All About Japanese Adjectives

How to understand the differences in Japanese adjectives

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There are two distinct types of adjectives in Japanese: i-adjectives and na-adjectives. I-adjectives all end in "~ i," though they never end in "~ ei" (e.g. "kirei" is not considered an i-adjective.)

Japanese adjectives differ significantly from their English counterparts (and from their counterparts in other Western languages). Although Japanese adjectives have functions to modify nouns like English adjectives, they also function as verbs when used as predicates.

This is a concept that will take some getting used to.

For example, "takai(高い)" in the sentence "takai kuruma (高い車)" means, "expensive". "Takai(高い)" of "kono kuruma wa takai (この車は高い)" means not just "expensive" but "is expensive".

When i-adjectives are used as predicates, they may be followed by "~ desu(~です)" to indicate a formal style. "Takai desu (高いです)" also means, "is expensive" but it is more formal than "takai (高い)".

Here are lists of common i-adjectives and na-adjectives.

Common I-Adjectives

atarashii
新しい
new furui
古い
old
atatakai
暖かい
warm suzushii
涼しい
cool
atsui
暑い
hot samui
寒い
cold
oishii
おいしい
delicious mazui
まずい
bad tasting
ookii
大きい
big chiisai
小さい
small
osoi
遅い
late, slow hayai
早い
early, quick
omoshiroi
面白い
interesting, funny tsumaranai
つまらない
boring
kurai
暗い
dark akarui
明るい
bright
chikai
近い
near tooi
遠い
far
nagai
長い
long mijikai
短い
short
muzukashii
難しい
difficult yasashii
優しい
easy
ii
いい
good warui
悪い
bad
takai
高い
tall, expensive hikui
低い
low
yasui
安い
cheap wakai
若い
young
isogashii
忙しい
busy urusai
うるさい
noisy

Common Na-Adjectives

ijiwaruna
意地悪な
mean shinsetsuna
親切な
kind
kiraina
嫌いな
distasteful sukina
好きな
favorite
shizukana
静かな
quiet nigiyakana
にぎやかな
lively
kikenna
危険な
dangerous anzenna
安全な
safe
benrina
便利な
convenient fubenna
不便な
inconvenient
kireina
きれいな
pretty genkina
元気な
healthy, well
jouzuna
上手な
skillful yuumeina
有名な
famous
teineina
丁寧な
polite shoujikina
正直な
honest
gankona
頑固な
stubborn hadena
派手な

showy

Modifying Nouns

When used as modifiers of nouns, both i-adjectives and na-adjectives take the basic form, and precede nouns just like in English.

I-Adjectives chiisai inu
小さい犬
small dog
takai tokei
高い時計
expensive watch
Na-Adjectives yuumeina gaka
有名な画家
famous painter
sukina eiga
好きな映画
favorite movie

I-Adjectives as Predicates

As mentioned above, adjectives in Japanese can function like verbs. Therefore, they conjugate just like verbs (but probably much more simply). This concept can be confusing for first-time students of the Japanese language. 

Informal

Present Negative: Replace the final ~ i with ~ ku nai

Past: Replace the final ~ i with ~ katta

Past Negative: Replace the final ~ i with ~ ku nakatta

Formal

Add ~desu to all of the informal forms.

There is also a variation in the formal negative forms.
* Negative: Replace ~i with ~ku arimasen
* Past Negative: Add ~ deshita to ~ku arimasen 
These negative forms are considered slightly more polite than others.

Here is how the adjective "takai (expensive)" is conjugated.

Informal Formal
Present takai
高い
takai desu
高いです
Present Negative takaku nai
高くない
takaku nai desu
高くないです
takaku arimasen
高くありません
Past takakatta
高かった
takakatta desu
高かったです
Past Negative takaku nakatta
高くなかった
takaku nakatta desu
高くなかったです
takaku arimasen deshita
高くありませんでした

There is only one exception to the rule of i-adjectives, which is "ii (good)". "Ii" derives from "yoi," and its conjugation is mostly based on "yoi".

Informal Formal
Present ii
いい
ii desu
いいです
Present Negative yoku nai
良くない
yoku nai desu
良くないです
yoku arimasen
良くありません
Past yokatta
良かった
yokatta desu
良かったです
Past negative yoku nakatta
良くなかった
yoku nakatta desu
良くなかったです
yoku arimasen deshita
良くありませんでした

Na-Adjectives as Predicates

These are called na-adjectives because "~ na" marks this group of adjectives when directly modifying nouns (e.g. yuumeina gaka). Unlike i-adjectives, na-adjectives cannot be used as predicates themselves. When a na-adjective is used as a predicate, the final "na" is deleted and followed by either "~ da" or "~ desu (in formal speech)". As with nouns, "~ da" or "~ desu" changes the word's form to express the past tense, the negative and the affirmative.

Informal Formal
Present yuumei da
有名だ
yuumei desu
有名です
Present Negative yuumei dewa nai
有名ではない
yuumei dewa arimasen
有名ではありません
Past yuumei datta
有名だった
yuumei deshita
有名でした
Past negative yuumei dewa nakatta
有名ではなかった
yuumei dewa
arimasen deshita

有名ではありませんでした