This is a companion tutorial to my Japanese Verbs, and I trust that it will also become a concise and convenient resource for those learning or reviewing Japanese.
Please have an English-Japanese/Japanese-English dictionary and notebook handy as you study. As new words are introduced, use your dictionary to learn or check their meanings, and make a word list in your notebook to add new vocabulary to. It's a proven fact that the process of looking up and writing vocabulary will help the learning process, along with regular reviewing.
Please see Getting Started with the Japanese Language for pronunciation guides and other relevant information.
Please note: In order to avoid technical explanations, only the simplest and most general translations of words are given. Also, romaji (romanized Japanese words) used herein are written in their true, romanized form: elongated vowels are shown as such, etc.
© Tim R. Matheson
9. Plain Past
Japanese adjectives come in two basic types: "true" and "quasi." In some circles they are also known as "i adjectives" and "na adjectives" because those are the suffixes they get when they are followed by a noun. Nevertheless, I prefer calling them "true" and "quasi" because there are some quasi-adjectives that end in i, making the names "i" or "na" unnecessarily confusing.
Some examples of true adjectives are:
Many true adjectives end in shii:
The basic colors are often used as true adjectives:
And now let's look at some good quasi-adjectives:
"Big" and "small" have a true and quasi form:
Many quasi-adjectives are made by adding teki na to a noun:
It's time for some examples. From a grammatical angle, adjective use in Japanese is very similar to English. With both true and quasi you include the final i or na when placing them before a noun, usually an object. Here are some with true adjectives:
And here are some examples using quasi-adjectives:
Now, when a true adjective comes after the noun it modifies — the subject in most cases — it usually does not change:
However, when a quasi-adjective comes after its noun/subject, leave off the na:
(This is where calling adjectives "i" or "na" could get too confusing, which is why I avoid it.)
Now it's time to introduce the quirks. First, there are some strange quasi- (quasi-quasi?) adjectives that, according to the dictionaries and grammar books, use the multi-purpose no particle instead of na:
However, I have heard native speakers use na with these. When I ask about the discrepancy, I am told that na is normal. So, while it's true that the books say no, and official documents use no, in everyday "unofficial" life it is perfectly acceptable — even preferred — to use na, so don't concern yourself with these until you have to be official.
There are, however, colors which use no and never na after them when modifying a noun:
It's only natural to think that adjectives which exist in English should exist in Japanese. Sure, most do, but many don't. In these, the "adjectival idea" is conveyed through verbs. Two examples of these are:
Naka means "stomach" or "abdomen," and suku means "to be empty," so you're saying "my stomach is empty" when you put these together. Nodo is "throat," and kawaku means "to be dry," so these together equal "I'm thirsty." Here, the ta form of the verb is used for the present, which will be a bit confusing to beginners because this form is normally used for the plain past. Just do what I do: think of this as "a verb in an adjective's role," and, as such, the rules slightly change.
Using hungry, let's take a look at the different popular tenses. Note the verb changes:
The ga is optional, and is usually omitted in familiar situations.
Note also how naka gets the honorable o- prefix and nodo doesn't, so I guess our throats aren't as honorable as our stomachs. The next time you're at a party with native speakers and run out of topics to discuss, ask about this. It will keep them hemming and hawing for a while. But it may also make them avoid you in the future.
Here are two more that are often used:
There are true adjectives for "fat" and "thin" (futoi and hosoi), but they, like their English counterparts, have to be used carefully because they can be offensive. When commenting about others, if you must, use the verbs:
There are a couple of strange, colloquial "-tai adjectives" that I should mention: nemutai and omotai. Actually, they are:
However, nemutai and omotai are used often in daily conversation. As far as I know, these are the only adjectives that can do this. By the way, this -tai ending on these two adjectives has nothing to do with the "want to do" -tai ending used on Base 2 verbs. "Want to sleep" is netai.
Finally, when used as simple exclamations, native speakers will often leave the final i off of some adjectives:
As in English, using Japanese adjectives in plain positive statements is simple — just say the adjective. Here are some true adjectives:
And here are some quasi-adjectives:
Now let's make all these negative. Like the verbs, adjectives use nai to do this. True adjectives drop their final i and add ku before adding nai:
One exception is ii (good). It is always used as it is and never conjugated. Use yokunai for "not good."
Quasis add de and then nai:
Although de is standard after quasis in negative constructions, dewa or ja can be used instead. Use ja only in familiar settings.
Now let's look at some endings and combinations which can be added to plain adjectives. (There are others, but these are the most used in my opinion.) If you've already been through my Japanese Verbs, these should look familiar.
You may want to call the above three groups "quasi handling groups" because they only apply to quasi-adjectives. We'll get to those a little later.
First, some positive examples. Any add-on from any group above can be added after a true adjective without changing it:
With quasis, it gets a bit trickier. Those in Group A above are added without any particle:
Note: In Japan you don't "go see a doctor," you "go to the hospital."
