Japanese adjectives

Japanese adjectives

According to many analyses[citation needed], the Japanese language does not have words that function as adjectives in a syntactic sense, i.e. tree diagrams of Japanese sentences can be constructed without employing adjective phrases. However, there are words that function as adjectives in a semantic sense. This article deals with these words.


Types of adjective

Firstly, in Japanese, nouns and verbs can modify nouns, with nouns taking the 〜の particles when functionally attributively (in the genitive case), and verbs taking the attributive form (連体形 rentaikei); see attributive verb. These are considered separate classes of words, however[citation needed].

There are two main types of words that can be considered to be adjectives in Japanese, and one minor grab bag category; sometimes a few minor categories are also included. The main ones – which can be considered variants of verbs and nouns, respectively[citation needed] – are:

  • adjective (Japanese: 形容詞, keiyōshi, literally "adjective"), or i-adjectives
These can be considered specialized verbs, and have a conjugating ending -i which can become, for example, past or negative. For example, atsui (暑い) "hot":
暑い日 (Atsui hi) ("a hot day")
今日は暑いです。(Kyō wa atsui desu.) ("Today is hot.")
These can be considered a form of noun; these attach to a form of the copula, which then inflects, but use 〜な -na (rather than the genitive 〜の) when modifying a noun. For example, hen (変) "strange":
変な人 (Hen na hito) ("a strange person")
彼は変だ。(Kare wa hen da.) ("he is strange.")

Both the predicative forms (終止形 shūshikei "terminal form") and attributive forms (連体形 rentaikei) of adjectival verbs and adjectival nouns can be analyzed as verb phrases, making the attributive forms of adjectival verbs and adjectival nouns relative clauses, rather than adjectives. According to this analysis, Japanese has no syntactic adjectives.

The grab bag category is:

  • attributives (連体詞, rentaishi, literally "attributive")
These may only occur before nouns, not in a predicative position. They are various in derivation and word class, and are generally analyzed as variants of more basic classes, where this specific form (possibly a fossil) can only be used in restricted settings. For example, ōkina (大きな) "big" (variant of 大きい):
大きなこと(Ōkina koto) ("a big thing")

Minor categories which are sometimes classed with the above include:

These are a variant of the common na-nominals (adjectival noun; see article for naming) that developed in Late Old Japanese and have mostly died out, surviving in a few cases as fossils; they are usually classed as a form of 形容動詞 (adjectival noun), as the Japanese name indicates.
These are words that were traditionally earlier forms of na-nominals, but that followed a path similar to taru adjectives, surviving in a few cases as fossils. These are generally classed as rentaishi.



Adjectival verbs (keiyōshi) may predicate sentences and inflect for past, negative, etc. As they head verb phrases, they can be considered a type of verbal (verb-like part of speech). Their inflections are different and not so numerous as full verbs. Conversely, the negative plain form of a verb is an adjective: it ends in 〜ない -na-i, which then inflects as an i-adjective.


Adjectival nouns (keiyō-dōshi) always occur with a form of the copula, traditionally considered part of the adjectival noun itself. The only difference between nouns and adjectival nouns is in the attributive form, where nouns take no and adjectives take na. This has led many linguists to consider them a type of nominal (noun-like part of speech). Together with this form of the copula they may also predicate sentences and inflect for past, negative, etc.


A variant of na adjectives exist, which take 〜たる -taru when functioning attributively (as an adjective, modifying a noun), and 〜と -to when functioning adverbally (when modifying a verb),[2] instead of the 〜な -na and 〜に -ni which are mostly used with na adjectives. taru adjectives do not predicate a sentence (they cannot end a sentence, as verbs and i-adjectives can) or take the copula (as na-adjectives and nouns can), but must modify a noun or verb. Note that sometimes na adjectives take a 〜と, and Japanese sound symbolism generally take a (sometimes optional) 〜と, though these are different word classes.

There are rather few of these words,[3] and they usually considered somewhat stiff or archaic; this word class is generally not covered in textbooks for foreign language learners of Japanese. One of the most common is 堂々 dōdō "magnificent, stately". These are referred to in Japanese as ト・タル形容動詞 (to, taru keiyōdōshi) or タルト型活用 (taruto-kata katsuyō – “taro, to form conjugation”).

See 形容動詞#タルト型活用 for discussion in Japanese. Historically, these developed in Late Old Japanese as a variant of na adjectives,[4][5] but the form mostly died out; the remaining taru adjectives are fossils.


There are also a few naru adjectives such as 単なる tannaru "mere, simple" or 聖なる seinaru "holy", which developed similarly to taru-adjectives.[4] As with taru adjectives, these cannot predicate or take the copula, but must modify a noun (though not a verb – these only modify nouns via なる, not verbs via ×に), and often occur in set phrases, such as Mother Nature (母なる自然 haha-naru shizen?). In Late Old Japanese, tari adjectives developed as a variant of nari adjectives. Most nari adjectives became na adjectives in Modern Japanese, while tari adjectives either died out or survived as taru adjective fossils, but a few nari adjectives followed a similar path to the tari adjectives and became naru adjective fossils. They are generally classed into rentaishi.


