Adjectival Nouns I 形容動詞①

第15課: Adjectival Nouns I 形容動詞①

Apart from true adjectives (keiyōshi 形容詞), words known as “adjectival nouns” also describes attributes. Some can be used as true nouns, some may seldom function as true nouns, while others are purely adjectival. In any case, they use the copula verb to conjugate when they behave as adjectives. First, let’s look at two words. 

■Situation 1: Seldom Noun-like~Purely Adjectival

The first word, kantan 簡単, means “simple/easy,”, but because it can’t conjugate on its own, its predicative form (終止形) is kantan-da 簡単だ. For adjectival nouns, the attributive form (連体形) is not identical the the predicative form (終止形). When placed before a noun, da だ changes to na な. Why these forms look different for adjectival nouns but not for adjectives is the result of sound changes over time.

i. その説明は簡単だ。(Shūshikei 終止形)
Sono setsumei wa kantan-da.
That explanation is simple. 

ii. 簡単な説明だ。(Rentaikei 連体形)
Kantan-na setsumei da.
(It’s) a simple explanation.

Kantan 簡単 heavily leans toward being used as an adjective. Dictionaries still list it as potentially being a noun, but such contexts are always special.

iii. 簡単が一番!
Kantan ga ichiban!
‘Easy’ is the best!

■Situation 2: Completely Dual-Natured as Either Noun or ‘Adjective’

Next, consider the wordbaka バカ, which means, “idiot/stupid.” In English, “idiot” is a noun and “stupid” is an adjective. Simply put, in Japanese it is both a noun and an adjectival noun. 

iii. 山田君は、バカだね。
Yamada-kun wa, baka(-)da ne.
Yamada-kun, you’re sure an idiot.
Yamada-kun sure is stupid, huh.

Although we will still be going over the non-past, past, and negative forms, because we have already technically learned how to conjugate them when we learned about the copula, this lesson will primarily focus on grammar. With that being said, let’s review the grammar terms we’ll need for this discussion!

  • PredicateThe part of a sentence that makes a statement about the subject. 
  • AuxiliaryAn ending that helps construct verbal conjugations.
  • Adjective:   A word that describes an attribute. 
  • Adjectival Noun:  A word that describes an attribute while also being noun-like.
  • Base: One of the six forms that a verb may take which is then followed by endings (auxiliaries, etc.). 
  • Terminal/Predicative FormKnown in Japanese as the Shūshikei 終止形, it marks the end of a complete sentence/the predicate. 
  • Attributive FormKnown in Japanese as the Rentaikei 連体形, it is used to make a verb, adjective, etc. into a modifier that goes directly before a noun. 
  • Basic Form: The basic form of any given phrase utilized in plain speech as well as in many grammatical circumstances. The basic form in the context of adjectival nouns specifically refers to the attributive form because the adjectival nature of these words is indisputable when placed before a noun.
  • Continuative Form: Known in Japanese as the Ren’yōkei 連用形 , it is used with endings pertaining to actions being carried out.

Terminology Note: The Japanese term “keiyōdōshi 形容動詞”  literally translates to “adjectival verb,” viewing the copula verb as a helper verb. Although the term “na-type adjectives” (na-keiyōshi ナ形容詞) is commonly used instead, “keiyōdōshi 形容動詞” will be used as this is how Japanese speakers refer to them.

The Non-Past Forms (Plain/Polite) 非過去形(常体・丁寧体)

Adjectival nouns are not typically interpreted as being in the future tense without additional grammar/context. Aside from this point, everything for the non-past tense has been showcased already, but the chart below summarizes this with examples.

MeaningBasic/Attributive Form 
(+-na な)
 Predicative Form
(+-da だ)
 Predicative Form (Polite)
(+ –desu です)
 Safe Anzen(-na) 安全(な) Anzen-da 安全だ Anzen-desu 安全です
  HealthyKenkō(-na) 健康(な)Kenkō-da 健康だKenkō-desu 健康です
  Lively/Well Genki(-na) 元気(な) Genki-da 元気だ Genki-desu 元気です
  Convenient Benri(-na) 便利(な) Benri-da 便利だ Benri-desu 便利です
 Inconvenient Fuben(-na)不便(な) Fuben-da 不便だ Fuben-desu 不便です

Spelling Note: A hyphen is placed in between the adjectival noun and the copula to indicate that they are joined. When a word is used as a noun before the copula, no hyphen will be used. This will hold true for any conjugation.

