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This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

7.5. Adjectives

7.5.1. Nonpast forms

English adjectives are more similar to nouns than to verbs, and they require the copula be to become predicators. On the other hand, Japanese adjectives are more similar to verbs, and they don't need a copula. They have inflexion like verbs.

All Japanese adjectives end with the hiragana い "i" if they are in the non-past form. An adjective consists of a stem and a suffix as verbs do, and the stem never changes while suffixes can change. The final /i/ in the non-past form of an adjective is the suffix, and the rest is the stem. Please note that the suffix for the non-past form of verbs is /u/, and that of adjectives is /i/.

Here are some adjectives:

yo i
yo-iis good
a tu i
atu-iis hot
u re si i
uresi-iis glad
o i si i
oisi-iis tasty

Since adjectives always end with the hiragana い, the stem of an adjective always ends with a vowel. Japanese adjectives are similar to verbs, so you can consider them to be a combination of the copula be and an adjective in English.

These are examples of adjectives:

Romanization:Su si wa o i si i .
Structure:(noun, sushi) (topic marker) (adjective, is tasty)
Meaning:Sushi is tasty.

Romanization:Ki mo no wa u tu ku si i .
Structure:(noun, kimono) (topic marker) (adjective, is beautiful)
Meaning:Kimonos are beautiful.

7.5.2. Past forms

Add the suffix かっ "-katta" to the stem of an adjective to create its past form.

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
yo i
is goodよかった
yo ka t ta
was good
a tu i
is hotあつかった
a tu ka t ta
was hot
u re si i
is gladうれしかった
u re si ka t ta
was glad
o i si i
is tastyおいしかった
o i si ka t ta
was tasty

This is an example of the past form of adjectives:

Romanization:Su si wa o i si ka t ta .
Structure:(noun, sushi) (topic marker) (adjective, was tasty)
Meaning:The sushi was tasty.

7.5.3. Polite forms

Adjectives don't have a politeness suffix like verbs' politeness suffix ます "masu", so you have to add the polite copula です "desu" to the end of an adjective to make it polite. Make the past form of an adjective first, then add です "desu" to it to make its polite past form.


Romanization:Su si wa o i si i de su .
Structure:(noun, sushi) (topic marker) (adjective, is tasty) (suffix, polite mode)

Romanization:Su si wa o i si ka t ta de su.
Structure:(noun, sushi) (topic marker) (adjective, was tasty) (suffix, polite mode)

The polite past-form adjectives don't end with た "ta" because of the politeness suffix. Making the polite form before making the past form is not allowed for adjectives, which would produce おいしいでした "oisiidesita" in the case of the second example shown above.
Next article in the series 'Teach Yourself Japanese': Relative clauses in Japanese
Previous article in the series 'Teach Yourself Japanese': Japanese copula
About author
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

I work as a display engineer.

One of my hobbies is creating things with computers; creating programs, computer graphics and web pages is the thing I spent a lot of time doing. I am also interested in a wide range of sciences, and linguistics is my favorite. I like English and I like using it, but my focus is mainly on Japanese, which is my native language. I'm proud of knowing the language, and the difference between English and Japanese has been fascinating me. I have been thinking whether I can introduce it to people outside of Japan. My attempt of introducing Japanese with some Java applets has had more than 1 million visitors.


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