Those in Group B are added after first adding na:
And add da before adding those in Group C:
Da is actually the plain form of desu, which could be used with kara or kedo (keredomo) instead of da to make it more polite. For more about desu, please see Lesson 5 of my Japanese Verbs.
Now let's do some negative ones. First some with true adjectives:
And here are some with quasi-adjectives:
There are two more handy negative add-ons that I'd like to introduce here. They are:
Here they are with a true adjective:
And with a quasi:
Note: In written Japanese there are no spaces between "words." In my lessons I usually use what is most common for romanized Japanese, but may add spaces for clarification in long constructions. This is why there will sometimes be inconsistencies.
Because colors are usually used as adjectives, and because Japanese colors have their own strange set of rules, I thought I'd make a separate lesson out of them.
Here are ten popular colors as they are used when not preceding a noun, which is most of the time:
Please keep in mind that iro means "color," and that four of the above are made by adding iro to a noun:
While it is possible to leave off the iro in some instances, this is how these colors are used most of the time. It is also possible to add iro to the others which usually don't use it: midori iro (green, greenish); shiro iro (white, whitish); etc.
Here are a few examples where the color comes after the noun it modifies:
Again, most of the time the color of something is mentioned in Japanese, it's after the subject or object in question, like in the above examples. When you want to put a color directly before the object, add i to aka, ao, shiro and kuro; add no — not na — to midori, murasaki, daidaiiro and nezumiiro; and you can add either i or no to kiiro and chairo:
Colors with i added become and behave the same as true adjectives; those with no behave like quasis.
There's a handy prefix that works especially well with three colors. It's ma, and it means "true." Note how the pronunciation changes with ma added:
These are usually handled as regular quasi-adjectives, and use na before any noun they modify:
And here's a useful suffix: -ppoi. It works like "-ish" in English, and comes in handy when you don't know what to call a color. All colors become true adjectives with it attached:
By the way, you will find that the names for colors in Japanese, especially the primary ones, have a more abstract role than their English counterparts. Aka can mean anything from dark orange to copper or reddish purple; ao from green to bluish purple; and kiiro from light orange to pale yellow. In Japan, you stop when the light is aka, and go when it turns ao.
When you need to combine two or more adjectives to describe something, just follow these rules for adjectives which are placed before other adjectives.
For true adjectives, drop the final i and add kute: akai (red) becomes akakute, ookii (big) becomes ookikute, etc.:
You will notice that in the second example above I changed the order of the adjectives to conform with natural English. In Japanese there is no "proper order" for adjectives. When the adjectives come before the noun they describe, you start with the one you want to emphasize most. So the above example means the flower (or nose) is RED and big. Ookikute akai hana would be a BIG red flower (or nose). When speaking, you would want to say the first adjective a bit louder and more drawn out than the following one if you really mean to emphasize it.
For those wondering, yes, you can use the "quasi" form of ookii (ooki na) instead before the noun: akakute ooki na hana.
For quasi-adjectives, just change na to de:
These can be mixed with true adjectives in practically any order:
The quasi forms of ookii and chiisai (ooki na, chiisa na) are not used for linking to other adjectives. Use the true forms ookikute and chiisakute.
When using contrasting adjectives use katsu or shikamo between them to convey "moreover," "yet," etc.:
When ending a phrase with an adjective before continuing on with a more complex description, replace the final i with ku in true adjectives. Quasis stay with de, as outlined above:
The -katta conjugation is for expressing the plain past and will be covered in Lesson 9.
These five adjectives play by their own set of rules. Since they are used regularly, I think it would be good to get used to their weird ways as soon as possible.
Suki means "to like" and kirai means "to dislike." Yes, that's right — just as there are ideas conveyed through verbs in Japanese where adjectives would be used in English, as mentioned in Lesson 1, the reverse is also true. If you check your dictionary, you will see that both of these exist in verb form: suku and kirau; but the chances are very slim that you will ever hear them used that way. You will, however, hear them used in passive constructions, like:
For regular, straightforward talk about what you and others like and don't like, use suki and kirai in quasi-adjective form:
Note that ga is used to link suki or kirai to their object when there is no other necessary element between them.
You can put dai (a lot; very much) before suki or kirai to emphasize them:
When you put the object in question after suki or kirai, use the quasi indicator na:
Interestingly, and mainly colloquially, these can also be used to modify the indirect object:
While hoshii is a true adjective, it's used to represent the English verb "want." It also uses ga when following its object, but remains alone when preceding it:
Although hoshii isn't necessarily a kid's word, outside of familiar circles it could make you sound like one when expressing your own desires, so you'll want to be careful with it.
I should mention here that hoshii can be used with verbs in the Te Form to imply "want (someone) to...," just like -te moraitai. It's not used on yourself. It's used like this:
Like suki and kirai, jouzu and heta are quasi-adjective opposites that fill the role of ideas usually expressed by verbs in English. They also use ga before or na after in the same manner. Jouzu means "to be good at; well done," and heta means the exact opposite:
There are a few expressions with jouzu where the ga is often omitted:
Making adverbs from adjectives is quite easy. With true adjectives, just replace the final i with ku before adding the verb. With quasis, just add ni:
The verb naru (to become) is often used with adverbs:
Use suru with descriptive adverbs for "to make":
To make positive conditionals, replace the final i with kereba in true adjectives, and add nara to quasis:
Note: Naraba is also used after quasi-adjectives, but nara is more common.