Vocabulary Notes:

Anzen 安全 may also be used as a noun to mean “safety.”
②健康 may also be used as a noun meaning “(physical) health.” 

In the examples below, the adjectival noun will be marked with either “adjectival” or “nominal” to indicate how it functions in the sentence.

1. 病院は安全です。 (Adjectival)
Byōin wa anzen-desu.
The hospital is safe./Hospitals are safe.

2. 安全第一!(Nominal)
Anzen Dai-Ichi!
Safety First!

3. チェコ語は簡単だ。(Adjectival)
Chekogo wa kantan-da.
Czech is easy.

4. (私たちの)健康は大切です。(Nominal)
(Watashitachi no) kenkō wa taisetsu-desu.
(Our) health is important.

5. 元気な子供ですね。(Adjectival)
Genki-na kodomo desu ne.
The child/children are sure full of energy, huh.

6. 私の歯は健康です。(Adjectival)
Watashi no ha wa kenkō-desu.
My teeth are healthy.

7. 毎日の生活で不便なことは何ですか。(Adjectival)
Mainichi no seikatsu de fuben-na koto wa nan desu ka?
What are inconvenient things in your everyday life?

Grammar Notes:
①The particle ka か marks a question. We’ll learn more about it in Lesson 19

②Even though mono もの means “thing,” when the “thing” is not a physical object, koto こと is used instead. 

8. ここは便利な店ですね。(Adjectival)
Koko wa benri-na mise desu ne.
This sure is a convenient store.

Phrasing Note: “Convenience store” is kombini コンビニ, a shortening of kombiniensu sutoa コンビニエンスストア. This may come as a surprise to Chinese speakers as 便利店 is their word for “convenience store.” Interestingly, the phrase benriya 便利屋 does exist in Japanese, but it refers to a “Jack of all trades.”  

Dropping the Copula

When an adjectival noun is in the predicative form and the copula is dropped, the resulting tone of the sentence is exclamatory. 

9. おお、見事(だ)!
Ō, migoto(-da)!
Oh, how splendid!

10. 僕は元気!
Boku wa genki!
I’m great!

The Existence of Two Attributive Forms: な vs である

Japanese allows entire sentences to modify a noun. So long as the modifier is to the left of what it modifies and so long as the speaker applies the correct grammatical glue – the “attributive form” – this statement is always true.  

When “another noun” modifies a noun, as opposed to an adjectival noun, you can’t just attach da だ because it isn’t the attributive form, BUT you can’t just use na な because it cannot link two nouns outright※(2).

In Lesson 9, we learned how da だ is a contraction. Unravel da だ, and you get de-aru である. This uncontracted form let’s you link nouns together(1), which functions as either the predicative form or the attributive form. 

11. 自民党の誰々が総理大臣である限り、何も変わらない。
Jimintō no daredare ga sōri daijin de-aru kagiri, nani mo kawaranai. 
As long as so-and-so in the LDP is the Prime Minister, nothing will change.

Although complex at first glance, the nominal (noun) phrase before de-aru である is an entire clause: [Jimintō no daredare ga sōri daijin]. The second noun is kagiri 限り meaning “limit/extent.” In this context, it translates like an adverb as “as long as.” 

De-aru である allows for noun-to-noun modification as we saw in Ex. 11 and may appear at the end of a sentence (Ex. 12), albeit in formal speech. Contrast this with da だ, which is only the predicative form (Ex. 12), but also with na な which isn’t used between two regular nouns (Ex. 14). Ex. 14 demonstrates that to join two simple nouns in an attributive relationship, you use the particle no のDe-aru である, on the other hand, is only appropriate when the nominal phrase before it can stand alone as a noun-predicate (Exs. 11, 13, 16)※ (1).

12. 男【である 〇・だ 〇】。
Otoko [de-aru/da]. 
(I/the person) is/am a man.

13. (性自認が)男【である 〇・ だ X・な X】人。
(Seijinin ga) otoko [de-aru 〇/da X/na X] hito. 

