Sunday, November 4, 2018

な Adjectives

In Japanese, na-adjectives are words that are usually turned into attributive adjectives by adding a na な after them. Some na-adjectives are always classified as adjectives, but others can be classified as nouns or adverbs when they don't have the na.

The term for "na-adjective" in Japanese is na-keyoushi ナ形容詞, abbreviated na-kei ナ形. They're also confusingly called "adjectival nouns" in English and "adjectival verbs" in Japanese, keiyou-doushi 形容動詞, abbreviated keidou 形動.

Relationship with Copulas

Before starting the real article, allow me to offer a summarized version of how na-adjectives work. If you don't understand something written in this section, rest assured it's explained in excruciating detail in the grammar section below.

The na particle that comes after na adjectives is the attributive copula na な. Besides it, there's the predicative copula da だ. The adverbial copula ni に. And the te-form of the da copula, which's de で.

Anything that's related to na-adjectives is just switching one copula for another copula.

The predicative copula, attributive copula, and adverbial copula relationship with na-adjectives.

And there's more: na-adjectives are considered to be adjectives, so they can't fit the role of a noun grammatically. However, the copulas na, ni, da, de can be used with nouns and noun phrases that aren't classified as na-adjectives.

That means, for example, that you can say neko na hito 猫な人, "a person who is a cat," even though neko isn't classified as a na-adjective. A lot of the grammar valid for na-adjectives is also valid for nouns and noun phrases.


Since na-adjectives are just words with a na added after them, there's no way to conjugate or inflect the na-adjective itself, like you'd be able to do with the true adjectives, the i-adjectives.

However, mostly everything you can do with an i-adjective you can do with a na-adjective, except not through inflection, through changing the na particle for something else instead.

For reference, na-adjective equivalents of i-adjective inflections:
  • subarashii 素晴らしい
    Splendid. (i-adjective.)
  • migoto 見事
    Magnificent. (na-adjective.)
  • Predicative form. (shuushikei 終止形)
    • X ga subarashii ◯が素晴らし
      X is splendid.
    • X ga migoto ◯が見事
      X is magnificent.
      (predicative doesn't need na な!)
  • Attributive form. (rentaikei 連体形)
    • subarashii X 素晴らし
      A splendid X.
    • migoto na X 見事
      A magnificent X.
  • Predicative past form.
    • X ga subarashikatta ◯が素晴らしかった
      X was splendid.
    • X ga migoto datta ◯が見事だった
      X was magnificent.
  • Attributive past form.
    • subarashikatta X 素晴らしかった
      An X that was splendid.
    • migoto datta X 見事だった
      An X that was magnificent.
  • Predicative negative form.
    • X ga subarashikunai ◯が素晴らしくない
      X isn't splendid.
    • X ga migoto janai ◯が見事じゃない
      X ga migoto dewanai ◯が見事ではない
      X isn't magnificent.
  • Attributive negative form.
    • subarashikunai X 素晴らしくない
      An X that isn't splendid.
    • migoto denai X 見事でない
      An X that isn't magnificent.
  • Te-form.
    • subarashikute 素晴らしくて
      Splendid and...
    • migoto de 見事
      Magnificent and...
  • Adverbial form.
    • subarashiku odoru ◯が素晴らしく踊る
      To dance splendidly.
    • migoto ni odoru ◯が見事に踊る
      To dance magnificently.
  • Naru-form.
    • subarashiku naru ◯が素晴らしくなる
      Will become splendid.
    • migoto ni naru ◯が見事になる
      Will become magnificent.
  • Sa-form
    • subarashisa 素晴らしさ
    • migoto sa 見事さ
  • Suffix: sou.
    • subarashisou 素晴らしそう
      Seems splendid.
    • migoto sou 見事そう
      Seems magnificent.


For reference, a chart with na-adjective inflections.

Na-adjective inflection cheat sheet.


The grammar behind na-adjectives is 300% reliant on the Japanese copula, desu です, or rather, on the Japanese copulas, like, more than one of them.

There's even a book that talks only about them: The Japanese Copula: Forms and Functions.

But it's made for linguists, and I'm no linguist, I assume you're no linguist either, we aren't linguists, so let's go to what matters: how na-adjectives work in practice.

Attributive Form

Let's start with the attributive form, which is the form that gives na-adjectives their name: na-adjectives, because of the na they get when they're put into the attributive form.

