By now you probably know some Japanese vocabulary and more importantly you know how to conjugate verbs. If not, you can recap verb conjugation in this lesson. In the following lesson you are going to learn how to handle adjectives in Japanese. 

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. For example when you say someone is tall (たかい) or something is blue (あおい), the words tall and blue are adjectives. Same for when you say something is funny, hot, good or new for example. In Japanese this works the same way, but there are two important aspects to adjectives that you have to know as a beginner. 

  1. There are two kinds of adjectives, い-adjectives and な-adjectives. 
  2. Adjectives can conjugate for tense (past and present) and polarity (positive and negative)

い-adjectives versus な-adjectives

Japanese has two different kinds of adjectives that don’t differ in general meaning but do differ in how you use them. You can identify them by their last hiragana character when they say something about nouns. As you would expect, い-adjectives had the last hiragana character い while な-adjectives have the last syllable な. Some examples

  おもしろい = Interesting  
  たのしい = Fun  
  おおきい = Big  
  わかい = Young  
  やすい = Easy, cheap  
  げんき(な) = Energetic, Healthy  
  めいわく(な) = Annoying, inconvenient  
  さかん(な) = Thriving  
  すき(な) = To like  
  しずか(な) = Quiet  

Some examples of how you use adjectives in sentences. 

  きょう, おもしろい ほん を よみました  
  Today, I was reading an interesting book  
  あの おとこ の こ は わかい ですね  
  That boy over there is young, isn’t he?  
  ここ の ばんごはん は やすい です  
  Dinner here is cheap  
  ウィンsトン は げんきな いぬ ですね    
  Winston is an energetic dog isn’t he    
  そら は きれい です    
  The sky is beautiful    
  Cars can be annoying    
  きょう = Today    
  よみました = Have read    
  あの = That ….    
  おとこ の ひと = Boy    
  わかい = Young    
  ここ = Here    
  ばんごはん = Dinner    
  いぬ = Dog    
  そら = Sky    
  くるま = Car(s)    
  こと = Thing(s)    

In the following chapter we will go more indepth into each category of adjective. 

Conjugating い-adjectives

In contrary to adjectives in English and a lot of other European languages, in Japanese adjectives can conjugate for example for past or present (tense) and polarity (positive or negative). This makes it possible to make a sentence without using a verb. Take for example the following two sentences:

  The movie is interesting  
  The movie was interesting  
  えいが = Movie  
  たのしい = Interesting  

As you can see, there is no verb. You could add です to the ending of both sentences to make it sound more formal, but speaking with friends you would use the sentences above and if you listen very closely you can hear it used often in daily speech. You can also see, that by conjugating the ending of たのしい to たのしかった you alter the meaning just as when you would conjugate a verb. Mind you, when you want to say something was funny, you have to conjugate the い-adjective. Conjugating the verb is not grammatically correct. This is pretty counterintuitive for most English speakers. 

  1. When the い-adjective comes at the end of a sentence, always conjugate the adjective and not です

So in the sentences before, たのしい でした is not correct. I has to be たにしかって です. Below is the chart for conjugating an い-adjective.

  たのしい (fun) Present Past
  Positive たのしい たにしかった
    It is fun It was fun
  Negative たにしくない たのしくなかった
    It is not fun It was not fun

Conjugating な-adjectives

Conjugating な-adjectives is something different as you are not really conjugating the adjectives as much as です that follows it.

  げんき(な) Present Past  
  Positive げんきです げんきでした  
    He/she is energetic he/she was energetic  
  Negative げんきじゃないです げんきじゃなかったです  
    or げんきじゃありません or げんきじゃありませんでした  
    He/she is not energetic He/she was not energetic  

One important rule to know is that although they are called な-adjectives, the な is only used when they are directly modifying nouns like in the energetic dog (げんきな いぬ) or annoying things (めいわくな こと). These adjectives lose the な when used in any other way. 

  1. な-adjectives only use the な when directly modifying nouns. 

Irregular Adjectives

There is one adjective that does not conjugate like the rest: いい (good, nice)

More Examples

So some more examples so you know how to use the different kinds of adjectives

  Examples with い-adjectives:  
  The cat is cute  
  Today is not cold  
  The winter was cold  
  I was not scared  
  ねこ = Cat(s)  
  かわいい = Cute  
  きょう = Today  
  さむくない = Not cold  
  ふゆ = Winter  
  さむかった = Was cold  
  わたし = I, me  
  こわくなかった = Was not scared  
  Examples with な-adjectives:  
  This person is kind  
  Today is not cold  
  The winter was cold  
  I was not scared  
  ねこ = Cat(s)  
  かわいい = Cute  
  きょう = Today  
  さむくない = Not cold  
  ふゆ = Winter  
  さむかった = Was cold  
  わたし = I, me  
  こわくなかった = Was not scared