A person who(se gender identity) is male. 

14. 男【な X の 〇】人です。
Otoko [na X/no 〇] hito desu.
(I/the person) is/am a man. 

Nuance Note: 男の人 is the politer way to say 男. 

15. この地域は安全である。(Formal, written language※)
Kono chiiki wa anzen-de-aru.
This area is safe.

16. データが安全[である 〇・な X]ことを確認する。
Dēta ga anzen-[de-aru 〇/-na X] koto wo kakunin suru.
To confirm that data is safe.

17. 安全なデータ
Anzen-na dēta
Safe data

18. データが[安全な状態]にある。
Dēta ga [anzen-na jōtai] ni aru.
The data is in a safe state.

At first glance, it might seem as if de-aru である should be used, but dēta データ is actually the subject of the sentence and is NOT embedded in a modifier clause. When this is the case, na な is the correct attributive form. However, consider the following. 

19. 安全な状態
Anzen-na jōtai

A safe state

20. 安全である状態
Anzen-de-aru jōtai

The condition of being safe

These two examples showcase the difference in translation between the two attributive forms.  If you treat the adjectival noun more as a noun-predicate being used in the attributive sense, you get Ex. 20. If you are simply adding an adjectival noun to another noun, you get Ex. 19.

※(2) Although na な is marked as incorrect in Ex. 16, there are circumstances in which, confusingly enough, na な does replace de-aru である before a noun modifying clause. This is only seen in the spoken language or informal writing. The reason for this is thought to lie in how de-aru である sounds old-fashioned despite being grammatically necessary at times.

21. データが安全でないことが原因【な △・である 〇】ことがある。
Dēta ga anzen-de-nai koto ga gen’in [na /de-aru ] koto ga aru.

There are cases in which the cause is that the data is not safe.

The noun koto こと has a nominalization effect on what precedes it. Meaning, if what precedes it is not already a noun, it is now. With de-aru である conjugated into its negative form, na な cannot possibly be used in the first instance as it lacks negation. Because of koto こと’s nominalizing effect, it makes [dēta ga anzen-de-aru koto ga gen’in] a clause within a clause, and generally speaking, na な shouldn’t be grammatical in the second instance either for the same reason it can’t be in Exs. 11 and 16, but this replacement occurs in casual conversation nonetheless. Why?

In Ex. 11, what follows the second noun is a separate independent clause, and de-aru である is essentially holding together a rather complicated adverbial phrase. In Ex. 16, the de-aru koto であること phrase is the object of the sentence. These specific grammatical contexts are thought to block de-aru である from being replaced by na な in casual speech.

In Ex. 21,  [dēta ga anzen-de-aru koto ga gen’in [na △/de-aru 〇] koto ] is the subject of the sentence and the overall sentence structure is a basic existential sentence, whereas neither Ex. 11 nor Ex. 16 are existential in nature. This is actually the grammatical prerequisite for any overlap between na な and de-aru である. As for Ex. 13, that would imply that na な should be marked as △, which is the case.  

Speech Register Note: In mid-sentence, de-aru である is occasionally grammatically necessary as we have found. At the end of a sentence, it may give off either a formal, literary tone or a very pedantic tone if used in the spoken language.

The Past Tense Forms (Plain/Polite) 過去形(常体・丁寧体)

We’ve learned previously that the past tense forms of the copula are datta だった (plain) and deshita でした (respectively). In each case, the past tense marker –ta た follows the continuative form – “d(e)ari-” and “deshi-” respectively. 

Also, as we’ve learned, datta だった can be used to directly modify nouns but deshita でした cannot because  desu です forms lack an attributive form. 

If you are still wondering why plain forms such as datta だった can modify nouns, remember that all endings in plain speech possess a predicative form and an attributive form. Japanese has to have a means to allow for complex modifiers to attach a noun, and the attributive form is that glue

22. 綺麗[だった 〇・でした X] あたし 

Kirei-[datta 〇/deshita X] atashi
My once pretty self

23a. 食糧の確保が必要であった時代 (Formal, written language)
Shokuryō no kakuho ga hitsuyō-de-atta jidai
23b. 食料の確保が必要だった時代  (Written or Spoken)
Shokuryō no kakuho ga hitsuyō-datta jidai
23c. 食料の確保が必要でした時代 X (Incorrect)
Shokuryō  no kakuho ga hitsuyō-deshita jidai
Time period when the guarantee of a food supply was important

24. 簡単だった試験
Kantan-datta shiken
(A/the) exam that was easy

Exs. 22-24 show three deeply rooted differences in grammar between English and Japanese that can’t be overlooked. 