Like all adjectives in Japanese, na-adjectives are pre-nominal: they come before nouns. See:
  • kawaii neko 可愛い
    Cute cat.
    (this is an i-adjective.)
  • yuumei na neko 有名な
    Famous cat.
    (now this is a na-adjective.)

You may have noticed that kawaii 可愛い, "cute," has the iokurigana, while yuumei 有名, "famous," has no okurigana, is written entirely with kanji, and separately gets the na な particle.

This might mislead you into thinking the difference between i-adjectives and na-adjectives is that one has okurigana and the other doesn't. That isn't true; na-adjectives can have okurigana too:
  • shizuka 静か
  • shizuka na neko 静か
    Quiet cat.

Worse yet, they can even have i い as okurigana:
  • kirai na neko 嫌い
    Despised cat. Hated cat. Disliked cat.
    A cat [I] hate.

In the case above, with the word kirai 嫌い, there's a reason for this: kirai 嫌い is the connective form, ren'youkei 連用形, of the less common verb kirau 嫌う, "to hate." Similarly, suki 好き is the ren'youkei of the less common verb suku 好く, "to like."
  • suki na neko 好き
    Liked cat.
    A cat [I] like.

Predicative Form

Next we have the predicative form. In Japanese, the ga が particle marks the subject of a sentence, and everything that's not the subject is the predicate. See:
  • neko ga yuumei 猫が有名
    Cats [are] famous.
    The cat [is] famous.

As always, the casual copula da だ and the polite copula desu です are optional, and pretty much don't change the meaning, just add nuance.
  • neko ga yuumei da 猫が有名
    neko ga yuumei desu 猫が有名です
    Cats are famous.
    The cat is famous.

Furthermore, Japanese prefers to talk about the topic, with the topic marker particle wa は, rather than to talk about what the subject is or is doing. And both subject and topic can be implicit from context. For example:
  • suki da 好きだ
    [It] is liked. (literally.)
    [I like it.] (how you'd translate it to English.)
  • neko wa suki da 猫は好きだ
    As for cats, it is liked. (literally.)
  • The above can mean two different things depending on context:
    1. To someone, dogs or other animals are not liked, but cats are liked.
      That is, he might not like dogs, but he does like cats.
    2. Something isn't liked by dogs or other animals, but to cats, it's liked.
      That is, dogs might not like it, but cats do like it.

Now, you may have noticed there's a huge, immense, immeasurable difference between the attributive form and the predicative form of na-adjectives.


Like WHAT?! It's a na-adjective! It's an adjective with a na! How can... how can there possibly be a na-adjective without a na? That's literally the thing that makes na-adjetives na-adjectives! Without a na na-adjectives are just plain na-less adjectives! WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!?!?!?

But yeah, that's right. You don't add the na な particle after na-adjectives in the predicative form. If you do add it, it won't be the same particle. It'll be a different na particle that you put at the end of phrases to say "isn't it?"
  • neko ga yuumei na? 猫が有名
    Cats [are] famous, [aren't they]?

To make sense of this, of why na adjectives don't have na in the predicative form, we'll have to understand why do we need the na な particle in the attributive form in first place.

Attributive Copula Na

The na of na-adjectives is actually a copula. The prenominal copula, or attributive copula.

Basically, da だ is the copula you use in an independent clause, while na な is the copula you use in an attributive clause, also called adjectival clause. A clause that describes nouns.

(adjective clauses are also called "relative clauses." In Japanese, when you have a verb right before a noun, you have a relative clause. It's just that in this case the verb is the copulative verb.)

To have a better idea:
  • neko ga yuumei da 猫が有名だ
    Cats are famous.
  • yuumei na neko 有名な
    Famous cats.

It's boils down to na な being the attributive equivalent of da だ.
  • If you can say:
    Noun ga something da.
  • Then you can say:
    Something na noun.

So that's where na-adjectives come from, and it's why na-adjectives look like they can be basically any kind of word. Anything you can put a da on you can put a na on, at least grammatically speaking.

For example:
  • jouhou ga tashika da 情報が確かだ
    The information is correct.
  • tashika na jouhou 確かな情報
    Correct information.
    Information that is correct.
  • kuni ga heiwa da 国が平和だ
    The country is peaceful.
  • heiwa na kuni 平和な
    Peaceful country.
    A country that is peaceful.
  • yarikata ga samazama da やり方が様々だ
    Ways to do [it] are various.
  • samazama na yarikata 様々なやり方
    Various ways to do [it].

