ContentsAdjectives before nouns
How are i-adjectives and na-adjectives different?
Use nouns like adjectives
Other way around
Adjectives before nounsBefore focusing on how to use nouns like adjectives, let me explain Japanese adjectives first.
In Japanese, there are two different adjectives. One is called i-adjective and the other is called na-adjective. These types are named after characters at the end of adjectives. If an adjective ends with “い (i)” in its plain form like “美しい (utsukushii)”, it is classified into i-adjectives. If an adjective ends with “な (na)” in its plain form1 like “綺麗な (kireina)”, it is classified into na-adjectives. This classification is a bit different from what Japanese native speakers learn in school, but its basic concept is more or less the same. Usually, Japanese learners learn these two different types of adjectives in parallel because parts of speech are considered as the same. However, this idea would not help them to understand these words correctly. First, let’s take a look at the difference between i-adjectives and na-adjectives.
 This is not plain form really, but here for the sake of simplicity, is called “plain form”.
How are i-adjectives and na-adjectives different?The difference is very simple. I-adjectives cannot be separated, while na-adjectives can be separated into two parts. What does it mean? 美しい (utsukushii) cannot be separated, but 綺麗な (kireina) can be separated? How?
“綺麗な (kireina)” can be separated into two parts, “綺麗 (kirei)” and “な (na)”. In this case, “綺麗 (kirei)” is a noun which is considered as a stem part of the na-adjective. A stem part is not changed even if a na-adjective itself is changed for its conjugation. “な (na)”, here, is an auxiliary verb which is changed for conjugations. So Japanese na-adjectives are considered as a combination of a noun and the auxiliary verb, “な (na)”. To be honest, there is a room for further discussion on this idea. Some may say that na-adjectives shall be considered as one word, namely, one na-adjective instead of a combination of two parts. However, this idea that each na-adjective consists of two parts is highly related to the fact that Japanese native speakers use nouns like na-adjectives in daily conversation.
Use nouns like adjectivesHow Japanese native speakers use nouns like na-adjectives? Let me take the same example, “綺麗な (kirei na)”. Before taking further steps, check following conjugations of the na-adjective, “綺麗な (kirei na)”.
- 綺麗だろ (kirei daro)
- 綺麗だっ (kirei dat)/綺麗で (kirei de)/綺麗に (kirei ni)
- 綺麗だ (kirei da)
- 綺麗な (kirei na)
- 綺麗なら (kirei nara)
It’s hard to explain a reason why this happens grammatically or even theoretically because this is a part of Japanese language customs. Actually this is nothing other than what Japanese people usually do in conversation. The reason is not clear, but this is exactly how nouns are used like na-adjectives.
Other examples“綺麗 (kirei)” is not only one example. Following nouns are typical ones which can be used like a na-adjective in conversation.
- 大変 (taihen)
- 元気 (genki)
- 意外 (igai)
- 大変な (taihen na)
- 元気な (genki na)
- 意外 (igai na)
Other way aroundBy omitting the auxiliary verb “な (na)” in na-adjectives, in other words, extracting their stem parts, we can make nouns which can be used like na-adjectives. This has been explained so far. Now, let’s think about this method the other way round. What will happen if the auxiliary verb, “な (na)”, is added at the end of a noun?
In daily conversation, Japanese people often do this to make adjective-like nouns. Nouns made by this method are not always acceptable and could sound weird, but Japanese people, especially young people often enjoy that weirdness. Adjective-like nouns made by this method usually do not fit with formal situations, while they are acceptable in casual conversation.
This sounds a bit strange, since nouns can be used like na-adjectives as explained above. However, we need to be aware that only nouns which are made of their original na-adjectives can be used like na-adjectives. Therefore, nouns not related to na-adjectives or not having corresponding na-adjectives cannot be used like adjectives basically. Unless we don’t care the weirdness, we can make adjective-like nouns with the method above.
Japanese Particles Master
Masaki Mori is a Japanese particles master. Through teaching Japanese language, he is trying to spread the culture of Japan. His goal is to preserve it as much as possible.