Japanese adjectives – All about descriptive words

Every person learning Japanese must master Japanese adjectives sooner or later, so that’s what this article is all about!

A girl wearing pink with her finger pointing upwards

Here we cover the different types of adjectives in the Japanese language, how they are conjugated, popular words, and more. With these, you can easily describe people, objects, and nouns in general. Find the section you need to work on and get that brain working!

What are Japanese adjectives?

As mentioned above, adjectives are used to describe nouns. They add color and emphasis to any language. They are also one of the first learning points for all students who study Japanese.

The Different Types of Adjectives in Japanese

There are two different types of adjectives in the Japanese language. And while they are distinctly different, for the most part, they behave quite similarly. To add, there are almost no exceptions regarding the different Japanese adjectives and their usage – yay!

So here are the two categories of adjectives in the Japanese language and how to tell them apart!

い (i) Adjectives in Japanese

The first kind of Japanese adjective is known as い (i) adjectives or “true adjectives.” い (i) adjectives end in the character い (i) in their base or plain form, so they are easy to spot. But there is one exception here: there are no い (i) -adjectives that end in えい (ei)!

For example, the word きれい (kirei) is a very popular adjective that means “pretty/clean.” Since it ends in えい (ei) instead of just い (i), it is considered a な(na) adjective instead!

な (na) Adjectives in Japanese

The other type of Japanese adjective is known as the な (na) adjective. These adjectives can end in several characters or sounds. Generally, all adjectives that do not end in い (i) are な-adjectives.

They are called な (na) adjectives since they always end with the character な (na) when preceding a noun, which we’ll talk more about later.

Using Japanese Adjectives as Predicates

A predicate is a part of a sentence that modifies the subject in some way. In other words, predicates state what the subject is or does.

Japanese adjectives act as predicates (unlike English adjectives) and, therefore, conjugate in a similar fashion to Japanese verbs. This makes learning adjectives in the Japanese language a little tricky for native English speakers, but you get the hang of it in no time!

Conjugating い-adjectives

Here is a chart demonstrating all the conjugations for Japanese adjectives. Let’s start with the い (i) adjective やすい (yasui | 安い).

 Casual Polite
Present tense やすい
(yasui)
やすいです
(yasuidesu)
Past tense やすかった
(yasukatta)
やすかったです
(yasukattadesu)
Negative form やすくない
(yasukunai)
やすくないです
(yasukunaidesu)
Past Negative form やすくなかった
(yasukunakatta)
やすくなかったです
(yasukunakattadesu)

Conjugating な-adjectives

In the following examples, we’ve used the な (na) adjective たいへん (taihen | 大変).

 Casual Polite
Present たいへん(だ)
(taihen (da))
たいへんです
(taihendesu)
Past たいへんだった
(taihendatta)
たいへんでした
(taihendeshita)
Negative たいへんじゃない
(taihen janai)
たいへんじゃないです
(taihen janaidesu)
Past Negative たいへんじゃなかった
(taihen janakatta)
たいへんじゃなかったです
(taihen janakattadesu)

Note: There are other ways to create the negative forms of these adjectives, but they are far less common and thusly not included.

When Japanese adjectives function as the predicate of a clause, they will appear at the end of a sentence and seem more like a verb than on any other occasion. Here are some example sentences:

そのおとこはケチだったね (sono otoko ha kechi datta ne | その男はケチだったね)

That man was stingy

Here, the adjective ケチ (kechi) comes at the end of the sentence and describes the man, 男 (otoko).

ぜんかいくるまがあまりひろくなかったです(zenkai kuruma ga amari hirokunakatta desu | 前回車があまり広くなかったです)

Last time the car wasn’t so spacious.

In this example, the adjective ひろい (hiroi) comes at the end and is describing the car, 車 (kuruma).

The Rules for Conjugating Japanese Adjectives

The chart above can be a little tricky to grasp for first-time learners. Here are the conjugation rules for Japanese adjectives spelled out for you!

い-adjective Rules

Present – no change

Past – drop the final い (i) and add かった (katta)

Negative – drop the final い (i) and add くない (kunai)

Past negative – drop the final い (i) and add くなかった (kunakatta)

な-adjective Rules

Present – no change

Past – add だった (datta) or でした (deshita) to the end

Negative – add じゃない (janai) to the end

Past Negative – add じゃなかった (janakatta) to the end

Simply add です(desu) to the endings to form the polite version of these adjectives (aside from でした | deshita).

Some Tricky Adjectives

There are a few tricky adjectives that always give Japanese students a run for their money – here they are, and here’s how you can master them quickly!

“Good” in Japanese

This Japanese adjective よい (yoi | 良い) is another reading for the adjective いい (ii) which bears the exact same meaning – good. Both よい (yoi) and いい (ii) mean “good” in the Japanese language and are interchangeable. Thusly, they follow the same conjugation rules:

Present – just よい (yoi) or いい (ii)

Past – よかった (yokatta)

Negative – よくない (yokunai)

Past Negative – よくなかった (yokunakatta)

Other than its tricky conjugation, this adjective functions exactly like all other い-adjectives!