Although grammatically speaking it's always correct, that doesn't mean it's always natural, makes sense, or is something you'd ever say. For example:
  • kimyou na bouken 奇妙な冒険
    Bizarre adventure.
    An adventure that is bizarre.
    (you'd say this.)
  • bouken ga kimyou da 冒険が奇妙だ
    Adventure is bizarre.
    (you wouldn't say this.)

Conversely, some stuff you'd think doesn't make sense actually makes sense in Japanese. Like putting na-adjectives before personal pronouns.
  • boku ga tensai da 僕が天才だ
    I am a genius.
  • tensai na boku 天才な僕
    Genius... I? Genius me?
    The me that is a genius?
  • watashi ga dame da 私がダメだ
    I am useless.
  • Dame na Watashi ni Koishite Kudasai ダメな私に恋してください
    Please Love the Useless Me.
    • Title of a romance manga.
  • kono machi ga daisuki da この街が大好きだ
    This town is very much liked. (literally.)
    [I love] this town.
  • daisuki na kono machi 大好きなこの街
    Very much liked this town.
    This town that [I love].

Even more, transforming the predicative da into an attributive na isn't restricted to single words. You can turn a whole predicate into an adjective.

What We Can't Turn Into a Na-Adjective?

As you've seen above, you can add a na particle to basically anything, which means, in practice, that you can turn basically anything into a na-adjective. But is there something we can't turn into a na-adjective?

I mean, if you check a dictionary, you'll see that a lot of words are tagged as "na-adjectives." Those are words that are often used as na-adjectives. Some of them are literally adjectives, but some of them are nouns, others are adverbs, because, again, you can make anything into a na-adjective.

For example, the word for "cat," neko 猫, is totally not a na-adjective. It's a noun, clearly. But you can turn it into a na-adjective nonetheless if you have a situation specific enough. For example, say you are a cat.
  • watashi wa neko da 私は猫だ
    I'm a cat.
  • neko na watashi 猫な
    The me that is a cat.

So you can turn even neko into a na-adjective. Except that doesn't happen normally, so a dictionary won't waste its time saying every word out there may technically be a na-adjective.

But is there anything we grammatically can't turn into a na-adjective? Yes. There is.

The pattern that has followed us so far is: if you can add a da to it, you can add a na to it. Therefore, if you can't add a da to it, you can't add a na to it.

For example, you can't add a da to an i-adjective, at least not directly. To add the da, you need the nominalizing no の particle or its n ん contraction between the two.
  • neko ga kawaii da 猫が可愛い
  • neko ga kawaii-n-da 猫が可愛いんだ
    neko ga kawaii no da 猫が可愛いのだ
    Cats are cute.

Similarly, you can't put a da after a verb. You need the nominalizing no particle in this case too.
  • sakana ga oyogu da 魚が泳ぐ
  • sakana ga oyogu-n-da 魚が泳ぐんだ
    sakana ga oyogu no da 魚が泳ぐのだ
    Fishes swim.

The phrases above, despite having da, can't be converted to attributive na. You can't say no na のな. This is because you don't need those particles to begin with. You can put verbs and i-adjectives directly before nouns without the need of the na particle, and they'll qualify that noun just fine.
  • kawaii no na neko 可愛いのな猫
  • kawaii neko 可愛い猫
    Cute cat.
  • oyogu no na sakana 泳ぐのな魚
  • oyogu saka 泳ぐ魚
    Fish that swims. [Swimming] fish.

Also note that if you put a na な after a verb, at the end of a sentence, it's a different na な that means "don't!" instead and has nothing to do with adjectives.
  • oyogu na! 泳ぐな!
    Don't swim!

Furthermore, although you can technically turn any noun into a na-adjective, usually nouns become no-adjectives instead. That is, they get the no の particle, not the na な particle.
  • neko na watashi 猫な私
    The me that is a cat. (technically correct version you wouldn't use.)
  • neko no watashi
    The me that is a cat. (version you'd normally use.)

Beware that a lot of words are listed in dictionaries as both nouns and na-adjectives, so sometimes they take na, other times they take no. For example:
  • ninki na manga 人気な漫画
    Popular manga.
  • ninki no geemu 人気のゲーム
    Popular game.