  1.  The past tense isn’t expressed by the affix “-ed” in English in either example, but the adjectives in Japanese ARE directly conjugated into the past tense. 
  2. Whereas the conjugated adjective directly modifies the following noun to the left of it thanks to the attributive form, English requires that a helper word like “when” go in between the noun and the modifying clause and that the modifying clause go to the right of the noun. The word order is completely opposite.
  3. The use of “self” over” I” is a matter of English pronoun use whereas Japanese pronouns are regular nouns that can be modified no differently than any other noun. 

Now that we have hashed out these grammar concerns, let’s look at some more adjectival nouns conjugated into the past tense in both plain and polite speech.

Meaning Basic FormPredicative/Attributive 
+-datta だった
Predicative Form Only
 +-deshita でした
Pretty/CleanKirei(-na) 綺麗(な)  Kirei-datta 綺麗だった Kirei-deshita 綺麗でした
NecessaryHitsuyō (-na) 必要(な)Hitsuyō -datta 必要だったHitsuyō-deshita必要でした
  Important Taisetsu(-na) 大切(な) Taisetsu-datta 大切だった Taisetsu-deshita 大切でした
  EssentialJūyō(-na) 重要(な) Jūyō-datta 重要だったJūyō-deshita 重要でした
 Crucial/Precious Daiji(-na) 大事(な) Daiji-datta 大事だった Daiji-deshita 大事でした
 Rude Shitsurei(-na) 失礼(な)  Shitsurei-datta 失礼だった  Shitsurei-deshita 失礼でした
 Fresh Shinsen(-na) 新鮮(な) Shinsen-datta 新鮮だった Shinsen-deshita 新鮮でした

Vocabulary Notes:

Taisetsu 大切,  jūyō 重要, and daiji 大事 can all translate as “important,” but they are not exactly the same.
Taisetsu 大切  refers to something that’s important in the sense that if the thing in question were lost, there would be harm felt on an emotional level. 
・ Jūyō 重要 refers to objective importance. 
Daiji 大事 refers to things/people you take special care to; it/they’re important to you. Or, it may be used as a noun meaning “serious matter/crisis.” 

25. 月は綺麗でした。
Tsuki wa kirei-deshita.
The moon was pretty.

26. 大切だった人
Taisetsu-datta hito
A person who was indispensable/important

27. 英語能力が重要でした。
Eigo nōryoku ga jūyō-deshita.

English proficiency was important.

28. まさに大事だった。
Masa ni daiji(-)datta.
It was a serious matter, exactly.

The Negative Forms (Plain/Polite) 否定形(常体・丁寧体)

Because we have already learned how the copula is conjugated, we will not be revisiting how each possible negative form is made. Instead, the chart below lists off the possible forms from least to most polite. Just remember the general observation that contractions are less formal. 

Meaning  Basic Form (Attributive) Negative Forms (Least to Most Polite)
StrangeHen(-na) 変(な)Hen-ja-nai 変じゃない
Hen-de-wa-nai 変ではないHen-ja-nai-desu 変じゃないですHen-de-wa-nai-desu 変ではないですHen-ja-arimasen 変じゃありませんHen-de-wa-arimasen 変ではありません
ExcellentYūshū(-na) 優秀(な)Yūshū-ja-nai 優秀じゃないYūshū-de-wa-nai 優秀ではないYūshū-ja-nai-desu 優秀じゃないです
Yūshū-de-wa-nai-desu 優秀ではないです
Yūshū-ja-arimasen 優秀じゃありませんYūshū-de-wa-arimasen 優秀ではありません
EnoughJūbun(-na) 十分(な)Jūbun-ja-nai 十分じゃない
Jūbun-de-wa-nai 十分ではないJūbun-ja-nai-desu 十分じゃないですJūbun-de-wa-nai-desu 十分ではないですJūbun-ja-arimasen 十分じゃありませんJūbun-de-wa-arimasen 十分ではありません
RealHontō(-na) 本当(な)Hontō-ja-nai 本当じゃないHontō-de-wa-nai 本当ではないHontō-ja-nai-desu 本当じゃないですHontō-de-wa-nai-desu 本当ではないですHontō-ja-arimasen 本当じゃありませんHontō-de-wa-arimasen 本当ではありません
ComplicatedFukuzatsu(-na) 複雑(な)Fukuzatsu-ja-nai 複雑じゃない
Fukuzatsu-de-wa-nai 複雑ではない
Fukuzatsu-ja-nai-desu 複雑じゃないです
Fukuzatsu-de-wa-nai-desu 複雑ではないです
Fukuzatsu-ja-arimasen 複雑じゃありません
Fukuzatsu-de-wa-arimasen 複雑ではありません

