Monday, January 2, 2017

Japanese Adjectives

Like (probably) every other language in the world, the Japanese language also has adjectives. But how do the Japanese adjectives work? How do you tell an adjective from another word? How is the sentence structure with adjectives involved? In this article, I'll explain a little about them.

What is an Adjective?

An adjective is something that qualifies, specifies, details, something else. Adjectives can be words, but they can be phrases too (adjectival clauses).

For example, say you have the word "car," that's a noun.

Now say there's a bunch of cars out there and you want to specify which car exactly you're talking about. You say: "the blue car." The car, which is blue, specifically. In that phrase, "blue" is an adjective that qualifies the noun "car."

Another example: "the car that crashed into the tree." In that phrase, "crashed into the tree" is an adjective clause that's qualifying the "car" noun.

Using Adjectives in Japanese

The way adjectives often work in Japanese is a little different from English and other latin languages, but also shares some similarities. First off, adjectives come before the noun, just like in English. Examples:
  • aoi kuruma 青い車
    Blue car.
  • akakatta kuruma 赤かった車
    Car that was red.
  • kimyou na kuruma 奇妙な車
    Strange car.
  • kare no kuruma 彼の車
    His car.
  • hayakute kuroi kuruma 速くて黒い車
    Fast, black car.
  • ki ni butsukatta kuruma 木にぶつかった車
    Car that ran into a tree.
  • sora wo tobu kuruma 空を飛ぶ車
    Sky-flying car.

As you can see in the phrases above, the noun, kuruma 車, is always the last thing of each sentence no matter the translation we have in English. Even though in some cases instead of "(something) car" we have " a car that (something)," in Japanese it's always (something) kuruma.

Kinds of Adjective Words in Japanese

There are 2 types of adjective words in Japanese: the -i adjectives and the -na adjectives.

They are called like that because -i adjectives always end with the i い syllable and na adjectives always need the na な particle after them.

There are also no adjectives, created by the no の particle. These aren't really adjective words, but often nouns that are turned into adjectives or possessive adjectives by that particle.

The three kinds of Japanese adjectives: i adjectives, na adjectives, and no adjectives

-i Adjectives

The -i adjectives in Japanese are the most obvious ones because they always end in -i ~い, except when they are conjugated, then they don't end in -i anymore. But the conjugations are so few you can always tell when it's an -i adjective in a phrase.

In dictionaries, "i adjectives" are called kei 刑.

Conjugating -i Adjectives

The -i adjectives can be conjugated in these ways:
  • -i ~い
    Normal way. Present, affirmative.
  • -katta ~かった
    Past tense affirmative.
  • -kunai ~くない
    -kunee ~くねえ (casual speech)
    Present negative.
  • -kunakatta ~くなかった
    Past negative.
  • -ku ~く
    Adverbial form. (turns an adjective into an adverb)
  • -kute ~くて
    Kute form.
    (connects the adjective to something else, I don't really know the name of this)

Conjugation Examples

Let's see how the conjugations work in practice.
  • tsuyoi 強い
  • aitsu ga tsuyoi あいつが強い
    He is strong.
  • amai 甘い
  • keeki wa amakatta ケーキは甘かった
    The cake was sweet.
  • ore wa amakatta 俺は甘かった
    I was naive.
  • kawaii 可愛い
  • kono neko wa amari kawaikunai この猫は余り可愛くない
    This cat isn't very cute. (literary: "too much not cute")
  • kono kuso inu ga kawaikunee yo! このクソ犬が可愛くねえよ!
    This piece-of-shit dog is not cute!
  • tanoshii 楽しい
    Fun. Entertaining.
  • kinou wa tanoshikunakatta 昨日は楽しくなかった
    It was not fun yesterday.
  • hayai 早い
  • Early.
  • hayaku nigemashou! 早く逃げましょう!
    Let's escape right now! (Soon! The earlier the better!)
  • chiisai 小さい
  • chiisakute kawaii nezumi 小さくて可愛いネズミ
    A cute little rat.

Sufixated Adjectives

An important note I'd like to note is that, in Japanese, there are many -i adjectives that end up after conjugations of verbs and adjectives without you realizing.

For example, you could say that we don't actually have negative forms in Japanese. When we say kawaikunai 可愛くない, we are just making kawaii in its adverbial form, kawaiku 可愛く, then slapping the adjective nai 無い in front.

This is why kawai-i becomes kawai-katta in past tense and, simultaneously, kawaiku-na-i become kawaiku-na-katta in negative past tense. We are just actually conjugating the nai adjective to past tense: na-i to na-katta.

Worse yet, sometimes you may see in dialogue phrases such as: kawaiku-naku-naku-naku-nai 可愛くなくなくなくない, that is:
  • kawaii 可愛い
  • kawaiku-nai 可愛くない
    Not cute.
  • kawaiku-naku-nai 可愛くなくない
    Not not cute. (cute)
  • kawaiku-naku-naku-nai 可愛くなくなくない
    Not not not cute. (not cute)
  • kawaiku-naku-naku-naku-nai 可愛くなくなくなくない
    Not not not not cute. (cute)

The -tai -たい suffix, which shows up in verbs, is also actually an -i adjective.
  • yaritai koto やりたいこと
    Something [you] want to do.
  • yaritakunai koto やりたくないこと
    Something [you] don't want to do.
  • yaritakatta koto やりたかったこと
    Something [you] wanted to do.
  • yaritakunakatta koto やりたくなかったこと
    Something [you] didn't want to do.

And, of course, expanding on the crazy pattern with the nai adjective:
  • yaritakutai koto やりたくたいこと
    Something [you] want to want to do.
    (like wanting to want to go outside, which you never really want but you realize it would be good it you wanted, so you want to want to do it)

Pure Adjectives

One interesting thing to note is that Japanese -i adjectives are always pure adjectives, that is, except when they are conjugated, they can only be used as an adjective grammatically and never as a noun.

