “kirei” is not an i-adjective, then what is it?
    A. ‘kirei’ is actually a na-adjective, so make sure to add (na)!ex:
    kanojo wa kireina me wo shiteiru.
    She has pretty eyes.

All these exceptions can be confusing when you first start learning about Japanese adjectives, but give yourself time to expand your vocabulary and to become familiar with these exceptions. Until then, here are some tips that will help you identify (i) and (na) adjectives:

General tips to identifying (i) and (na) adjectives

tip (1)  If the adjective ends in double “i” (ii), then it’s definitely an i-adjective:

i-adjectives  Meaning
kanashii sad
ureshii happy
ii good

tip (1)  If the adjective ends in the consonant (n), (a), (u), or (o) then it’s a na-adjective:

na-adjectives  Meaning
fuben na inconvenient
shizuka na  quiet
taisetsu na important

tip (1)  If the adjective ends in “ei” then it’s a na-adjective):

na-adjectives if ending in ei  Meaning
kirei na pretty, clean
yuumei na  famous
teinei na polite

There are na-adjectives that don’t follow any rules or logic, therefore they must be learned the old fashion way, that’s right, through memorization. The good news is that the majority of adjectives in the Japanese language are (i) adjectives, so you won’t be dealing with a large number of na-adjectives.

Below, is a list of na-adjectives for you to memorize.

(Only a few of the na-adjectives listed below are actually used daily in Japan, so don’t stress if you can’t remember them all right away!)


na adjectives Meaning
kirei na pretty
daiji na valuable, important
genki na healthy, well, energetic, lively(person)
yuumei na famous
fushigi na mysterious
iroiro na various
hima na free-time
rippa na splendid
suki na favorable
kirai na unlikeable, unfavorable
hen na strange
benri na convenient
taisetsu na precious
nigiyaka na lively, busy, bustling(place)
shizuka na quiet, silent
taihen na 1. immense 2.serious 3. difficult
kekkou na quite, fairly, well, fine
jouzu na skilled
heta na unskilled, poor, bad at
onaji na same, alike
raku na easy, comfortable
tanki na impatient, quick tempered
byouki na sick, ill
anzen na safe
kanzen na perfect
dame na no good
shitsurei na rude

Japanese adjective construction:

Now that you are familiar with the two types of adjectives in Japanese, let’s learn how properly use them in a sentence:

i-adjective Construction:

  • Place adjective directly before the noun it is modifying

adjective  +   noun

kawaii      +   onnanoko

example sentences:

1. kanojo wa kawaii onnanoko desu.
She is a pretty girl.

Japanese i-adjectives are as flexible as English adjectives! That means that the adjective can come before or after the noun it is modifying as shown below:

a.  It is a fast car. green checkmark small
b.  The car is fastgreen checkmark small

In example a, the adjective ‘fast’ comes directly before the noun it is modifying which is ‘car‘. In example b, the adjective comes after the noun.
Even though the adjective is placed in different positions in each sentence, both sentences are still grammatically correct in English.  The same case applies to Japanese adjectives. Let’s take a look:

a. hayai kuruma desu.
[It is a fast car.] green checkmark small

b. Sono kuruma wa hayai desu.
[The car is fast.] green checkmark small

na-adjective Construction:

  • Step 1: Place -na ending after the adjective
  • Step 2: Place noun after the na-adjective

adjective   +  na ending   +  noun

benri         +   na                  +  mise

example sentences:

1.  benri na mise.
     A convenient store.

2.  watashi wa yuumei na haiyuu desu.
I am a famous actor.

3. sore wa taisetsu na tegami desu.
This is an important letter.

exclamation-mark na adjectives require the -na ending when placed before a noun.

To modify or not to modify, that is the question.

When learning about Japanese adjectives it is important that you note that i-adjectives are written the same way every time regardless of whether it’s modifying a noun or not, as shown below:

Let’s use the i-adjective (minikui=ugly) as an example:

Not modifying a noun:
1. That is ugly.
Sore wa minikui desu.

Modifying a noun:
2. That is an ugly house.
Sore wa minikui ie desu.

exclamation-markThe adjective ‘minikui’ is written the same way regardless of whether it’s modifying a noun or not. This is the case for all i-adjectives!

na-adjectives on the other hand are written differently depending on whether the na-adjective is directly modifying a noun or not.

Let’s use the na-adjective (kirei=pretty) as an example:

Not modifying a noun
1. This is pretty.
kore wa kirei desu.

Modifying a noun
2. This is a pretty ring.
    kore wa kirei na yubiwa.

exclamation-markJust remember to add the -na suffix to the na-adjective if it is placed directly before the noun it is modifying (As shown in example 2: kirei na). If it’s not directly modifying a noun then leave the na-adjective in it’s basic form known as the dictionary form (As seen in example 1: kirei )


Conjugating Adjectives into the four tenses:

Reference list:

Here come examples of common i-adjectives for you to practice with. They are written in the 4 tenses covered in the video.

