Guide to Japanese Adjectives

By Anastasia | Created February 16, 2021

Women practicing Adjectives in Japanese language

 So you have started learning Japanese. You already know the basics like how to greet someone and introduce yourself. But now you want to learn more about Japanese grammar. Knowing how to use Japanese adjectives in your daily conversations will make your speech brighter and more interesting to the listener.

I am going to explain to you Japanese adjectives in a simple way! Also, I will share my personal experiences  learning Japanese adjectives! Follow the five steps to  start using Japanese adjectives like a native! 

This article "Guide to Japanese Adjectives" is a part of our extensive series of self-study guides on Studying Japanese

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    Study Japanese Adjectives

    Step 1 to Japanese Adjectives: You already know 100 Japanese adjective words.

    Do you know what  ホット(hotto) or ソフト (sofuto) is in English? Yes, you guessed  right! ホット(hotto) is hot, and ソフト (sofuto) is soft. Well, you know these words because ホット(hotto)  and   ソフト (sofuto)  are borrowed from the English language. Moreover, the Japanese borrowed some words from English and other languages like Dutch, French, and German. These words are called Garaigo. Here is a list of Garaigo adjectives: 

    Colors

    • ピンク(pinku) pink
    • オレンジ (orenji) orange 
    • ホワイト (howaito) white 
    • ブラック (burakku) black
    • グレイ (gurei) grey
    • ネービー (ne-bi-) navy
    • ゴルド (gorudo) gold
    • シルバー (shiruba-) silver

    Time

    • ファスト (fasuto) first
    • スロー  (suro-) slow
    • クイック (kuikku) quick
    • イブニング (ibuningu) evening
    • ナイト (naito) night 
    • セカンド (sekando) second
    • モーニング(mo-ningu) morning 

    Everyday words

    • オートマティ ック(o-tomathi kku) automatic 
    • デジタル (dejitaru) digital 
    • ヘルシー(herushi-) healthy
    • フレッシュ (furesshu) fresh
    • デリシャス (derishasu) delicious 
    • セクシー (sekushi-) sexy
    • パーソナル (pa-sonaru) personal
    • ファンタジック (fantajikku) fantastic
    • ユニック(unikko) unique
    • エモい (emoi) emotional
    •  ソフト (sofuto) soft
    • ビッグ (biggu) big
    • ホット (hotto) hot

     Once you have checked this list of Japanese adjectives, you can  feel confident that you already know 10% of everyday adjectives. Most of the Garaigo are な-adjectives, but there are some exceptions like エモい (emoi) adjectives. Also, some of the Garaigo adjectives have become slang words that are commonly used in social media. Some examples may include エモい (emoi, emotional) チルイ (chirui, chill) and グロい (guroi, grotesque). If you  spend a lot of time on social media and would like to learn more about Japanese slang, read this article,  "Guide to Japanese Slang" 

    Step 2 to Japanese Adjectives: What are adjective groups?

    In the Japanese language, there are only two types of adjectives: い-adjectives and な-adjectives. い-adjectives have a Japanese origin, and な-adjectives have a Chinese origin. How  do you differentiate between them? The truth is that  it is surprisingly easy to see the difference between the two groups. You just have to look at the ending of the word. Take a look at the example below of Japanese adjectives:

     

    い-adjective

    おいしい (oishii) tasty

    な-adjective

    きれい (kireina) beautiful

    The first word おいし ends with an, therefore it is an い-adjective. The second word きれい ends with a . Therefore, it is a な-adjective. See? That is not so hard to remember, is it? It just takes a little practice and a little patience! Here are a couple more examples of Japanese adjectives to help you make a start:

         い-adjectives  

    やす (yasui) cheap

    やさし (yasashii) kind

    かわい (kawaii) cute

    いそがし (isogashii)busy

    おおき (ookii) big

    な-adjectives

     きれい(kireina) beautiful

     すてき (sutekina) wonderful

    ユニック (yunikku) unique

    しずか(shizukana) quite

    ゆうめい (yumeina) famous

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    Japanese Adjectives

    Step 3 to Japanese Adjectives: All you need to know about い-adjectives

    い-adjectives: Present tense

    There are two functions of い-adjectives. The first function is describing nouns, for example: 

    Adjective + + Noun

    おもしろほん (omoshiroi hon) interesting book

    おいしケーキ (oishii ke-ki) tasty cake

    ちいさこども (chiisai kodomo) small child


    In these examples, all the adjectives come before the noun, and it can be shown as Adjective-い + Noun. The い-ending should be kept. 