Negative Form

The negative form of na-adjectives is literally just replacing the normal copula by a negative copula such as denai でない, dewanai ではない or its contraction, janai じゃない.
  • kiken na ninmu 危険な任務
    Dangerous mission.
    Mission that is dangerous.
  • kiken denai ninmu 危険でない任務
    kiken dewanai ninmu 危険ではない任務
    kiken janai ninmu 危険じゃない任務
    Not dangerous mission.
    Mission that is not dangerous.

In modern Japanese, when the adjective is attributive like above, you'd use denai でない, and when the adjective is predicative like below, you'd use dewanai ではない or janai じゃない. [「~でない」と「~ではない」とどう違いますか? -, 2018-11-03]
  • kono ninmu ga kiken da この任務が危険だ
    This mission is dangerous.
  • kono ninmu ga kiken janai この任務が危険じゃない
    This mission is not dangerous.

でない vs. ではない

The word janai, or rather, dewanai ではない, is the combination of the particle de で, the particle wa は, and the auxiliary adjective nai ない.

The difference between denai and dewanai is obviously this wa は particle. It has a contrastive function. Basically, it means "I don't know about other cases, but this specific case is [something]."

Since we also got a negative nai ない there, it means "this specific case is not [something]."

In the predicative, this "this specific case" nuance is important because you're saying "this thing I'm talking about is specifically not true." Another way to understand this is assuming that janai and dewanai deny the whole phrase, rather than just the adjective.

In the attributive, however, that nuance is often unnecessary, which's why denai is normally used in the attributive while dewanai is used in the predicative.
  • ninmu ga kiken dewanai 任務が危険でない
    The mission, dangerous, it is not. (it could be something else, though.)
    It is not a dangerous mission. (it's something else.)
  • kiken dewanai ninmu 危険でない任務
    A mission that, dangerous, it is not. (but could be something else.)
    A mission that's not dangerous. (it's something else, but not dangerous.)
  • kiken denai ninmu 危険でない任務
    A non-dangerous mission. (since this doesn't have a wa, it doesn't emphasize contrast.)

If the phrase is simple enough, it makes more sense to use a simple na-adjective in the attributive with a negative copula denying the whole phrase (janai, dewanai). You'd only use denai if your noun phrase (kiken denai ninmu) is part of the bigger phrase.
  • {kiken na ninmu} dewanai 危険な任務ではない
    {kiken na ninmu} janai 危険な任務じゃない
    It's not {a dangerous mission.} (it's something else, a safe mission, presumably.)
  • {kiken denai ninmu} nante nai-n-da 危険でない任務なんてないんだ
    There's no such thing as a {non-dangerous mission}.

Past Negative, Adverbial Negative, Etc.

As always, the nai ない auxiliary can be inflected as an i-adjective.
  • denakatta でなかった
    dewanakatta ではなかった
    Past negative.
  • denaku でな
    dewanaku ではな
    Adverbial negative.
  • denakute でなくて
    dewanakute ではなくて

Past Form

The past form of na-adjectives is literally just placing the normal copula by a past copula such as datta だった.
  • heiwa na kuni 平和な
    Peaceful country.
  • heiwa datta kuni 平和だった
    Was peaceful country.
    Country that was peaceful.

Again, you can put datta instead of na in the attributive because you can but datta instead of da in the predicative.
  • kono kuni ga heiwa da この国が平和だ
    This country is peaceful.
  • kono kuni ga heiwa datta この国が平和だった
    This country was peaceful.

If you're just saying something was adjective, it makes more sense to use an attributive adjective in the non-past (with na) and add a predicative copula in the past at the end of the sentence.
  • heiwa na kuni datta 平和な国だった
    [It] was a peaceful country.

So you'd only use datta in the attributive if it's a more complicated phrase.
  • heiwa datta kuni wo sensou ni makikomu 平和だった国を戦争に巻き込む
    To drag into war the country that was peaceful.
    To drag into war an [once] peaceful country.


The te-form of na-adjectives is literally just replacing the normal copula by the de で part... wait, no, by the de で that's actually the te-form of the copulative verb da!!!

That's right. As extremely confusing as it sounds, and is, there are two de's in Japanese: the de で particle that creates adverbs, and the de で that's the te-form of the copula da だ.

(more confusingly yet, they're etymologically the same thing since da is the abbreviation of de aru である, but let's ignore this for the sake of our sanity.)

