Adjectives 形容詞

第14課: Adjectives 形容詞

The next part of speech we will now learn about are adjectives (Keiyōshi 形容詞). An adjective is a word that describes some attribute (zokusei 属性) of a noun. In English, an adjective can either come directly before a noun or modify it from afar as the predicate (part of the sentence which makes a statement about the subject) with the help of a “to be” verb.

i. I sold the old book.
ii. I ate a green apple.
iii. The moose was large.
iv. Textbooks are expensive.
v. The young man bought a new car.

In Japanese, Keiyōshi 形容詞 can modify a noun directly before it (in its attributive form 連体形) or qualify it from afar as the predicate of the sentence (in its predicative form). However, unlike English, there is no need for the copula to be attached. In fact, doing so is ungrammatical. Thus, adjectival predicates (keiyōshi jutsugo 形容詞述語) simply constitute the adjective itself.

To showcase these points, consider the adjective atarashii 新しい meaning “new.” This single word can stand for “to be new,” “is new,” “are new,” as Japanese conjugation does not take into account grammatical person. 

1. (これは)新しい本です。
(Kore wa) atarashii hon desu.

(This is) a new book.

2. この本は新しい。〇
Kono hon wa atarashii.
This book is new.

3. この本は新しいだ。X (90%)/△ (5%)/〇 (5%)
Kono hon wa atarashii da.
This book is new.

Dialect Note: In some dialects, Ex. 3 is not ungrammatical. However, in Standard Japanese it is considered a grammatical error. 

Our focus in this lesson will be on learning how to conjugate adjectives. A general principle about conjugatable parts of speech in Japanese is that each part of speech will always look different from one another in their bases but never their endings. Because of this, without further adieu, let’s recap on our grammar terms before continuing 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. 
  • 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, in other words, is utilized in plain speech as well as in many grammatical circumstances. The basic form encompasses both the predicative and the attributive forms in the context of verbs and adjectives. 
  • Continuative Form: Known in Japanese as the Ren’yōkei 連用形 , it is used with endings pertaining to actions being carried out.

The Base/Non-Past Form 形容詞の基本形・非過去形

Plain Non-Past Form: No Conjugation

All Keiyōshi 形容詞 end in the vowel /i/ い. This has given rise to the name “i-adjectives イ形容詞” in many textbooks, which is also occasionally used by Japanese grammarians. This い attaches to the stem (gokan 語幹) of all adjectives, and it is dropped to create all other conjugations. 

This basic form of adjectives is used for the non-past form (hikakokei 非過去形), which we learned in Lessons 10-11 stands for both present tense (genzai jisei 現在時制) and future tense (mirai jisei 未来時制). In the case of adjectives, however, the non-past tense is only interpreted as the present tense unless other grammtical points/context intervenes. As a consequence of this, ALL non-past tense sentences in this lesson correspond to the present tense in English.

We have already seen this basic non-past (unconjugated) form used in Exs. 1-3 above with the adjective 新しい. The basic form is an amalgam of  the predicative form (終止形) and the attributive form (連体形). These forms are identical for adjectives, and so you can freely use the basic form either directly before nouns or at the end of the sentence.

Atsui【熱・暑】いHot  Atsui 厚いThick 
 Karai 辛い Hot (spicy) Hoshii 欲しい
 Tsumetai 冷たい Cold Samui 寒い  Cold (weather)
 Furui 古い Old Wakai 若いYoung 
 Akarui 明るい Bright Kurai 暗い Dark
 Atatakai 【暖・温】かいWarm   Tsuyoi 強い  Strong
Chiisai 小さい Small  Ōkii 大きい Large/Big
 Hayai 【早・速】い Fast/EarlyOsoi 遅い  Slow/Late
Takai 高い Tall/ExpensiveYasui 安いCheap 
Hikui 低い  Short/Low Yowai 弱い Weak

Vocabulary Notes:

Atsui 熱い means “hot” as in things whereas atsui 暑い means “hot” as in the weather. Both are enunciated with a LHL (low-high-low) pitch. 