Vocabulary Notes:

① Yūshū 優秀 refers to someone’s skill(s) being exceptional. 

② Hontō 本当 can also mean “really” and may be used as a noun, adjective, or an adverb. It can also translate as “true” or “genuine.” 

29. この気持ちは変じゃない。
Kono kimochi wa hen-ja-nai.
This/these feeling(s) is/are not strange.

30. あれはもはや重要ではない。
Are wa mohaya jūyō-de-wa-nai.
That is no longer important.

31. あの人は優秀じゃありません。
Ano hito wa yūshū-ja-arimasen.
That person isn’t excellent/superb. 

The Negative-Past Forms (Plain/Polite) 過去の否定形(常体・丁寧体)

Because the plain and polite negative-past forms of adjectival nouns utilize the copula, we will forgo an etymological breakdown. Instead, the recap chart below will list variations from least to most polite. We will also forgo discussing why the polite forms can’t be used as attributes as the reasoning is the same as before.

MeaningBasic/Attributive Form Negative-Past Forms
(Least to Most Polite)
Dangerous Kiken(-na) 危険(な)Kiken-ja-nakatta 危険じゃなかったKiken-de-wa-nakatta 危険ではなかったKiken-ja-nakatta desu 危険じゃなかったですKiken-de-wa-nakatta desu 危険ではなかったですKiken-ja-arimasendeshita 危険じゃありませんでしたKiken-de-wa-arimasendeshita 危険ではありませんでした
 Appropriate Tekisetsu(-na) 適切(な)Tekisetsu-ja-nakatta 適切じゃなかったTekisetsu-de-wa-nakatta 適切ではなかったTekisetsu-ja-nakatta desu 適切じゃなかったですTekisetsu-de-wa-nakatta desu 適切ではなかったですTekisetsu-ja-arimasendeshita 適切じゃありませんでしたTekisetsu-de-wa-arimasendeshita 適切ではありませんでした

Vocabulary Note:
Kiken 危険 is synonymous with abunai 危ない, but the latter has a wider range of use.32. 野菜は新鮮じゃありませんでした。
Yasai wa shinsen-ja-arimasendeshita.
The vegetables weren’t fresh.

33. 全然失礼じゃなかったですよ。
Zenzen shitsurei-ja-nakatta-desu yo.
(He/she/you/that) wasn’t rude at all.

34. 記述は複雑じゃなかった。
Kijutsu wa fukuzatsu-ja-nakatta.
The description wasn’t complicated.

35. それは適切ではなかった。
Sore wa tekisetsu-de-wa-nakatta.
That was not appropriate.

36. あの町は危険じゃなかった。
Ano machi wa kiken-ja-nakatta.
That town wasn’t dangerous.

Native Adjectival Nouns  和語系の形容動詞

Some educators erroneously state that all adjectival nouns arose due to Chinese influence. Although it is true that most are Sino-Japanese in origin, native adjectival nouns have always existed.

Sometimes, an adjectival noun form is made by dropping /i/ and just using the stem, but most are made by following the stem with the suffixes ka か, –raka らか, or-yaka やか. The difference in nuance is usually that the adjectival noun form(s) are more abstract, intangible, and/or refined. 