“Cool” in Japanese

You’ve more than likely come across this word at some point while listening to Japanese. かっこいい (kakkoii) translates most closely as the English slang word “cool” [i.e., “that movie was really cool”] but can also mean “handsome.”

What makes this word tricky is that it’s actually the combination of the words かっこ (kakko) and いい (ii)! We’re not sure what かっこ (kakko) means in this case, but the いい (ii) is the same one we just went over! For that reason, the ending of this adjective will conjugate just like いい (ii) conjugates.

It’s the only い-adjective that follows this pattern, but it’s worth being aware of.

“Cute” in Japanese

Another very popular Japanese adjective, かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い), means “cute” or “adorable.” And while it looks similar to the adjective above (they both end in いい), it is indeed different. The first い in かわい comes from the kanji 愛, which reads わい (wai) in this word.

Therefore, this adjective conjugates just like all other い-adjectives! Take a look at our adjective conjugation chart above in case you missed it!

Using Adjectives to Modify Nouns

Of course, just like in English, Japanese adjectives are used to modify or describe Japanese nouns. When they modify nouns, they come directly before the noun they modify.

For な (na)-adjectives, the character な *(na) is placed after the present form/base form of the adjective that comes before the noun. Check out these examples:

げんきなからだはあります(genkina karada ga arimasu | 元気な体があります)

He has a healthy body

きのうのよるおもしろいほんをみつけました(kinou no yoru omoshiroi hon wo mitsukemashita | 昨日の夜面白い本を見つけました)

I found an interesting book last night

おいしいすしだよ(Oishii sushi da yo | 美味しい寿司だよ)

Delicious sushi

*すきなひとです(sukina hito desu | 好きな人です)

A likable person 

*すき(suki | 好き) is a rather special adjective that is used to say when something is “liked” in Japanese (unlike English, which considers “to like” as a verb). Therefore, although すき (suki) does qualify something as “likable,” it is more commonly used to say what someone likes:

わたしのすきなねこです(watashi no sukina neko desu | 私の好きな猫です)

The cat I like / My favorite cat

な-Adjectives as nouns

Some な (na) -adjectives can actually be used as nouns at times. For that reason, these Japanese adjectives are also called “adjectival nouns” or “quasi adjectives.” These concepts are somewhat abstract and can take the role of either a subject or object within a sentence.

へいわがいちばんたいせつなことだ (heiwa ga ichiban taisetsu na koto da | 平和が一番大切なことだ)

Peace is the most precious thing of all

じゆうをまもらなければいけません!(jiyuu wo mamoranakereba ikemasen! | 自由を守らなければいけません!)

Freedom must be protected!

Other Common Japanese Adjective Endings

Aside from the normal conjugative endings, several other endings can be used with Japanese adjectives to form different meanings. Many of these endings can also be used with verbs, so the worth of remembering them is twice as valuable!

Here are some popular adjective endings in Japanese you might want to learn with some example sentences!

Connecting adjectives

The structures くて (kute) / で (de) are used to connect adjectives together or to another clause within a sentence.

Rules:

い (i)-adjectives – drop the final い (i) and add くて (kute).

な (na) -adjectives – we simply add で (de) to the end of the adjective.

ゆうえんちがたのしくてやすかったです(yuuenchi ga tanoshikute yasukatta desu| 遊園地が楽しくて安かったです)

The amusement park was fun and cheap.

にゅうがくしけんはだいじでいっしょうけんめいべんきょうした(nyuugaku shiken ha daijide isshoukenmei benkyoushita | 入学試験は大事で一層件名勉強した)

That entrance exam is important, and I studied my hardest.

“Too much” in Japanese

To say that something is too much of (insert adjective), we must use the ending すぎる(sugiru | 過ぎる) with our Japanese adjectives.

Rules:

い (i) -adjectives – drop the final character and add すぎる (sugiru).

な (na) -adjectives – just add すぎる (sugiru) to the end

このおかしはあまずぎる(kono okashi ha amasugiru | このお菓子は甘すぎる)

This candy is too sweet.

ねだんはたかすぎたからほかのみせにいってみた(nedan ha takasugita kara hoka no mise ni ittemita | 値段は高すぎたからほかの店に行ってみた)

The price was too high, so we went to check out another store.

たいへんすぎる(taihen sugiru | 大変過ぎた)

Too cumbersome

“Become” in Japanese

くなる(kunaru) / になる(ni naru | 成る) is the form we use to say that something has taken on or become a quality. The latter of these two suffixes can also be used for all regular nouns (not just adjectival nouns)!

Rules:

い (i) -adjectives – drop the final い (i) and add くなる (kunaru)

な (na) -adjectives – simply add になる (ninaru) after the word

きゅうにさむくなりました(kyuu ni samukunarimashita | 急に寒くなりました)

It suddenly got cold.

せんそうのときにいぎりすはきけんいなる(sensou no toki ni igirisu ha kiken ni naru | 戦争の時にイギリスは危険になる)

England becomes dangerous during times of war.