Atsui 厚い means “thick” and is enunciated with a LHH (low-high-high) pattern. 

③ In addition to meaning “spicy,” karai 辛い may also mean “salty,” especially for speakers from West Japan. IN Standard Japanese, “salty” is expressed with shiokarai 塩辛い. However, in literary language, it may still mean “salty” if written as 鹹い. Confusingly, the colloquial way to say “salty” in East Japan is shoppai しょっぱい.

④As an English speaker, you may be confused as to why hoshii 欲しい is in a list of adjectives if it means “to want,” but in Japanese this word is an adjective. 

Tsumetai 冷たい means “cold” as in things whereas samui 寒い means “cold” as in “weather.” 冷たい may also refer to “cold” personalities. What about the air or wind? These are treated as objects and, thus, take 冷たい.

Ex. Tsumetai kūki 冷たい空気 (cold air)

Ex. Tsumetai kaze 冷たい風 (cold wind)

Ex. Tsumetai hyōjō 表情 (cold expression) 

Furui 古い refers to the state of a thing/situation being “old,” but it isn’t used to refer to old age. 

⑦暖かい and 温かい are both read as atatakai. The first spelling is used in reference to the weather whereas the second spelling is used to refer to “warm” to the touch as well as in reference to emotion. In casual speech, it is pronounced as attakai あったかい.

⑧When used to mean “early/quick,” hayai is spelled as 早い. When strictly referring to the speed of an object, it may be spelled as 速い.
⑨When referring to the height of a person, takai 高い must be used in the set phrase se ga takai 背が高い. 

Hikui 低い may refer to “low” as in rank, value, quality, position to the ground, etc. Although it may mean  “short” as in height, it must be used in the set phrase se ga hikui 背が低い.

1. クマは強い。
Kuma wa tsuyoi.
Bears are strong.

2. 人間は弱い生き物だ。
Ningen wa yowai ikimono da.
Humans are weak creatures.

3. 南米は暑い!
Nambei wa atsui!
South America is hot!

4. 手が熱い。
Te ga atsui.
My/your hands are hot.

5. あれは古い電話だ。
Are wa furui denwa da.
That is an old phone.

6. 水が冷たい。
Mizu ga tsumetai.
The water is cold.

7. 冬は寒い!
Fuyu wa samui!
Winter is cold!

8. あの店は安い。
Ano mise wa yasui.
That store is cheap (affordable).

9. 彼はいつも返事が遅い。
Kare wa itsumo henji ga osoi.
His responses are always late.

10. あの子はまだ若い。
Ano ko wa mada wakai.
That kid is still young.

11. 感染抵抗力が弱い動物は発病しやすい。
Kansen teikōryoku ga yowai dōbutsu wa hatsubyō-shiyasui. 
Animals whose resistance to infection is weak are likely to become ill.  

Grammar Note: In Exs. 2 and 11, yowai 弱い is being used in its attributive form (連体形). However, the difference in Ex. 11 is that it is part of a larger clause modifying the noun dōbutsu 動物 (animal). The whole clause is [Kansen teikōryoku ga yowai]. The particle ga が is obligatory here instead of the particle wa は because the topic of the sentence is the full noun phrase [Kansen teikōryoku ga yowai dōbutsu]. Grammatically, this whole thing is one big noun, and the attributive form (連体形) of the adjective is the glue that combines what would be a stand-alone sentence to a noun to make that bigger noun. The predicative form (終止形), on the other hand, tells the listener that they have arrived at the end of the sentence.

Polite Non-Past 非過去の丁寧形

How to make the non-past tense polite is easy yet riddled in controversy. In Modern Japanese, the solution is simply to add –desu です after the adjective, using it purely as a politeness marker. This grammar has only been around for a little over a century, but it has fully replaced the older grammar which we will eventually get to when we learn about honorific speech.

It must be noted that because desu です lacks an attributive form (連体形), it may also not modify a noun even when it is with an adjective. Always expect any form of desu です to be at the end of a sentence.

Romanization Note: –desu です is seen hyphenated to indicate that it is stuck onto the adjective as a politeness marker. Hyphenation in general serves to show that an affix (ending) is inseparable in that context.