Let's begin with the de that's the te-form of da.

As explained in the article about i-adjectives, adjectives can be connected to other adjectives through their te-forms. The te-form of i-adjectives is -kute ~くて.
  • kirei na hito 綺麗
    Pretty person.
  • yasashii hito 優し
    Kind person.
    Gentle person.
  • yasashikute kirei na hito 優しくて綺麗な人
    A person that is kind and pretty.

The last adjective of a te-form chain shouldn't be in the te-form but in the attributive form, -i ~い ending for i-adjectives, na copula for na-adjectives.

For example, above the na-adjective kirei was the last adjective before the noun hito, that's why it was kirei na. If we switch the adjectives' positions, the adverbial yasashikute will return to its attributive form yasashii, while kirei na will become kirei de:
  • kirei de yasashii hito 綺麗優しい人
    A person that is pretty and kind.

In the predicative you don't need the na, just like it would be without two adjectives connected by te-form.
  • kanojo ga kirei de yasashii 彼女が綺麗で優しい
    kanojo ga kirei de yasashii-n-da 彼女が綺麗で優しいんだ
    She is pretty and kind.
  • kanojo ga yasashikute kirei 彼女が優しくて綺麗
    kanojo ga yasashikute kirei da 彼女が優しくて綺麗だ
    She is kind and pretty.

Although there's no hard rule regarding the order of the adjectives, it's sometimes implied the first adjective may cause the second. So there are things you'd say in one order you wouldn't say in another order.
  • shoshinsha de heta na watashi 初心者で下手な私
    The me that is a beginner and unskilled.
    • That is: because I'm a beginner, I'm also unskilled.
  • heta de shoshinsha na watashi 下手で初心者な私
    The me that is unskilled and a beginner.
    • That is: because I'm unskilled, I'm also a beginner.
    • This doesn't make as much sense as the one above, so you probably wouldn't say it like this.

For reference, an example of the de で particle that's not the te-form of the copula:
  • geemu de asobu ゲーム遊ぶ
    To play by game.
    To play with a video-game.

Adverbial Form

The adverbial form of na-adjectives is literally just replacing the normal copula by the ni に particle, which some scholars analyze as the "adverbial copula." So, to recap:
  • Predicative copula da
    • kono machi ga shizuka da この街が静か
      This town is quiet.
  • Attributive copula na
    • shizuka na machi 静か
      Quiet town.
  • Adverbial copula ni
    • shizuka ni nemuru 静か眠る
      To quietly sleep.

As you can see, despite the scary "adverbial copula" term, this is all pretty easy. It's basically -ly in English.
  • hontou na shi 本当
    Real death.
  • hontou ni shinda 本当死んだ
    Really died.
  • seikaku na kotae 正確答え
    Correct answer.
  • seikaku ni kotaeru 正確答える
    To correctly answer.
    To answer correctly.

The only problem is that there's a lot of disparity between English and Japanese, so the literal translation may not sound natural, or even doesn't express the same message it does in Japanese.

This results in a na-adjective having different translation when it's used as an adjective versus when it's used as an adverb. For example:
  • massugu na seikaku まっすぐな性格
    A "straight" personality. (straight as in "right," "direct.")
    A [honest] character. (someone of honest character doesn't lie.)
  • massugu ni arukenai まっすぐに歩けない
    Straightly walk able not. (negative potential of aruku 歩く)
    Can't walk straight.
  • tokubetsu na oshie 特別な教え
    A special teaching.
  • tokubetsu ni oshiete ageru 特別に教えてあげる
    To teach [you] specially. To tell [you] specially.
    [I'll do you a favor and] tell [you.]
    [I'll] tell [you only because it's you.]

Adverbial Copula Ni

The term "adverbial copula," abbreviated in books as COP-ADV, might elude you a bit. And by a bit I mean a lot. After all it's two terms that sound too complicated. So, here, I'll try to explain what an adverbial copula is.

First off, a copula is also called a copulative verb. If it's called a copulative verb, then, naturally, a copula is a verb. And if it's a verb, you can assume it works like just any other verb.

Except it doesn't.

At least not in Japanese.

To understand why, let's see an example of a normal verb in action:
  • shiro ga ugoku 城が動く
    The castle moves.
  • ugoku shiro 動く
    The castle that moves.