Attributives (rentaishi) are few in number, and unlike the other words, are strictly limited to modifying nouns. Rentaishi never predicate sentences. They derive from other word classes, and so are not always given the same treatment syntactically. For example, ano (あの, "that") can be analysed as a noun or pronoun a plus the genitive ending no; aru (ある or 或る, "a certain"), saru (さる, "a certain"), and iwayuru (いわゆる, "so-called") can be analysed as verbs (iwayuru being an obsolete passive form of the verb iu (言う) "to speak"); and ōkina (大きな, "big") can be analysed as the one remaining form of the obsolete adjectival noun ōki nari. Attributive onaji (同じ, "the same") is sometimes considered to be a rentaishi, but it is usually analysed as simply an irregular adjectival verb (note that it has an infinitive onajiku). The final form onaji, which occurs with the copula, is usually considered to be a noun, albeit one derived from the adjectival verb.

It can be seen that attributives are analysed variously as nouns, verbs, or adjectival nouns.


Adjectival verbs (i-adjectives) are inflected by dropping the -i from the end and replacing it with the appropriate ending. Adjectival nouns (na-adjectives) are inflected by dropping the -na and replacing it with the appropriate form of the verb da, the copula.

present past present neg. past neg.
i adjective あつ (atsui) あつかった (atsukatta) あつくない (atsuku nai) あつくなかった (atsuku nakatta)
na adjective へん (hen da) へんだった (hen datta) へんではない (hen de wa nai) へんではなかった (hen de wa nakatta)

The de wa in the conjugation of the copula is often contracted in speech to ja.

Adverb forms

Both adjectival verbs and adjectival nouns form adverbs. In the case of adjectival verbs, -i changes to -ku:

atsuku naru "become hot"

and in the case of adjectival nouns, na changes to ni:

hen ni naru "become strange"

In a few cases, a 〜に form of a word is common while a 〜な form is rare or non-existent, as in makoto-ni (誠に?, sincerely)makoto (?, sincerity) is common, but *makoto-na (×誠な?, sincere) is generally not used.

Polite forms

Both adjectival verbs and adjectival nouns are made more polite by the use of desu, but the way that desu is used is different. With adjectival verbs, desu is added directly after the inflected plain form and has no syntactic function; its only purpose is to make the utterance more polite (see Honorific speech in Japanese). With adjectival nouns, desu is used in its role as the polite form of the copula, therefore replacing da (the plain form of the copula) in the plain form of these adjectives.

plain polite polite past neg. polite neg. polite past
keiyōshi atsui atsuidesu atsukatta desu atsuku arimasen
atsuku nai desu
atsuku arimasen deshita
atsuku nakatta desu
keiyōdōshi hen da hen desu hen deshita hen de wa arimasen hen de wa arimasen deshita


This page Japanese (kanji) Japanese (rōmaji) Other names
adjectival verbs 形容詞 keiyōshi adjectival verbs, i-adjectives, adjectives, stative verbs
adjectival nouns 形容動詞 keiyōdōshi adjectival nouns,[1] na-adjectives, copular nouns, quasi-adjectives, nominal adjectives, adjectival verbs[1]
attributives 連体詞 rentaishi attributives, true adjectives, prenominals, pre-noun adjectivals

The Japanese word keiyōshi is used to denote an English adjective.

Because the widespread study of Japanese is still relatively new in the Western world, there are no generally accepted English translations for the above parts of speech, with varying texts adopting different sets, and others extant not listed above.


Korean has exactly the same three word classes as above, called 형용사 hyeongyongsa, 형용명사 hyeongyongmyeongsa, and 관형사 gwanhyeongsa respectively.


  1. ^ a b c In the traditional Japanese grammar, keiyō-dōshi, literally "adjective verb", includes the copula, while the adjectival noun in the analysis shown here does not include it. For example, in the traditional grammar, kirei da is a keiyō-dōshi and kirei is its stem; in the analysis here, kirei is an adjectival noun and kirei da is its combination with the copula. Considering the copula is a kind of verb and kirei is a kind of noun syntactically, both names make sense.
  2. ^ post by JimmySeal on 2007 October 06 in What on earth is a たる adjective? at Reviewing the Kanji forum
  3. ^ A list of taru adjectives is given at: List of -taru Adjectives, Michael Panzer, BlastitWonner, February 24, 2009
  4. ^ a b answer by Boaz Yaniv, 2011 Jun 13, to What exactly is a “taru adjective” at Japanese Language & Usage, StackExchange
  5. ^ post by akibare on 2005-12-23 at -たる? on linguaphiles forum

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