“Seems like” in Japanese

The suffix そう(sou) is used to say what something seems like. This is a more advanced Japanese grammar point that carries some nuance, so be sure to practice it sufficiently!

Rules:

い-adjectives – drop the final い (i) and add そう (sou)

な-adjectives – add そうな to the ending (souna)

これはうまそう(kore ha umasou)

This looks delicious.

ひこうきのまどからみながら「これがにぎやかそうなまちだな~」とおもった (hikouki no mado kara minagara “kore ga nigiyakasouna machi da na” to omotta| 飛行機の窓から見ながら「これは賑やかそうな町だな~」と思った)

While looking out of the airplane window, I thought to myself, “this looks like a busy city.”

Look at how in the sentence above, the な comes at the very end of 賑やかそうな. This sentence can also be written as にぎやかまちそうだな~… Both carry the exact same meaning!

Also, as you may have noticed, both すぎる(sugiru | 過ぎる)  and なる(naru | 成る) are independent verbs that can be used on their own without any adjectives. なる (naru), in particular, is a very commonly used Japanese word. Therefore, these verbs follow their own respective conjugation rules, even when they come after an adjective!

Japanese Adjectives List

And finally, here is a list of the best Japanese adjectives every student should learn! The adjectives are divided into categories to make studying them even easier – enjoy!

Japanese Adjectives for Size & Weight

Below are adjectives used to describe size & weight.

EnglishHiraganaKanjiRomaji
Bigおおきい大きいookii
Small ちいさい小さいchiisai
Highたかい 高い takai
Low ひくい 低いhikui
Tallせがたかい 背が高いse ga takai
Shortせがひくい 背が低いse ga hikui
Wideひろい 広いhiroi
Narrowせまい 狭いsemai
Thinうすい 薄いyasui
Fat/Thick ふとい 太いfutoi
Heavyおもい 思い omoi
Lightかるい 軽い karui

Japanese Adjective for Feelings

When referring to how someone feels, you can use the following adjectives.

EnglishKanjiHiragana/KatakanaRomaji
Good良い いいii
Bad悪い わるい warui
Coolかっこいい kakkoii
Lameダサい dasai
Crazyヤバい yabai
Horrible 酷い ひどい hidoi
Happy嬉しいうれいしい ureshii
Sad悲しい かなしい kanashii
Mean意地悪 いじわる ijiwaru
Amazing凄い すごい sugoi
Wonderful素晴らしい すばらしい subarashii
Boring詰まらないつまらない  tsumaranai
Fun楽しいたのしい tanoshii

Japanese Adjectives for Quantity

When talking about how many or how much something should be, the adjectives below can be used.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
*A lotたくさん takusan
A little少し すこし sukoshi
Many多いおおいooi
A few少ない すくない sukunai
Enough十分じゅうぶん  juubun
Not enough/lacking 足りない たりない tarinai

*たくさん (takusan) is neither an い-adjective nor な-adjective, although it is an adjective. It cannot be conjugated and is connected to nouns or verbs either with the particle の (no) or with nothing at all. Some colors have the same exception.

Japanese Adjectives for Colors

Another common adjectives are colors. Here’s what they are called in Japanese.

EnglishKanjiHiragana/KatakanaRomaji
Red赤い あかい akai
Orange オレンジorenji
Yellow 黄色いきいろい kiiroi
Green緑 みどり midori
Blue青い あおい aoi
Purple紫 むらさき murasaki
White白いしろい shiroi
Black黒い くろい kuroi
Brown茶色ちゃいろchairo
Grey灰色はいいろhaiiro

Japanese Adjectives for Characteristics

Lastly, below are the descriptive words used when talking about an object or a person’s characteristics.

EnglishHiragana/KatakanaKanjiRomaji
Pretty きれいkirei
Uglyみにくい醜いminikui
Gorgeous うつくしい美しいutsukushii
Hideousおそろしい恐ろしいosoroshii
Cleanきれいkirei
Dirtyきたない汚いkitanai
Deliciousおいしい美味しいoishii
Disgusting ますい不味いmazui
Newあたらしい新しいatarashii
*Old ふるい古いfurui
Youngわかい若いwakai
Hotあつい熱いatsui
Cold さむい寒いsamui
**Coldつめたい冷たいtsumetai
Brightあかるい明るいakarui
Dark くらい暗いkurai
Hardかたい固いkatai
Softやわらかい柔らかいyawarakai
Safeあんぜん安全anzen
Dangerousあぶない危ないabunai
Weakよわい弱いyowai
Strong つよい 強いtsuyoi
Expensive たかい 高い takai
Cheapやすい 安い yasui
Scaryこわい 怖い kowai
Busyいそがしい 忙しいisogashii
Freeひま 暇 hima

*This word is only used to refer to old things – it would not be used to refer to old people!

**This Japanese word for cold is used to talk about cold things/objects only. If you want to say that the weather is cold, you must say さむい (samui | 寒い)

Wrap Up

Great job in completing this lesson on adjectives! Hopefully, you’ll know how to use these descriptive words. Throw in some example sentences that you can form with these words in the comment box below!

If you’re still up for some lessons, why don’t you learn Japanese words next?

がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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