Meaning Plain Speech Polite Speech (+ -desu です)
Close/NearbyChikai 近いChikai-desu 近いです
FarTōi 遠いTōi-desu 遠いです
BeautifulUtsukushii 美しいUtsukushii-desu 美しいです 
 Fun Tanoshii 楽しい Tanoshii-desu 楽しいです
 Painful Itai 痛い Itai-desu 痛いです
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashii-desu 新しいです

Vocabulary Notes:

①近い can be used in both a spatial and temporal sense. It can also be used to refer to “close” relationships and “close” relatives. It may also be used to describe degree. It is also used in the phrase for “to be nearsighted,” which is me ga chikai 目が近い. 

②遠い can be used in both a spatial and temporal sense, refer to “distant” relationships and relatives, and “far (from)” in the sense of degree. It can refer to distant sounds and is also used in the phrase for “to be farsighted,” which is me ga tōi 目が遠い.

Itai 痛い means “painful,” but it also is used in situations where English speakers would likely use the verb “to hurt.” It is also the interjection used for “ouch.” Be careful with intonation. It should be pronounced with a LHL intonation. A LHH intonation results in the noun 遺体 meaning “dead body.”

12. 公園が近いです。
Kōen ga chikai-desu.
There is a park is nearby.

13. 景色が美しいです。
Keshiki ga utsukushii-desu.
The scenery is beautiful.

14. 仕事は楽しいです。
Shigoto wa tanoshii-desu.
(My) work is fun. 

15. 足が痛いです!
Ashi ga itai-desu!
My feet hurt!

Past Tense 過去形(常体・丁寧体)

To make an adjective past tense in plain speech, drop –i い and add –katta かった. This conjugation involves the continuative form + the past tense marker –ta た. The continuative form (連用形) of an adjective is kari– かり※, but it contracts when combined with –ta た to form –katta かった. As all adjective bases are created by dropping the final /i/, it is not present in the end result.  

Then, to make an adjective polite in past tense, all you do is add desu です at the end of –katta かった, which is thought to attach itself to the predicative form (終止形) of –katta かった because it is only used as a politeness marker. 

Just as was the case with the non-past tense, though, you can only use the plain past form before a noun. NEVER add desu です because it doesn’t have an attributive form (連体形)! 

Meaning Base FormPlain Past
(+-katta かった)
   Polite Past(+-katta-desu かったです)
DeliciousOishii おいしい Oishikatta おいしかった Oishikatta-desu おいしかったです
 Bad Mazui まずいMazukatta まずかった  Mazukatta-desu まずかったです
 KindYasashii 優しいYasashikatta 優しかった  Yasashikatta-desu 優しかったです
 StrictKibishii 厳しいKibishikatta 厳しかった Kibishikatta-desu 厳しかったです
Wide Hiroi 広いHirokatta 広かった Hirokatta-desu 広かったです
NarrowSemai 狭いSemakatta 狭かった  Semakatta-desu 狭かったです
ThinUsui 薄い  Usukatta 薄かった Usukatta-desu 薄かったです
 Thick Koi 濃い Kokatta 濃かった Kokatta-desu 濃かったです
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashikatta 新しかった Atarashikatta-desu 新しかったです

Vocabulary Notes:

①When used to mean “delicious,” oishii may also be spelled as 美味しい. It also has the meaning of “attractive” in the sense of “favorable.” 

Mazui まずい means “bad” as in flavor, in which case it may also be spelled as 不味い. When used to mean “bad” as in “unskillful,” it may be spelled as 拙い. It can also refer to “bad/awkward” situations, and in this situation, it is often used in the sense of “oh, no!”

③Usui 薄い is “thin” in relation to objects but never people, but it ironically can be used to refer to “thin/slim” chance. It may also refer to colors being “pale” or something being “dilute(d)” in a liquid. From this last meaning it can also mean “weak” as in taste. Think coffee. 
④Koi 濃い refers to the thickness (depth) of color, the thickness (density) of liquids, or the thickness (strength) of flavors, smells, possibilities, or relationships. Unlike atsui 厚い, it is never used to refer to the thickness of physical objects. Also, most speakers in West and South Japan pronounce this word as koyui 濃ゆい.

