Adjectives in Japanese, Japanese adjective, Japanese adjectivesAdjectives in Japanese, Japanese adjective, Japanese adjectivesAdjectives in Japanese, Japanese adjective, Japanese adjectivesAdjectives in Japanese, Japanese adjective, Japanese adjectives
How to speak Japanese

A Comprehensive Guide to Adjectives in Japanese

While learning the building blocks of Japanese is an important first step, it can be difficult to express yourself properly without the right adjectives. Japanese adjectives can help you describe yourself, tell stories, and get to know native speakers. They add depth and color to your sentences and can allow you to connect more deeply with whoever you’re speaking to. However, Japanese adjectives tend to be overlooked at first.

Many new speakers try to focus on learning the alphabet, memorizing kanji characters, and deciphering verb conjugation. But, if you really want to enhance your fluency, you need to dedicate some time to learning adjectives in Japanese. Over time, it will get easier, but to help you get started, here’s a comprehensive guide to learning adjectives in Japanese.

Japanese adjectives

How Do Adjectives Work in Japanese?

There are two distinct types of adjectives in Japanese, い (i) adjectives and な (na) adjectives. Although different, both sets follow the same rule with only one exception that varies between the two. This can make learning the inner workings of Japanese adjectives much easier. To begin, let’s take a deeper look at how adjectives work in Japanese.

Does the Adjective Come Before the Noun in Japanese?

Japanese adjectives will always come before the noun, just like in English. This means you don’t have to worry about trying to memorize varying word order for sentences. Whether you want to say tall man (長者) or green car (グリーンカー), the order is the same.

How to List Adjectives in Japanese

When you want to use more than one Japanese adjective in a sentence, you can use a list format similar to English. You’ll need to add all of the adjectives in their conjugated form, except for the last one in the list. For example,

  • あのホテルは古くて、暗くて、汚かった。— The hotel was old, dark, and dirty.

In this example, we use old (古), dark (暗い), and dirty (淫ら) as three separate adjectives. You can see them expressed in the list above after being conjugated. To better understand how to do this, let’s learn more about how to conjugate Japanese adjectives.

Understanding Japanese Adjective Conjugation

Another key element of learning adjectives in Japanese is understanding the difference between い adjectives and な adjectives and how to conjugate them. While flashcards can help with rote memorization, one of the best ways to help solidify your understanding of Japanese adjectives is to download Tandem and match with a native speaker. This will give you real-world practice and a better understanding of how to incorporate adjectives naturally in your communication. Let’s explore both types below.

How to Conjugate い Adjectives in Japanese

い adjectives are considered “true” or “pure” adjectives and always end in the character い from the Japanese alphabet. However, not all adjectives that end in い are considered true adjectives. They can be used both to describe a noun or on their own. Some examples include:

  • 寒い — cold
  • 速い — fast
  • 甘い — sweet
  • 新しい — new
  • 面白い — interesting

Conjugating い adjectives in Japanese is what makes this form unique. Doing so will take the plain form of a word and change its tense. Luckily, if you know how to conjugate verbs in Japanese, conjugating adjectives is a breeze. With the exception of one rule, conjugating い adjectives all follow the same rule. Consider the table below on how to conjugate the Japanese adjective 速い (fast).

Present (is fast)速い速いです
Present Negative (isn’t fast)速くない速くありません
Past (was fast)速かった速かったです
Past Negative (wasn’t fast)速くなかった速くありません でした

How to Conjugate the Only Irregular Japanese Adjective

In Japanese, there’s only one irregular adjective, which is いい (good). Although it’s in the Japanese script of hiragana, it’s often written in kanji as 良い. Therefore, it follows the same rules of conjugation as い adjectives. You can view this conjugation for 良い(good) in the table below.

Present (is good)良い良いです
Present Negative (isn’t good)良くない良くありません
Past (was good)良かった良かったです
Past Negative (wasn’t good)良くなかった良くありませんでした

How to Conjugate な Adjectives in Japanese

な adjectives are considered “quasi” adjectives of “adjectival-nouns.” These types of adjectives can end in various characters, some of them even end in い. What sets these Japanese adjectives apart is the use of な. When used in a sentence, な will always appear between the adjective and the Japanese noun cases. If no noun precedes the Japanese adjective, the な can be dropped. Some examples include:

  • 元気 — healthy or lively
  • きれい — pretty or clean
  • 好き — favorite
  • 静か — quiet
  • 有名 — famous

Another thing to be aware of is that in some instances, い adjectives can change to な adjectives. However, this is usually only done in songs or poetry, so don’t worry about tackling that understanding just yet. For now, practice differentiating between the two and understanding conjugation.

To learn how to conjugate な adjectives in Japanese, let’s look at 元気 (healthy or lively) in various tenses below.

Present (is lively)元気だ元気です
Present Negative (isn’t lively)元気ではない元気ではありません
Past (was lively)元気だった元気でした
Past Negative (wasn’t lively)元気ではなかった元気ではありませんでした

Japanese adjectives

A List of Common Japanese Adjectives

One of the best ways to get started learning Japanese adjectives is to consider which adjectives you regularly use in English. This will give you a good starting point for the common Japanese adjectives that will be most beneficial to your situation. To help, consider the following list of the most common Japanese adjectives to learn.

  • 大きい — big
  • せまい — small
  • 良い — good
  • 悪い — bad
  • きれい — pretty or clean
  • 穢い — dirty
  • 美しい — beautiful
  • 醜い — ugly
  • おもな — important
  • 慌ただしい — busy
  • 安らか — quiet
  • 煩い — loud
  • 高い — expensive
  • 安い — cheap
  • ふるき — old
  • 新しい — new
  • 熱臭い — hot
  • 寒冷 — cold
  • 弱い — weak
  • 強い — strong
  • 背が高い — tall
  • 背が低い — short
  • 金のない — broke
  • 親切 — kind

While trying to understand the various Japanese adjectives can seem like an impossible task, the hardest part is getting started. Once you begin to memorize commonly used adjectives and how they’re conjugated, incorporating them into your sentences will become second nature. To help you practice, try communicating with a native speaker! At Tandem, we give individuals an opportunity to pair with like-minded Japanese speakers to work towards fluency and foster new friendships.

Tandem is a unique language learning platform with a community of learners around the world. All you need to do is sign up, download the app, match with a native Japanese speaker, and start communicating. You’ll work together to teach each other your native language while continuing to perfect the pronunciation and grammar needed for fluency. Tandem works to help our members foster a deeper understanding of language while improving fluency and building long-lasting friendships. To join our community and work on your fluency, sign up for Tandem today.

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