    The second function of い-adjectives is a predicate to the sentence. In other words, the adjective takes the verb position in the sentence. Here are some examples:

    Noun は Adjective です。

    ほんはおもしろです。 (hon wa omoshiroi desu) The book is interesting.

    ケーキはおいしです。 (ke-ki wa oishii desu) The cake is tasty.

    こどもはちいさです。(kodomo wa chiisai desu) The child is small.


     

    い-adjectives: Present tense, negative state

    Making い-adjectives negative (e.g. not interesting)  is also quite easy.  Take a look at the following structure:

    Adjective +くない⇒Adjectiveくない


    たのしくない⇒たのしくない  

    (tanoshii/ tanoshikunai) fun/not fun


    To transform い-adjectives in negative form, omit the ending . Then instead of ending insert くない. Let’s look  at a few more examples:

      あぶな (abunai) dangerous

    あぶなくない⇒あぶなくない

    (abunakunai) not dangerous


      あか (akai) red

    あかくない⇒あかくない   

    ( akakunai) not red


      あま (amai) sweet

    あまくない⇒あまくない    

     (amakunai) not sweet


      おもしろ (omoshiroi) interesting

    おもしろくない⇒おもしろくない

    (omoshirokunai) not interesting


    わか (wakai) young

    わかくない⇒わかくない

    (wakakunai) not young


    And here are  some example sentences to give you a clearer picture:

    きょうはあつくないです。

    (kyou wa atsukunai  desu)

    Today was not hot.


    ぜんぜんむずくしくないしゅくだいです。

    (zenzen muzukusikunai shukudai desu)

    The homework was not difficult at all. 


    おもしろくないえいがを見ました。

    (omoshirokunai eiga ga mimashita)

    I watched an uninteresting movie. 

                                                                                      

    い-adjectives: Past tense

    Similar to the steps I mentioned before, to  use い-adjectives in the past tense, い-ending should be omitted, and かった should be added to show the affirmative state of past tense.  Here are a few examples in action:

    Adjective +かった⇒Adjectiveかった


    すずしかった⇒すずしかった

    (suzushii/suzushikatta)was cool


    せまかった⇒せまかった

    (semai/semakatta) was narrow


    はやかった⇒はやかった

    (hayai/hayakatta) was fast


    まずかった⇒まずかった

    (mazui/mazukatta) was bad tasting


    やすかった⇒やすかった

    (yasui/yasukatta) was cheap


    Have a look on sentence examples:

    きのうのセミナーはおもしろかった

    (kinou no semina- wa omoshiro katta)

    Yesterday’s seminar was interesting. 


    にほんごしけんはむずかしかった

    (nihongo shiken wa muzukashikatta)

    Japanese exam was difficult. 


     

    い-adjectives: Past tense, negative state

    To show the negative form in the past tense, the い-ending should be omitted and くなかった should be added. It is similar to the negative form in the present tense, くない represents negative state and かった represents the past tense. Check out these examples: 

    Adjective +くなかった⇒Adjectiveくなかった


    すずしくなかった⇒すずしくなかった

    ( suzushikunakatta)was not cool


    せまくなかった⇒せまくなかった

    (semakunakatta) was not narrow


    はやくなかった⇒はやくなかった

    (hayakunakatta) was not fast


    まずくなかった⇒まずくなかった

    (mazukunakatta) was not bad tasting


    やすくなかった⇒やすくなかった

    (yasukunakatta) was not cheap


    And here are some more sentence examples:

    コンサートのチケットはたかくなかった

    (konsa-to no chiketto wa takaku nakatta)

    Concert's ticket was not expensive.


    そのきっさてんにはコーヒがおいしくなかった

    (sono kissaten niwa ko-hi ga oishikunakatta)

    Coffee in that coffee shop was not tasty. 


     

    Are there any exceptions?