16. ラーメンは美味しかったです。
Ramen wa oishikatta-desu.
The ramen was delicious.

17. 仕事が忙しかった。
Shigoto ga isogashikatta.
Work was busy.

18. あの映画は楽しかったです。
Ano eiga wa tanoshikatta-desu.
That movie was fun.

19. 彼が優しかった。
Kare ga yasashikatta.
He was kind.

20. 長谷川先生は厳しかったです。
Hasegawa-sensei wa kibishikatta-desu.
Hasegawa-sensei was strict.

21. 道が狭かったです。
Michi ga semakatta-desu.
The street(s) were narrow.

22. 元から成功の望みは薄かった。
Moto kara seikō no nozomi wa usukatta.
There was slim hope of success from the start.

23. 病院食はまずかったです。
Byōinshoku wa mazukatta-desu.
The hospital meals were awful.

24. 味は若干濃かったです。
Aji wa jakkan kokatta-desu.
The flavor was somewhat strong.

25. (お)弁当が美味しかった話
(O)bentō ga oishikatta hanashi
Talk of the bento having been delicious. 

Grammar Note: The prefix o お- is attached to a number of nouns to make them sound softer/politer.  

※Adjectives actually have two continuative forms. The kari– form is actually a contraction of the basic one ku– + the existential verb aru ある. 

Plain Negative Form w/ –kunai くない

To make the negative (to not be…) form of an adjective, drop –い and add –kunai くない. The –nai ない part functions as an auxiliary adjective (hojo keiyōshi 補助形容詞), meaning it also conjugates like any other adjective, and the –ku is the basic continuative form. 

The –ku く functions the same as the de で in de-wa-nai ではない. In fact, it is possible to insert the particle wa は in between –ku く and –nai ない to give –ku-wa-nai くはない, which serves the same purpose.

Grammar Note: The /ku/ continuative form causes adjectives to behave essentially like adverbs, with –nai ない. being the adjective that is being modified. 

Meaning Base Form Negative (Plain)(+-kunai くない)
 ThinHosoi 細いHosokunai 細くない 
 Thick Futoi 太い Futokunai 太くない
 DifficultMuzukashii 難しい  Muzukashikunai 難しくない
 Cute Kawaii かわいい Kawaikunai かわいくない
 Sad Kanashii 悲しい Kanashikunai 悲しくない
 Happy Ureshii 嬉しい Ureshikunai 嬉しくない
 Scary/Scared Kowai 怖い Kowakunai 怖くない
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashikunai-desu 新しくないです

Hosoi 細い means “thin” as in “slender” and may be used in reference to people.
Futoi 太い means “thick” as in “fat” and may also refer to a person’s voice being “thick.”

③Do not pronounce kawaii かわいい the same way as kowai 怖い. They are clearly separate words.
Kowai 怖い may translate as “scary” or “scared,” but this is due to the Japanese grammar being simpler than English. The word is only used from a personal perspective, so you yourself are scared of things that are scary.
⑤Words such as kanashii 悲しい and ureshii 嬉しい are by default first-person in nature. They may be used in second-person questions, but as for third person, they get changed up a bit

Negation is not limited to the predicative form (終止形). Meaning, you can use the negative form of an adjective in its attributive form (連体形). There is no change in morphology, but you can see a negative adjective be a part of a much larger dependent clause modifying a noun. 

26. 僕は蛇が怖くないよ。
Boku wa hebi ga kowakunai yo.
I’m not scared of snakes.
As for me, snakes aren’t scary.

27. あの猫はかわいくはないよ。
Ano neko wa kawaiku-wa-nai yo.
That cat isn’t cute (but does fit another description).

28. 僕は悲しくない。
Boku wa kanashikunai.
I’m not sad.

29. 操作は難しくない。
Sōsa wa muzukashikunai. 
Operating it isn’t difficult.