Present affirmative Present negative Past affirmative Past negative
takai = is expensive takakunai =is not expensive takakatta = was expensive takaku nakatta = was not expensive
yasui = is cheap yasuku nai = is not cheap yasukatta = was cheap yasuku nakatta = was not cheap
ureshii = is happy ureshiku nai = is not happy ureshikatta = was happy ureshiku nakatta = was not happy
oishii = is delicious oishiku nai = is not delicious oishikatta = was delicious oishiku nakatta = was not delicious
mazui = is bad tasting mazuku nai = is not bad tasting mazukatta = was bad tasting mazuku nakatta = was not bad tasting
kanashii = is sad kanashiku nai = is not sad kanashikatta = was sad kanashiku nakatta = was not sad
atsui = is hot atsuku nai = is not hot atsukatta = was hot atsuku nakatta = was not hot
samui = is cold samuku nai = is not cold samukatta = was cold samuku nakatta = was not cold
chiisai = is small chiisaku nai = is not small chiisakatta = was small chiisaku nakatta = was not small
ookii = is big ookiku nai = is not big ookikatta = was big ookiku nakatta = was not big
akarui= is bright akaruku nai = is not bright akarukatta = was bright akaruku nakatta= was not bright
kurai = is dark kuraku nai = is not dark kurakatta= was dark kuraku nakatta = was not bright
isogashii = is busy isogashiku nai = is not busy isogashikatta = was busy isogashiku nakatta = was not busy
tanoshii = is fun tanoshiku nai = is not fun tanoshikatta = was fun tanoshiku nakatta = was not fun
hayai = is fast hayaku nai = is not fast hayakatta = was fast hayaku nakatta = was not fast
osoi = is slow osoku nai = is not slow osokatta = was slow osoku nakatta= was not slow
ii = is good yoku nai = is not good yokatta = was good yoku nakatta = was not good
warui = is bad waruku nai = is not bad warukatta = was bad waruku nakatta = was not bad
atarashii = is new atarashiku nai = is not new atarashikatta = was new atarashiku nakatta = was not new
furui = is old furuku nai = is not old furukatta = was old furuku nakatta= was not old
yasashii = is easy yasashiku nai = is not easy yasashikatta = was easy yasashiku nakatta = was not easy
Muzukashii= is difficult Muzukashiku nai = is not difficult Muzukashikatta= was difficult Muzukashiku nakatta = was not difficult
omoshiroi = is interesting omoshiroku nai= is not interesting omoshirokatta= was interesting omoshiroku nakatta = was not interesting
tsumaranai = is boring tsumaranaku nai= is not boring tsumaranakatta= was boring tsumaranaku nakatta= was not boring
tooi = is far tooku nai = is not far tookatta = was far tooku nakatta = was not far
Chikai= is close
Chikaku nai = is not close Chikakatta = was close Chikaku nakatta= was not close
Itai= is painful Itaku nai= is not painful Itakatta = was painful Itaku nakatta = was not painful
Amai= is sweet Amaku nai = is not sweet Amakatta= was sweet Amaku nakatta= was not sweet
Suppai= is sour Suppaku nai= is not sour Suppakatta = was sour Suppaku nakatta = was not sour
Omoi = is heavy Omoku nai = is not heavy Omokatta = was heavy Omoku nakatta = was not heavy
Karui= is light Karuku nai = is not light Karukatta = was light Karuku nakatta = was not light
Semai = is narrow Semaku nai = is not narrow Semakatta = was narrow Semaku nakatta = was not narrow
hiroi = is wide hiroku nai = is not wide Hirokatta = was wide Hiroku nakatta = was not wide


Adverbial form of Japanese adjectives

Japanese adjectives can be turned into adverbs. In English an Adverb is used to express time (often),  manner (quickly),  place (inside),  degree (very).

Example of Adverbs:

  • Slowly = osoku
  • Quickly = hayaku
  • Quietly = shizuka ni

exclamation-markNote that Adjectives modify nouns (person, place, thing), While Adverbs modify verbs (actions)

How to construct the adverbial form of adjectives
The rules for how to turn and i-adjective into an adverb are different from the rules for turning a na-adjective into an adverb. Let’s go over their individual construction.

For i-adjectives
change (i) to (ku).

-Let’s practice with the (i) adjective hayai which means ‘quick,fast,early

  • hayai  first remove the final (i)
  • haya + ku  we are left with ‘haya’, now let’s add the (ku) ending.
  • hayaku  <—–Done! our i-adjective is now an adverb.

Example sentences:

1. hayaku kinasai.
Come here quickly.

2. Watashi no tomodachi wa itsumo osoku arukimasu.
My friend always walks slowly.

For na-adjectives
Change (na) to (ni)Let’s use the (na) adjective “jouzu na” which means ‘skillful, good at’

  • shizuka na
  • shizuka
  • shizuka ni  <—–Done! our i-adjective is now an adverb.

example sentences:

1. kanojo wa shizuka ni heya ni haitta.
She entered the room quietly.

2. kanojo wa jouzu ni uta wo utaimasu.
She sings well.

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