    Yes, there is ... Luckily, there is only one exception for Japanese adjectives! The word いい(good)is an irregular い-adjective. It will conjugate in  the following way:

    Present affirmative いい (ii) or よい (yoi) good
    Present negative よくない (yokunai) not good
    Past affirmative よかった (yokatta) was good
    Past negative  よくなかった (yokunakatta) was not good

    This rule is also  applies to the word かっこいい (kakkoii, good-looking) , and it conjugated in the same way as いい or よい. Take a look: :

    Present affirmative かっこいい (kakkoii) handsome, good-looking (guy)
    Present negative かっこよくない (kakkoyokunai) not handsome
    Past affirmative かっこよかった (kakkoyokatta) was handsome
    Past negative  かっこよかった (kakkoyokatta) was not handsome

    Remember!  Try not to confuse いい with the word かわいい (kawaii, cute/pretty). These are different words.  かわいい is not an exception and it should be conjugated as い-adjective with the same rules mentioned earlier. Check this out: 

    Present affirmative かわいい (kawaii) cute, pretty
    Present negative かわいくない (kawaikunai) not cute
    Past affirmative かわいかった (kawaikatta) was cute
    Past negative  かわいくなかった (kawaikunakatta) was not cute
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    Learning Japanese Adjectives

    Step 4 to Japanese Adjectives: All you need to know about な-adjectives

    な-adjectives: Present tense

     な-adjectives are also used to describe nouns or to take the verb position  in a sentence when you are describing a noun. な-adjectives can function as a noun and serve as the subject or object of a sentence. Below are some examples of the descriptive function of な-adjectives:

    Adjective + + Noun


    あんぜんばしょ

    (anzenna bashyo) safe place


    しずかカフェ

    (shizukana kafe) silent cafe


    べんりくるま

    (benrina kuruma) convenient car


    Also, it is important to note that if you use な-adjectives as a noun modifier, the な-ending should be kept, as it is shown in the examples above. 

    When a な-adjective functions as the predicate of a clause and comes at the end of a sentence, it describes the sentence's subject. Check out these examples:

    このきっさてんはしずかです。

    (kono kissaten wa shizuka desu)

    This coffee shop is quiet.


    バックパックはバックよりべんりです。

    (bakkupakku wa bakku yori benri desu)

    Backpacks are more convenient than bags.


    Rule 1: If the な-adjective comes at the end of a sentence, the な-ending should be omitted. You can see this in the examples provided above if you’re not sure. 

     Another way to say it is if the な-adjective has a  modifies (basically, comes before) a noun, the な-ending is kept which you can see below:

    (1) 元気おばあさん

    (genkina obaasan)

    energetic grandmother


    (2)おばあさんはげんき人です。

    (obaasan wa genki na hito desu)  

    A grandmother is an energetic person.


    (3)おばあさんはげんきです。

    (obaasan wa genki desu) 

    Grandmother is energetic.


    In sentences 1 and 2 , the な-adjective has a descriptive role . In sentence 3, the な-adjective is a predicate. Therefore, the な-ending is omitted.

    な-adjectives: Present tense, negative state

    な-adjectives  become their negative forms in the same way  that nouns do. Let’s take a look! 

    Noun 

     はな⇒はなじゃない  

    (hana/hanajyanai)

    flower/ not flower

    な-adjectives

    きれい⇒きれいじゃない

     (kireina/kireijyanai)

    beautiful/ not beautiful

    As you can see, the process is similar, but there is  one minor difference. To make な-adjectives negative, you have to omit the な-ending and then add じゃない or ではない at the end. Also, note that choosing between じゃない or ではない depends on the speech style. じゃない form is casual, and ではない is polite form. Here are some examples:

    きれい⇒きれいじゃない (kireina/kireijyanai)

    きれい⇒きれいではない(kireina/kireidewanai)


    And here are a few sentences to help you see them in action:

    げんきじゃないけど、がっこうにいった。

    (genkijyanai kedo, gakkou ni itta)

    I was not energetic, but I went to school.


    わたしはあまいものがすきではないです。

    (watashi wa amaimono ga sukidewanai desu)

    I do not like sweets.


    かれのへやはいつもきれじゃないです。

    (kare no heya wa itsumo kireijyanai desu)

    His room is always unclean. 


