Other independent words


Adverbs in Japanese are not as tightly integrated into the morphology as in many other languages. Indeed, adverbs are not an independent class of words, but rather a role played by other words. For example, every adjective in the continuative form can be used as an adverb; thus, 弱い (yowai, weak, adj) → 弱く (yowaku, weakly, adv). The primary distinguishing characteristic of adverbs is that they cannot occur in a predicate position, just as it is in English. The following classification of adverbs is not intended to be authoritative or exhaustive.

  • Verbal adverbs are verbs in the continuative form with the particle ni. Eg. 見る (miru, to see) →見に (mi ni, for the purpose of seeing), used for instance as: 見に行く(mi ni iku, go to see (sth.)).
  • Adjectival adverbs are adjectives in the continuative form, as mentioned above.
  • Nominal adverbs are grammatical nouns that function as adverbs. Examples: あまり (amari, a little/not a lot),どう (, how), 一番 (ichiban, most highly), etc.

Sound Symbolism

Japanese has an extensive inventory of sound symbolic or mimetic words, known in linguistics as ideophones. Sound symbolic words are found in writing as well as spoken Japanese. Known popularly as onomatopoeia, these words are not just imitative of sounds but cover a much wider range of meanings; indeed, many sound-symbolic words in Japanese are for things that don't make any noise originally, most clearly demonstrated by しいんと shiinto, meaning "silently".

The sound-symbolic words of Japanese can be classified into three main categories (Akita 2009):
  • Phonomime or onomatopoeia (擬声語 giseigo or 擬音語 giongo): words that mimic actual sounds. Giseigo refers to sounds made by living things, while Giongo refers to sounds made by inanimate objects.
  • Phenomime (擬態語 gitaigo): words that depict non-auditory senses.
  • Psychomime (also called 擬態語 gitaigo or 擬情語 gijōgo): words that depict psychological states or bodily feelings.

In Japanese grammar, sound symbolic words function as adverbs. Just like ideophones in many other languages, they are often introduced by a quotative complementizer と (to). Most sound suggestive words can be applied to only a handful of verbs or adjectives. In the examples below, the classified verb or adjective is placed in square brackets.

Sound SymbolismMeaningじろじろ(と)[見る] jirojiro (to) [miru][see] intently (= stare)
きらきら(と)[光る] kirakira (to) [hikaru][shine] sparklingly
ぎらぎら(と)[光る] giragira (to) [hikaru][shine] dazzlingly
どきどき[する] doki doki [suru]with a throbbing heart
ぐずぐず[する] guzu guzu [suru]procrastinating or dawdling (suru not optional)
しいんと[する] shiin to [suru][be (lit. do)] quiet (suru not optional)
ぴんぴん[している] pinpin [shite iru][be (lit. do)] lively (shite iru not optional)
よぼよぼに[なる] yoboyobo ni [naru][become] wobbly-legged (from age)¹
[TR] [/TR]

1. に (ni) instead of と (to) is used for なる (naru = become)

Conjunctions and interjections

Examples of conjunctions: そして soshite 'and then', また mata 'and then/again', etc. Although called "conjunctions", these words are, as English translations show, actually a kind of adverbs.

Examples of interjections: はい (hai, yes/OK/uh), へえ (hee, wow!), いいえ (iie, no/no way), おい (oi, hey!), etc. This part of speech is not very different from that of English.

Japanese Grammar Contents

  • Part 1: Textual classifications; nouns, pronouns, and other deictics
  • Part 2: Conjugable words: verbs
  • Part 3: Conjugable words: adjectives
  • Part 4: Conjugable words: the copula だ da
  • Part 5: Euphonic changes, colloquial contractions
  • Part 6: Adverbs, sound symbolism, conjunctions and interjections
  • Part 7: Particles
  • Part 8: Auxiliary verbs