Above we have the verb ugoku, "to move." In the first example, it's the verb of a simple clause. In the second example, it's the verb of a subordinate adjectival clause. That is, a separate clause, "that moves," serving as adjective, describing the "castle" noun.

In English, we often use subordinating prepositions like "that" and "who" to introduce these clauses. Japanese doesn't have those, so the verb comes right before the noun. Because of this, it might look like there isn't a separate clause there, but there is:
  • {ugoku} shiro ga ugoku 動く城が動く
    The castle {that moves} moves.
    • In bold: main clause.
    • In curly brackets: subordinate adjectival clause.

(by the way, particles can be called postpositions, since they come after stuff, oppositely to prepositions, that come before stuff.)

Now, the thing about clauses is that you can only have one verb per clause. And a copula is a verb. So every time there's a copula, there's a clause, just like above.

And yet, we can't do this:
  • kuni ga heiwa da 国が平和だ
    The country is peaceful.
  • heiwa da kuni 平和だ国
    The country that is peaceful. (wrong!!!)

That's because these pesky Japanese copulas are different from the regular Japanese verbs.

A regular verb doesn't care if it's in the main clause or in a subordinate clause. The ugoku above remained ugoku in both cases. But copulas care. The Japanese copula must match the type of clause they're verb for.
  • heiwa da 平和だ
    This is a independent clause.
  • heiwa na 平和な
    This is an adjectival clause, also called attributive clause.
  • heiwa ni 平和に
    This is an adverbial clause.

So that's why it's an "adverbial copula."

This is a bit hard to get because of the implication: it implies your average Japanese sentence has way more clauses than you'd expect. For example:
  • {{shizuka na} neko ga {shizuka ni} nemuru no} da 静かな猫が静かに眠るのだ
    The quiet cat sleeps quietly.

The English translation "the quiet cat sleeps quietly" has just one clause. After all, "quiet" is an adjective, "quietly" is an adverb, and they don't need clauses. The only verb we got is "sleeps," and since it's only one verb, we only have one clause.

By contrast, shizuka na neko ga shizuka ni nemuru no da has the verb nemuru plus three copulas, na, ni, and da. Since each copula is a verb, that means we have four verbs in total, which means four clauses. That's a lot of clauses.

If we were to translate to English keeping the same number of clauses, we'd have to say some monstrosity like this:
  • {The cat {that is quiet} sleeps in a way {that is quiet}}, it is.
    Is, sleeps, is, is. Four clauses.

Maybe because it's so clausy and na-adjectives end up becoming mere single-word clauses anyway, some grammars prefer to analyze them not as clauses with a na copula that can be inflected, but as adjectives with a na suffix that can be inflected.

(as you may have realized, this article is based on the clause analysis, not the suffix analysis. Because I just found out about it so it's more interesting to me.)

Now, remember that in Japanese na-adjectives are called "adjectival verbs," keiyou-doushi 形容動詞?

If they're verbs they need their own clauses. Since some grammars disagree with na introducing a new clause every time, they couldn't call them "verbs." That's probably why in English the term "adjectival noun" exists to to refer to them instead.

Ni Naru になる

The construction ni naru になる is the verb naru なる, "to become," preceded by the adverbial copula ni に. Basically, X-ni-naru means "to become X."

Now, this is an interesting construction because it validates a lot of this copula stuff.

Like I said before, you can make (mostly) everything a na-adjective. Because na is a copula, so anything that can take da can take na. And the adverbial form of na-adjectives replaces the adjectival copula na by the adverbial copula ni.

So when we say:
  • heiwa ni naru 平和になる
    To become peaceful.

We're actually saying:
  • heiwa ni naru 平和になる
    To peaceful-ly become.
    To become in a way {that is peaceful.}

This might sound weird to you if you already know that the ni に particle can be used to mark the indirect object of a phrase, like this:
  • kimi ni ninjutsu wo oshieru 君に忍術を教える
    To teach ninja-arts to you.

And like always you can be very implicit in Japanese, so you don't need to explicitly say the direct object if it's implied by context:
  • kimi ni oshieru 君に教える
    To teach [something implicit] to you.

So you might look at this noun-ni-verb construction and conclude that noun-ni-naru is the same thing. That naru is a verb that takes an indirect object marked by the ni particle, just like oshieru above.
  • neko ni naru 猫になる
    To become a cat.
    • A cat - indirect object???