     

    な-adjectives: Past tense

    Using な-adjectives in the past tense is the same as it is for nouns. To indicate the past tense for な-adjectives, you just have to use だった or でした at the end. Depending on the speech style, you will use だった  in casual conversations with friends and でした as a more polite way of speaking.

    Adjective +だった⇒Adjectiveだった

    Adjective+でした⇒Adjectiveでした


    にんきだった⇒にんきだった

    (ninkina/ninkidatta) popular/ was popular

    にんきでした⇒にんきでした

    (ninkina/ninkideshita) popular/ was popular


    Here are some in sentence examples:

    しゅまつがひまだった

    (shyumatsu ga himadatta)

    I was free on weekends.


    きのう、じこがあって、たいへんでした

    (kinou jiko ga ate taihendeshita) 

    Yesterday, there was an accident, it was serious.


     

    な-adjectives: Present tense, negative state

    To  use な-adjectives in the past negative form, you just have to add じゃなかった after the な-adjective stem without  the :

    Adjective +じゃなかった⇒Adjectiveじゃなかった


    たいへんじゃなかった⇒たいへんじゃなかった

    (taihenna/ taihenjyanakatta) was  not tough


    びじんじゃなかった⇒びじんじゃなかった 

    (bijinna/bijinjyanakatta) beautiful 


    Check out sentence example:

    こどものころ、えをかくじょうずじゃなかった

    (kodomo no koro, e wo kaku jyozujyanakatta)

    When I was child, I was not good at drawing.

     

    な-adjectives: Common mistakes

     People often make the same common mistake with the word きれい, when learning Japanese adjectives. Many students  think that it is an い-adjective because it ends with.  However, きれい is actually a な-adjective, and it should follow all the rules for な-adjectives when changing it to negative, past, etc. — for  instance, きれいはな (kireina hana, beautiful flower).  This is also the same for the word きらい (kirai) ,  which is also な-adjective—for  example, きらいひと (kiraina hito, hated person).

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    Step 5 to Japanese Adjectives: Are there any tips for learning?

    Don’t feel like you need to overstress and overexert your brain by learning 100 words a day everyday. You can start just by learning  around 10-20 words per  hour of study. Beginner learners really only need to get a grip on the essential vocabulary that you will use in everyday situations and a lot of textbooks are structured in a way that will help you gradually build your knowledge. Do not feel like you have to rush to memorize all the difficult words  and all the words that you barely have any use for. You probably will not remember them until you really need them anyway! In my experience, the words I remembered quickest and easiest are the ones that I saw or heard a couple of times in different situations. Once you learn a new word, try to use it in conversation with your friend, teacher, or in a journal.  

    Flashcards for learning japanese adjectives

    But do you want to know the real secret? Just be consistent in learning new vocabulary every day and reviewing. For me , I usually set myself a reminder "Time to study" on my phone with little notes reminding me WHY I was studying. These little reminders like ‘Time to study some Japanese adjectives from the Doraemon manga’ would help me keep the reasons I wanted to learn Japanese at the forefront of my mind. I made it a habit to learn 10 new words a day and  always tried to go over words that I had memorized before the day before. I also tried using a bunch of study apps  which were really useful in helping keep things interesting! If you aren’t sure which app is right for you, there is an absolutely fantastic list of study apps here: "The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Learning Apps." 

    Finally, learn words depending on your Japanese knowledge level.  There are different levels between N1, and N5. N1 is considered to be the advanced level and N5 is for beginners. Here is the list of the Japanese adjectives you need to know: 

    Japanese adjectives for N5 level

    Japanese adjectives for N4 level

    Japanese adjectives for N3 level

    Japanese adjectives for N2 level

    Japanese adjectives for N1 level

    There is no specific list.

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    To Sum up

    In this lesson, you  have gone through five steps on how to learn Japanese adjectives (い-adjectives and な-adjectives), how to use them in the present and past tenses, and in an affirmative  or negative state.  Don’t forget about  the exceptions  いい and かっこいい!  Also, remember that かわいい is not an exception and it follows the rules of い-adjectives. Words like きれいな and きらいな are commonly confused with い-adjectives when the な-ending is omitted so please remember it is a な-adjective and should be conjugated as a な-adjective. 

    Na-adjectives I-adjectives

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