For negative conditionals, use ku nakereba (the negative-forming ku nai + kereba) with true adjectives, and de nakereba (the negative-forming de nai + kereba) with quasis:
Please see Lesson 2 for more about negative structures.
There are just two adjective "te form" endings that I hear used often enough to mention. The first is mo ii, which means "it's okay if...," and the second is mo kamawanai, a similar ending meaning "I don't mind if...."
To convert true adjectives to the "te form," remove the final i and add kute; quasis just need a de. Here are a few examples:
Note: Sensei is the name suffix for "teacher."
To make these polite, add desu to ii and use kamaimasen instead of kamawanai:
The negative forms of -kute mo ii and de mo ii were covered at the bottom of Lesson 2.
Use katta and datta to make adjectives plain and past tense. Datta is the universal plain form of deshita, and can be used at the end of many sentences to make them plain and past. Katta is for true adjectives only, however, and is added after removing the final i.
Here are a few true adjective examples:
And here are some quasi examples:
Now, having done this, you can further conjugate using the endings and combinations applicable to other plain forms, like those in Lesson 2:
If you are ending a sentence with an adjective and want to make it past and polite, just add desu after katta in true adjectives, and use deshita instead of datta with quasis:
Note: The adjective ii (good) is not conjugated into the past tense. Use yokatta to say that something "was good."
Finally, in case you need the plain past negative, just change the nai covered in Lesson 2 to nakatta:
To upgrade these to polite, use arimasen deshita instead of nakatta.
This lesson should clarify sou (I hear that [something] is [adjective]) and sou ([something] looks/sounds/seems [adjective]).
Here's how they work: Sou (I hear that [something] is [adjective]) is basically used to report hearsay or the reports of others without the involvement of your personal senses or opinion. It is added after both true and quasi-adjectives with no change to the adjective itself:
The other sou ([something] looks/sounds/seems [adjective]) is used to express your own impression of something based on hearsay, seeing a picture, etc. This one takes the place of the final i in true adjectives, and is added after quasis, just like the other sou:
Thanks to various unwritten rules, these two sous are fairly easy to keep straight. In the first sou outlined above, sou is said without stress, in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Also, I've noticed that native speakers will usually add desu or da after it. (That's why I added desu in the examples.) The second sou is stressed and drawn out, and said with at least a little excitement if it's describing something good. It doesn't need desu or da, and is often used as a simple exclamation:
Note: The adjective yoi is an exception with this sou. You need to add sa first: yosasou (sounds good). This, by the way, is how you add sou to the negative nai as well. For example: yoi (good) + nai = yokunai (not good) + sou = yokunasasou (doesn't sound good).
Sugiru is a verb that means "to be excessive." Combined with adjectives it means "too (much of something)," and is also used a lot. It works like the second sou above, meaning it replaces the final i of true adjectives:
In this last lesson we will look at the bits and pieces needed to adjust the meaning of adjectives so they convey exactly what we want. Everything here applies to both true and quasi-adjectives.
In sentences where an adjective is used to compare two things, use yori after the object which is used for comparison. Note how the compared object (underlined) sits between the subject and adjective of the main idea:
...but how it comes before other objects which are not a part of the subject:
Alternately, yori can be placed after the subject in structures that follow other finalized statements:
Note: Mo is sometimes added to yori — yorimo. It's completely optional and does not change the meaning of the sentence.
Another popular way to compare things is to use motto, which is roughly the equivalent of "more" in English. It is placed directly before the adjective it modifies, and could be used to replace yori in the last set of examples above:
Mottomo or the well-known ichiban (number one) can be placed before adjectives to make them superlative. Ichiban without an adjective can be used to simply mean "the best":
Negative Comparatives and Superlatives
Negative comparatives and superlatives are not used that much in Japanese. In fact, there is no equivalent to the least. To convey something in a negative superlative way, just use an adjective with that meaning, or make the adjective negative, as in:
For negative comparatives where "less" is implied, you can put hodo, which means "to the extent of," after the object of comparison. You must also make the adjective negative. Let's do this to the first two examples used in the Comparatives section above. Note how the subject and compared object change places in order to convey the same meaning:
Emphasizing or De-emphasizing
There are two other handy modifiers I'll mention here because they're used a lot: toku ni and amari. Toku ni means "especially" and amari means about the opposite of that when used with a negative form of an adjective. Use them to strengthen or weaken the impact of adjectives. Here's how they are used:
Creating Nouns with sa
And another easy and convenient trick is using sa to create noun forms from adjectives. Just add it to the end of true adjectives after dropping the final i, or to quasis as-is: