Wednesday, January 9, 2019

-nikui ~にくい, ~難い

In Japanese, -nikui ~にくい, also written -nikui ~難い, -nikui ~悪い, is an auxiliary adjective that means something is "hard to do." In essence, -nikui ~にくい is the antonym of the auxiliary adjective -yasui ~やすい, which means "easy to do."

く…なんだか今とてつもなく恥ずかしいことをしている気分だ…息が…息がしにくい… quote from manga Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん


Since nikui is an auxiliary adjective, it comes after the masu stem of verbs, also called the "connective form," ren'youkei 連用形.
  • suru する
    To do.
  • shimasuます
    To do. (polite.)
  • shi
  • shinikuiにくい
    Doing is hard.
    Hard to do.

Since nikui is an auxiliary adjective it turns the verb into an adjective. In particular, nouns that would become objects (marked by wo を) can end up becoming subjects (marked by ga が).
  • shigoto 仕事
    Work. (noun.)
  • shigoto wo suru 仕事をする
    To do the work. (the work is object.)
  • shigoto ga suru 仕事がする
    The work does. (this makes no sense.)
  • shigoto ga shi-nikui 仕事がしにくい
    The work is hard to do. (predicative adjective.)
  • shi-nikui shigoto しにくい仕事
    Work [that] is hard to do. (attributive adjective.)

Since it turns the verb into an adjective, sometimes the English translation is just one single adjective word rather than a whole phrase. For example:
  • yomu 読む
    To read.
  • 読みにくい
    Hard to read.


The word nikui can be conjugated like an i-adjective.
  • nikui にくい
    Hard [to do].
  • nikukatta にくかった
    Was hard [to do].
  • nikukunai にくくない
    Is not hard [to do].
  • nikukunakatta にくくなかった
    Was not hard [to do].

See the Conjugation of i-Adjectives for details.


There's a couple homonyms you should be aware of.

Nikui 憎い

The first one, nikui 憎い, surely looks like nikui 難い, but is written with a different kanji, and is totally a different word. This nikui 憎い doesn't mean "hard," it means "detestable."

To have an idea, some similar words include:
  • nikumu 憎む
    To hate. To detest.
  • nikushimi 憎しみ

Minikui 醜い vs. 見にくい

With the verb is "to see," miru 見る, the polite form would be mimasu 見ます, thus "hard to see" would be minikui 見にくい.

Note, however, that most of the time minikui means something else entirely:
  • minikui 醜い
    Ugly. Unsightly.

This word is actually also written as minikui 見憎い, with the "detestable" nikui. So it essentially means "seeing [it] is detestable." Because it's so ugly you don't want to see it.

-gatai ~難い

The word -nikui written with kanji is -nikui ~難い, which is rather confusing, since -gatai ~がたい, another auxiliary suffix that means something is "hard to do," may also be written with kanji as -gatai ~難い.

Generally speaking, however, both words tend to be written with hiragana.

"Hard" in Japanese

Note that not every time you have the word "hard" in English you have the word -nikui ~にくい in Japanese.

"Hard" Difficulty

To refer to the difficulty of something, the word used is muzukashii 難しい.
  • kore ga muzukashii これが難しい
    This is difficult.
    This is hard.


A lot of times the katakanization of the word "hard," haado ハード, is used to say "hard." This is specially the case of the "hard" difficult level in games, and words loaned from English, for example:
  • haadowea ハードウェア
  • haado boirudo ハードボイルド
  • haado dhisuku ハードディスク

"Hard," i.e. Not Soft

To say something is "hard," as in, it's "not soft," the word used would be katai 硬い. Note that this word can be written with multiple, different kanji:
  • katai 硬い
    Hard. Solid.
    • Antonym:
    • yawarakai 軟らかい
      Soft. (e.g. pillow.)
  • katai 固い
    Rigid. Inflexible.
    Fixed. Immovable.
    • Antonym:
    • nurui 緩い
  • katai 堅い
    Firm. Solid.
    • Antonym:
    • moroi 脆い
      Brittle. Fragile.


  • wakarinikui 分かりにくい
    Hard to understand.
    (e.g. Evangelion.)
    • wakaru 分かる
      To understand.
  • atsukainikui 扱いにくい
    Hard to handle.
    • atsukau 扱う
      To handle.
  • kakinikui 書きにくい
    Hard to write. (e.g. love letter.)
    Hard to write with. (e.g. brush.)
    • kaku 書く
      To write.
  • souzou shinikui 想像しにくい
    Hard to imagine.
    • souzou suru 想像する
      To imagine.
  • kangaenikui 考えにくい
    Hard to think. Hard to conceive.
    Unthinkable. INCONCEIVABLE!!!
    • kangaeru 考える
      To think.
  • iinikui 言いにくい
    Hard to say.
    • iu 言う
      To say.


く…なんだか今とてつもなく恥ずかしいことをしている気分だ…息が…息がしにくい… quote from manga Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん
  • ku... く…
    *vexed noises*
  • nandaka ima
    [It seems that] now
  • totetsumonaku
    hazukashii koto wo
    kibun da...

    [I have] a feeling [that] [I] am doing something extremely embarrassing.
  • iki ga...
    [My] breathing...
  • iki ga

    [It feels] hard to breathe...
    • iki wo suru 息をする
      To do breathing.
      To breathe.

Further Reading

See Also

  • -dzurai ~づらい
    Another auxiliary adjective that means "hard to do," but is used subjectively instead of objectively.


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