30. 難しくない点もメリットのひとつです。
Muzukashikunai ten mo meritto no hitotsu desu.
The point of it not being difficult is also one of its merits.

Polite Negative Forms w/ –kunai-desu or –ku-arimasen

There are two methods to make an adjective negative in polite speech just like there is for the copula, and the methods are created in the same fashion. 

  • Method 1: Simply attach desu です to the plain negative form, producing –kunai-desu くないです. This method is not as polite, but it is still appropriate for general conversation with peers and strangers.  
  • Method 2: Drop –い and adding –ku-arimasen くありません. This involves replacing nai ない with its proper polite form, which is arimasen ありません. Its derivation will make sense more once we learn about verbs, so we’ll forgo discussing it for now.

Note that it is possible to insert the particle wa は to demonstrate negative contrast in between –ku くand the negation element in either negative form – (-ku-wa-nai-desu くはないです/ku-wa-arimasen くはありません). 

Meaning Basic Form Negative 1(+-kunai-desu くないです) Negative 2(+-ku-arimasen くありません)
 Correct Tadashii 正しい Tadashikunai-desu
 Blue/green Aoi 青い Aokunai-desu 青くないです Aoku-arimasen青くありません
 Red Akai 赤い Akakunai-desu 赤くないです Akaku-arimasen赤くありません
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashikunai-desu 新しくないです Atarashiku-arimasen新しくくありません

Vocabulary NoteAoi 青い may be used in both the sense of “blue” and “green.” The reasons for this are somewhat complicated, so we’ll study more about this later when we cover color expressions.

Grammar Note: None of these forms are used in the attributive form because desu です CANNOT modify nouns.

31. 川は青くはないです。
Kawa wa aoku-wa-nai-desu.
The river is not blue (but another color would describe the color better).

32. 信号は青くないです。
Shingō wa aokunai-desu.
The light is not green.

33. あのリンゴは赤くありません。
Ano ringo wa akaku-arimasen.
That apple is not red.

34. その答えは正しくないです。
Sono kotae wa tadashikunai-desu.
That answer isn’t correct.

35 私は背が低くありません。
Watashi wa se ga hikuku-arimasen.
I am not short.

Plain Negative-Past Form w/ –kunakatta くなかった

The simplest way to conceptualize how to make the negative-past in plain speech is to drop –i い and add –kunakatta くなかった.  However, the true mechanics is simply conjugating the auxiliary adjective nai ない into its past tense form with the same ending as any other adjective, –katta かった.

Grammar Note: Showing negative contrast in an adjective phrase simply involves inserting the particle wa は  between –ku く and the negation element regardless of tense.

Meaning Base FormNegative (Plain) 
(+-kunakatta くなかった)
Sweet Amai 甘い Amakunakatta 甘くなかった
Dirty Kitanai 汚いKitanakunakatta 汚くなかった
 Good Yoi 良い Yokunakatta 良くなかった
 Bad Warui 悪い Warukunakatta 悪くなかった
 BlackKuroi 黒い Kurokunakatta 黒くなかった 
 White Shiroi 白い Shirokunakatta 白くなかった
 Brown Chairoi 茶色い Chairokunakatta 茶色くなかった
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashikunakatta 新しくなかった

Vocabulary Notes

Amai 甘い may also mean “fragrant” and is generally also treated as the opposite of karai 辛い. The word may also be figuratively used to mean “tempting,” “half-hearted,” “naive,” etc. 
Kitanai 汚い may also mean “dirty” as in “indecent/vulgar” language as well as “underhanded.”

Grammar Note:

The plain negative-past form may be used in both the attributive form and the predicative form. It is more common to see the negative-past in the attributive form when it is a part of a larger modifying, dependent clause. However, this is not a requirement. 

36. このパソコンは安くなかった。
Kono pasokon wa yasukunakatta.
This computer wasn’t cheap.

37. 給料は高くなかった。
Kyūryō wa takakunakatta.
The salary wasn’t/wages weren’t high.

38. その城は白くなかった。
Sono shiro wa shirokunakatta.
That castle wasn’t white.