The ni of ni naru is not the indirect object marker!!!

It's the adverbial copula!!!!111

But yes, wai. And there's an easy way to confirm this is actually true and I'm not making stuff up: when we have an i-adjective, the construction is not ni naru, it's -ku naru ~くなる. This -ku is the adverbial form of i-adjectives.
  • takai 高い
  • takaku tobu 高く飛う
    To jump high.
  • takaku naruくなる
    To become high.
    To become expensive.

So, if with i-adjectives the verb naru is modified by the adverbial form, then, with na-adjectives, the verb naru must be modified by the adverbial form also!
  • takaku naru 高くなる
    To become in a way {that is expensive.}
  • neko ni naru 猫になる
    To become in a way {that is a cat.}

This can also be observed in the fact that anything you can say ending in a da copula you can say ending in ni naru, because ni is simply the adverbial variant of the da copula.
  • anime ga suki da アニメが好き
    Anime is liked. (literally.)
    [I like] anime.
  • anime ga suki ni naru アニメが好きなる
    To become in a way {that anime is liked.}
    To start liking anime.
  • {{anime ga suki ni} natta} kikkake アニメが好きなったきかっけ
    The motive {to have become in a way {that anime is liked.}}
    The reason why [I] started liking anime.

Suffixes That Are Na-Adjectives

An important thing about na-adjectives are certain suffixes that are na-adjectives. Because they're awfully versatile and a mess to understand.

Such are words like you よう and sou そう. They always come after a phrase that describes them, and are used as adjectives or adverbs for other stuff.

You da, You na, You ni

Let's start understand you よう.
  • tada no shikabane ただのしかばね
    Just a corpse.
  • tada no shikabane no you da ただのしかばねのようだ
    [It] is the appearance of just a corpse. (literally.)
    [It seems to be] just a corpse.

As you can see above, you よう means literally "appearance." And it's always described by something that comes before it. It never shows up alone in a phrase. In English, this phrase becomes translated to "seems to be," "appears to be," "like," etc.

Since it's a na-adjective, you can have an attributive you na and an adverbial you ni too:
  • shikabane no you na hito しかばねのような
    A person that [seems to be] a corpse.
    A person [like] a corpse.
  • shikabane no you ni ikiru しかばねのように生きる
    Living [like] a corpse.

By the way, the pronouns konna, sonna, anna, and donna work like abbreviations of kono/sono/ano/dono you na. However, they do not work like na-adjectives, and you can't say konni to say kono you ni. [「こんな」ってどうして形容動詞なんですか? -, 2018-11-03]

Sou da, Sou na, Sou ni

The sou そう suffix works the same way, except it implies something "might be" something because it "looks like" something. For example:
  • oishii 美味しい
  • oishisou da 美味しそうだ
    [It] looks like it's tasty
    (we aren't sure if it really is, it just looks like it is.)
  • oishisou na banana 美味しそうなバナナ
    A tasty-looking banana.
  • oishisou ni taberu 美味しそうに食べる.
    To eat in a way {that is tasty-looking.)

Teki da, Teki na, Teki ni

Another common na-adjective suffix is teki 的.
  • rekishi 歴史
  • rekishi-teki 歴史的
  • kore wa rekishi-teki da これは歴史的だ
    This is historical. (a historical event, for example.)
  • rekishi-teki na shashin 歴史的な写真
    A historical photo.
  • rekishi-teki ni yuumei na hito 歴史的に有名な人
    A person who is historically famous.


Lastly, one thing that's not really useful but it's cool to know is the origin of na-adjectives.

The na copula of na adjectives comes from the construction ni aru にある. This is similar to how the da copula comes from de aru である.
  1. heiwa ni aru kuni 平和にある国
    (say this fast)
  2. heiwa naru kuni 平和なる国
    (drop the ru)
  3. heiwa na kuni 平和な国
    Peaceful country.

The aru ある of ni aru and de aru is the verb for "to exist," aru 在る.

In modern Japanese, de aru である has been analyzed as a predicative copula de で plus a dummy copula aru ある. [Adjectives and the Copulas in Japanese, by Kunio Nishiyama, published in 1999]

In other words, this aru isn't a verb with the meaning of "to exist" anymore, it's only there to serve a syntactical purpose, to do something related to the Japanese grammar syntax.

