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・・・
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん (Chapter 7, 傘)

Usage

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.
  • shi-masu
    ます
    To do. (polite.)
  • shi

    Doing.
  • shi-nikui
    にくい
    shi-nikui
    難い
    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.
  • yomi-nikui
    読みにくい
    Hard to read.
    Illegible.

Conjugation

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.

Homonyms

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
    Hatred.

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.

"Hardware"

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
    Hardware.
  • haado boirudo
    ハードボイルド
    Hard-boiled.
  • haado dhisuku
    ハードディスク
    Hard-disk.

"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
      Loose.
      Lax
  • katai
    堅い
    Firm. Solid.
    • Antonym:
    • moroi
      脆い
      Brittle. Fragile.

Examples

  • wakari-nikui
    分かりにくい
    Hard to understand.
    Incomprehensible.
    (e.g. Evangelion.)
    • wakaru
      分かる
      To understand.
  • atsukai-nikui
    扱いにくい
    Hard to handle.
    • atsukau
      扱う
      To handle.
  • kaki-nikui
    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 shi-nikui
    想像しにくい
    Hard to imagine.
    • souzou suru
      想像する
      To imagine.
  • kangae-nikui
    考えにくい
    Hard to think. Hard to conceive.
    Unthinkable. INCONCEIVABLE!!!
    • kangaeru
      考える
      To think.
  • ii-nikui
    言いにくい
    Hard to say.
    • iu
      言う
      To say.

息がしにくい

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・・・
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん (Chapter 7, 傘)
  • ku... く・・・
    *vexed noises*
  • nandaka ima
    なんだか今
    [It seems that] now.
  • {{totetsumonaku
    hazukashii} koto wo
    shite-iru}
    kibun da...

    とてつもなく恥ずかしいことをしている気分だ・・・
    [I have] a feeling [that] {[I] am doing something {extremely embarrassing}}.
  • iki ga...
    息が・・・
    [My] breathing...
  • iki ga
    shi-nikui

    息がしにくい・・・
    [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.

References

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