Happa wa chairokunakatta.
The leaves weren’t brown.

40. タイヤは黒くなかった。
Taiya wa kurokunakatta.
The tire(s) weren’t black.

41. 今回はそこまで甘くはなかった。
Konkai wa soko made amaku-wa-nakatta.
This time it wasn’t so sweet like that.

42. 天気はあまり良くなかった。
Tenki wa amari yokunakatta.
The weather wasn’t that good.

43. 私の成績が悪かった理由
Watashi no seiseki ga warukatta riyū  
The reason why my grades were bad

Polite Negative-Past Forms w/ –kunakatta-desu or -ku-arimasen-deshita

Just as there are two methods for making an adjective negative in polite speech, there are also two methods to conjugating an adjective into negative past (was not) in polite speech.

  • Method 1: Simply attach desu です to –kunakatta くなかった, giving –kunakatta-desu くなかったです. This is proper enough for general conversation.
  • Method 2: The politer method involves the past tense form of arimasen ありません, which is arimasen-deshita ありませんでした, producing –ku arimasen-deshita くありませんでした.  Its breakdown will make more sense when we learn about verbs, so we’ll forego that discussion for now.
Meaning Base Form Negative 1
 Negative 2
Long Nagai 長い Nagakunakatta-desu
 Short Mijikai 短いMijikakunakatta-desu
 Sleepy Nemui 眠い Nemukunakatta-desu
  Amazing Sugoi 凄い Sugokunakatta-desu
  Dangerous Abunai 危ない Abunakunakatta-desu
 Shallow Asai 浅い Asakunakatta-desu
 Deep Fukai 深い Fukakunakatta-desu
 Light/Faint Awai 淡い Awakunakatta-desu
 New Atarashii 新しい Atarashikunakatta-desu新しくなかったです Atarashiku-arimasen-deshita新しくありませんでした

Vocabulary Notes:

Mijikai 短い is not “short” as in “height,” but it can be used to mean “short” in most situations.

②If one is really drowsy to the point it’s almost uncomfortable, you may hear the more emphatic nemutai 眠たい instead of 眠い. Similarly, the adjective for “heavy” omoi 重い works the same way and can be seen as omotai 重たい if the heaviness is being expressed as being unpleasant or in a way that implies the weight is pressing down.

Asai 浅い may refer to depth in the sense of wounds, color, and knowledge in addition to literal lack of depth. 

Fukai 深い means “deep” but it may also refer to “dense” such as in “dense forest” (fukai mori 深い森) or “dense fog” (fukai kiri 深い霧). It may also refer to “deep/close” relationships or “intense” degree. 

Awai 淡い is mostly limited to expressing faint color, but it can be used in referring to feeling something indistinctly. 

Grammar Note: Although this should go without saying, these polite forms do not possess the attributive form because they all involve desu です. So, expect them to only be at the end of the sentence!44. 試験は短くありませんでした。
Shiken wa mijikaku-arimasendeshita.
The exam was not short.

45. 傷は深くありませんでした。
Kizu wa fukaku-arimasendeshita.
The wound was not deep.

46. 夜は危なくなかったです。
Yoru wa abunakunakatta-desu.
Nighttime wasn’t dangerous.

In Conclusion 最後に…

In this lesson, we learned that conjugating adjectives was very similar to conjugating the copula. The differences themselves are superficial in nature as the system of conjugation itself is the same. Things like complex attributive clause formation with the copula will actually be something we learn for when we study adjectival nouns in the next lesson. By now, the concept of “attribute” and “predicate” should no longer feel unfamiliar.

On top of this, several dozen adjectives were showcased, all of which are tested within the first beginner levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), N5 and N4 respectively. This means that if you were to spend the time now to learn those adjectives, you will have already mastered a decent percentage of the words required of you to pass these tests. Even if the grammar points were to evade you, you could still form many simple expressions just by focusing on learning the adjectives showcased.

As mentioned just now, in the next lesson we will learn about adjectival nouns. These words semantically behave as adjectives, but their conjugation powers rely on using the copula. After that, we’ll be on our way to learning about how verbs work.