Meaning Root Adjective Form Adjectival Noun Form(+-ka か・-raka らか・-yaka やか)
NewAra Atarashii 新しい Arata-da 新ただ △
QuietShizu Shizuka-da 静かだ
 Soft Yawa Yawarakai 柔らかい Yawaraka-da 柔らかだ  △
 Fine/small Koma Komakai 細かいKomaka-da  細かだ △
Komayaka-da 細やかだ 
 Flat Tai- Taira-da 平らだ
 Small Chiisa Chiisai 小さい Chiisana 小さな
 Big   Ō Ōkii 大きい Ōkina 大きな

Grammar Note: Some of these words are unnatural in the predicative form . 

①As for atarashii 新しい vs arata-da 新ただ, the latter is essentially non-existent. Conversely, the attributive form arata-na 新たな is frequently used, but it has a romanticized undertone that atarashii 新しい does not.

②The na な in chiisana 小さな and ōkina 大きな is thought to be completely fused to these roots and cannot conjugate.

37. 新たな冒険がいま、始まります!
Arata-na bōken ga ima, hajimarimasu!
A new adventure starts now!

38. あの図書館は静かです。
Ano toshokan wa shizuka-desu.
That library is quiet.

39. 柔らかな風が吹く。
Yawaraka-na kaze ga fuku.
Gentle wind blows.

40. 柔らかい布を使う。
Yawarakai nuno wo tsukau.
To use soft cloth.

41. 皆さん、大きな拍手をお願いします。
Mina-san, ōkina hakushu wo onegai shimasu.
Everyone, please give a big round of applause.

42. 平らな石が二つありました。
Taira-na ishi ga futatsu arimashita.
There were two flat stones.

Of course, there are other native adjectival nouns that aren’t created with these suffixes. As for the rest, the only way to distinguish them from nouns is by verifying their semantic role if used in the predicative form. When used in the attributive form the presence of na な alone would indicate their adjectival nature. 

Meaning Basic/Attributive Form Meaning Basic/Attributive Form
RareMare(-na) 稀(な) Various Iroiro(-na) 色々(な)
  Obvious Atarimae(-na) 当たり前(な)Unpleasant Iya(-na) 嫌(な)
Pitiful Aware(-na) 哀れ(な)  Dirty (sexually)  Etchi(-na) エッチ(な)

Vocabulary Notes:

Atarimae 当たり前 comes from a misspelling of tōzen 当然. The two words are interchangeable. 

②The word etchi エッチ, often simply spelled as H,  comes from the “H” in the romanized spelling of hentai 変態, an all too familiar word to many because of its meaning of “pervert.”

43. トレーニングが必要なことも稀ではありません。
Torēningu ga hitsuyō-na koto wa mare-de-wa-arimasen.
It is also not rare for training to be necessary.

44. 当たり前が当たり前じゃなかったことに気づいた。
Atarimae ga atarimae-ja-nakatta koto ni kizuita.
I realized that what was/the “obvious” wasn’t obvious.

Grammar Note: In this sentence atarimae 当たり前’s dual nature as either a noun or adjectival noun is on full display. The use of koto こと to make the preceding phrase a noun also highlights how any basic plain speech conjugation (past, negative, negative-past) can modify a noun in return. 

Foreign Adjectival Nouns 外来系の形容動詞

A small handful of adjectival nouns come from loanwords. Sometimes, their meanings will be different from what they were in the original language. Some may even be used without –na な at all if it is a part of a phrase borrowed verbatim. 

MeaningBasic/Attributive Form MeaningBasic/Attributive Form

45. リアルなゲームが好きです。

Riaru-na gēmu ga suki-desu.
I like realistic games.

46. シンプルなデザインのメリット
Shimpuru-na dezain no meritto
The merit(s) of a simple design

47. スマートな身なり
Sumāto-na minari
Stylish attire

48. スマートな体型の男性
Sumāto-na taikei no dansei

A man with a slim build

Exception Note: There was a slang word in the 1980s which turned the English word now into a 形容詞 as naui ナウい. Although this word still has recognition to this day, it is no longer trendy as it means. 

In Conclusion… 最後に…

Perhaps the most daunting task of all is that the “na-adjectival nouns” you just learned about are not the only kind of adjectival nouns. The next group of adjectival nouns we’ll cover will be “no-adjectival nouns.” 

Next, though, we’ll turn our focus to verbs.