Take the English word "blue," for example. It's both an adjective and a noun (and a verb too, sorta). That means we have the same English word for its two usages. In Japanese, however, the word ao 青 means the noun "blue" and aoi 青い is the adjective "blue."

This means you can say ao wo erabu 青を選ぶ, "choose blue," in Japanese, but you can't say aoi wo erabu 青いを選ぶ because the wo を particle only goes after nouns, not adjectives.

Furthermore, what you could  say is aoi no wo erabu 青いのを選ぶ, "choose (the one that's) blue," or 'aoi' wo erabu 「青い」を選ぶ, "choose "blue" (as in the word blue)"

Words That Just End With -i

Not every Japanese word ending with -i is an adjective. The word masui 麻酔, "anesthesia," for example, ends with -i but is noun, not an adjective.  The word mirai 未来, "future," ends with -i but is a noun. The word rikai 理解, "comprehend," is a noun and a verb but not an adjective.

However, though simply ending with -i doesn't guarantee anything, ending with the hiragana い is another story. Most words that, when written with their kanji, end up having an i い at the end are probably adjectives.

Words such as: osoi 遅い, nagai 長い, mijikai 短い, omoshiroi 面白い, katai 硬い, nurui 温い, takai 高い, hikui 低い, etc. (slow, long, short, funny, hard, lukewarm, high, low)

It's even easier for Japanese words that end with shii しい: atarashii 新しい, muzukashii 難しい, suzuhii 涼しい, utsukushii 美しい, yakamashii 喧しい, etc. (new, difficult, refreshing, beautiful, noisy)

Two common exceptions are kudasai 下さい and nasai なさい, which come from the verbs kudasaru 下さる and nasaru なさる, respectively, and are not adjectives.

-na Adjectives

The na adjectives, unlike the i adjectives, are first nouns and then adjectives. Instead of all ending with the syllable na, the way i adjectives end with i, na adjectives are actually nouns that can have the na particle added after them to become adjectives.

What happens is that you have a noun, such as "bizarre," kimyou 奇妙, and another, such as "adventure," bouken 冒険. To say "bizarre adventure" you don't say kimyou bouken 奇妙冒険 directly, you have to say kimyou na bouken 奇妙な冒険, with the na particle after the na adjective.

In dictionaries, "na adjectives" are called keidou 形動. Most nouns can be turned into adjectives by the na particle despite what the dictionary says, however, most of it won't make much sense. Example: bouken na kimyou 冒険な奇妙, "adventure-y bizarre."

Conjugating na Adjectives

The na adjectives can't be actually conjugated. They don't all end in something you can conjugate, unlike i adjectives, they end in a particle. However, you can do the same things you would with an i adjective with a na adjective this way:
  • adjective + na 形動 + な
    Present affirmative.
  • adjective + janai 形動 + じゃない
    adjective + dewanai 形動 + ではない
    adjective + de nai 形動 + でない
    Present negative.
  • adjective + datta 形動 + だった
    Past affirmative.
  • adjective + janakatta 形動 + じゃなかった
    adjective + dewanakatta 形動 + ではなかった
    adjective + de nakatta 形動 + でなかった
    Past negative.
  • adjective + de 形動 + で
    Adverbial form.
    Can be used like the kute form too.

Conjugation examples

Now let's see how those na adjective "conjugations" work in practice.
  • kirei na keshiki 綺麗な景色
    Beautiful scenery.
  • JoJo no Kimyou Janai Bouken ジョジョの奇妙じゃない冒険
    JoJo's non-strange adventure.
  • majime datta hito kedo ne 真面目だった人けどね
    [He was] a person who used to be diligent, but...
  • kiken janakatta asobi nanoni? 危険じゃなかった遊びなのに?
    Even though it wasn't a dangerous game? (play)
  • shinchou de ikou 慎重で行こう
    Let's go carefully...
  • are wa shizuka de fushigi na basho datta あれは静かで不思議な場所だった
    That was a quiet, mysterious place.

Rare Cases

Sometimes, some rare, rare times, we have words that make no sense at all even though they are simple everyday words. Words such as chiisai 小さい and chiisana 小さな, both meaning "little," which will make you wonder: is this an i adjective or a na adjective?

In these cases, I suggest you give up trying to figure out and just remember how it was used the last time you saw it.

no Adjectives

Next we have no adjectives, no, I don't mean we have no more adjectives, I mean we have adjectives that get to have the no の particle added after them just like the na adjectives we saw before.

Adjectives created by the no particle are mostly about relationships because two nouns. The no particle indicates to what something pertains. Often it's said the article marks who possesses something, but actually a looser relationship. Examples:
  • kare no ie 彼の家
    His house. (the house pertains to him)
  • gakkou no tomodachi 学校の友達
    A friend from school. (the friend pertain to the school)
  • tomodachi no gakkou 友達の学校
    A friend's school. (the school pertains to the friend)
  • mise no shouhin 店の商品
    Goods of the shop. (the goods pertain to the shop)
  • nihon no machi 日本の街
    A Japanese city. (the city pertains to Japan)

To understand this better, let's see one extreme use:
  • boku no petto no namae no hatsuon 僕のペットの名前の発音
    My pet's name's pronunciation.
    The pronunciation of my pet's name.

Starting at the end, we have hatsuon, "pronunciation." But pronunciation of what? Of a "name," namae. A name's pronunciation. But whose name? Of a "pet," petto. A pet's name's pronunciation. But whose pet? Mine, or, rather, "I," boku.

So that's how no adjectives work: by describing to what the noun pertains.

If you have an questions, doubts, comments, etc. please post them below.

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