That is, you can't inflect the de directly like other u-ending verbs or i-ending adjectives, but you can inflect aru to past form, te-form, etc. So the inflection of the dummy aru serves as the inflection of the copula for grammatical purposes.
  • heiwa de aru 平和である
    heiwa da 平和だ
    heiwa de arimasu 平和であります
    heiwa desu 平和です
    To exist in peace. (wrong!)
    To be in peace. (right.)
  • heiwa de atta 平和であった
    heiwa datta 平和だった
    heiwa dearimashita 平和でありました
    heiwa deshita 平和でした
    Existed in peace. (wrong!)
    Was in peace. (right.)

Besides ni aru and de aru, there was also a third construction, to aru とある.

Some adverbs in Japanese take the to と particle. By adding aru ある, it turns those adverbs into adjectives.

So, to aru and ni aru adjectives became taru adjectives and naru adjectives, and then naru adjectives became na adjectives.

And you can actually add taru and naru to such words and conjugate that. It's the so-called tari-katsuyou タリ活用 and nari-katsuyou ナリ活用.
  • doudou to furumau 堂々と振る舞う
    To behave majestically.
  • doudou toaru sugata 堂々とある姿
    doudou taru sugata 堂々たる姿
    Majestic form. Majestic appearance.
  • shizuka naru Don 静かなるドン
    The Don that is quiet.
    • Title of a manga.

In modern Japanese, this taru たる is considered to be overly polite (since it's usually found in classical Japanese.)

You can still find taru in some manga, but then the meaning is closer to "[something] which's supposed to be [something]" rather than "[something] which is [something]."

Sebastian saying ファントムハイブ家の執事たるものこの程度の技が使えなくてどうします transcript of the manga Black Butler, Kuroshitsuji 黒執事
Manga: "Black Butler," Kuroshitsuji 黒執事
  • Fantomuhaibu-ke no
    shitsuji taru mono
    [Someone] who's supposed to be the butler of the Phantomhive's family...
    • mono もの
      A person.
      [Someone who...] (when qualified by an adjective.)
      (note about homonyms: mono 者 is person, mono 物 is thing.)
  • kono teido no waza ga

    この程度の技が 使えなくて
    ...not able to use a technique of this level...
    • tsukaenakute 使えなくて
      (te-form of)
    • tsukaenai 使えない
      Not able to use.
      (negative form of)
    • tsukaeru 使える
      Able to use.
      (potential form of)
    • tsukau 使う
      To use.
  • doushimasu
    ....does what? (this is an expression.)
    • (potential negative) +
      dou suru どうする
      If you aren't able to [something] what are you going to do?
    • This is a rhetorical question. It implies that being able to [something] is natural, and if you can't, there's something fundamentally wrong.
    • If a surgeon can't operate, what is he going do? Answer: nothing. He isn't a surgeon then!
    • If someone who's supposed to be a Phantomhive's butler can't even use a technique of this level, what is he going to do? Nothing! He isn't a Phantonhive's butler then!


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    1. Very interesting! A nice article which let me to see japanese form the western linguistics point of view. Fascinating

    2. This is absolutely amazing, it's a relief to finally find a simple and clear source that lists ALL the forms with good examples of i and na adjectives next to each other. Thank you so much!!

    3. In the "predicative form" section,can you really say "neko ga yuumei da" without having to use "no" to turn "yuumei" into a noun,which I think the i-adjectives article said is required for predicative copulas in general?I think its pretty safe to assume that it does since theres a section affirming that as a group of words that use copulas interchangably,under the "relationship with copulas" section, "The na particle that comes after na adjectives is the attributive copula na な. Besides it, there's the predicative copula da だ. The adverbial copula ni に. And the te-form of the da copula, which's de で.
      Anything that's related to na-adjectives is just switching one copula for another copula.",but theyre both established and contradictory,so clarification might be helpful.

      1. You're right, it was poorly explained, for various reasons. のだ is a specific construction typically used to explain things. The の is a noun, and what comes before it is a relative clause in attributive form. This is a separate thing from using です without の. Observe:

        綺麗だ -> 可愛い
        綺麗です -> 可愛いです
        綺麗なのだ -> 可愛いのだ
        綺麗なのです -> 可愛いのです

        You can't say 可愛いだ, except if 可愛い is supposed to be a quoted phrase or something of sort, because ~い already performs the function of a predicative copula that だ has. You can say 可愛いです, however, because ~い lacks the politeness function that です has.