- Utsukushii, an i-adjective
- Kireina, a na-adjective
- Examples of utsukushii and kireina
- Summary of utsukushii and kireina
Utsukushii meaningLet’s begin with the adjective, “utsukushii 美しい (うつくしい)”.
- Utsukushii – 美しい (うつくしい) : an i-adjective meaning ‘beautiful’.
Nevertheless, in this blog post, I will use English names for the sake of simplicity. In principle, Japanese adjectives end with a character, either “na な” or “i い”, in their plain form. Ones which end with “i い” are classified into i-adjectives and the others which end with “na な” are classified into na-adjectives. These English names are very helpful to understand what Japanese adjectives look like.
Then get back to the definition and meaning of “utsukushii”. Now both of them are clear, I think. It is an i-adjective and means ‘beautiful’. Then let’s take a look at the other adjective.
Kireina meaningPerhaps, you already know one big difference between “utsukushii” and “kireina”. Yes. Their adjective types are different. “Utsukushii” is an i-adjective, but “kireina” is a na-adjective. Anyway let me show you a definition and meaning of “kireina”.
- Kireina – 綺麗な (きれいな) : a na-adjective meaning ‘beautiful’, ‘clean’, ‘neat’ or such.
Examples of utsukushii and kireinaIn the next chapters, I will do line-by-line comparison to figure out the differences between two adjectives.
- kyoto – 京都 (きょうと) : a noun. As you may know, it’s a name of one of the most famous Japanese cities.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. In the example, it works as a case maker and helps the noun, “kyoto”, to become the subject.
- basho – 場所 (ばしょ) : a noun meaning a ‘place’ or ‘area’
- da – だ : an auxiliary verb usually put at the end of sentence to make simple assertive or declarative sentences.
Explanation 1: utsukushii is a more specific wordWhen Japanese people want to say “kyoto is a beautiful place” in Japanese, they would say “Kyoto wa kireina basho da”. Why don’t they use “utsukushii”?
This is not because “kireina” fits with more situations, but because “utsukushii” is a more specific and dedicated word to mean ‘beautiful’. Since it has only one meaning, it is very straightforward. So it would not fit with situations in which people want to mention beauty in a broad sense. For this reason, Japanese people would use “kireina” in order to mean the beauty of Kyoto city.
However, depending on context and situations, we cannot use “kireina”. Through the following examples, I will explain its reason.
Example 2Below are the next examples.
- kokoro – 心 (こころ) : a noun meaning ‘mind’ or ‘heart’.
Explanation 2: a meaning of kireina depends on contextThe first one definitely means “it’s a beautiful mind”, but a translation of the second one would be a bit different. As I explained already, “kireina” means not only ‘beautiful’, but ‘clean’ or some such as well. Its meaning varies depending on words used together. Actually, Japanese people don’t understand “kireina kokoro” as “a beautiful mind”. It could sound like “a clean mind” or perhaps even “an innocent mind”. These expressions are a bit different from “a beautiful mind”.
Probably, I need to explain how “kireina” is affected by other words used together. Please take a look at another example below.
- yujo – 友情 (ゆうじょう) : a noun meaning a ‘friendship’ or ‘friendships’. Learn more about Japanese singular and plural.
Explanation 3a: kireina could mean something not intendedWhen Japanese native speakers want to say “it’s a beautiful friendship” in Japanese, they would say “utsukushii yujo da”. Its meaning is straightforward and clear. On the other hand, “kireina yujo da” sounds a bit weird. As I already mentioned, depending on context or other words used together, “kireina” could mean something different from what to be meant really. “Kireina yujo da” is one of the most typical examples.
First of all, “yujo”, friendship in English, could be bad or even dirty. Sadly, this is the fact in the world. So, in a way, we usually expect friendship to be something good and clean. Especially Japanese society has this expectation. Therefore, people living there do not dare to mention cleanliness of friendship. When the phrase “kireina yujo da” is used intentionally in Japan, it could imply existence of dirty friendship. Japanese people usually try to read intention behind more than they are supposed to do so. Of course, it highly depends on context and situations, but this kind of guessing can happen quite often. This is how “kireina” is affected by context or other words, and also why Japanese people would say “utsukushii yujo da” to mean “it’s a beautiful friendship”.
As you can see here, the na-adjective, “kireina”, could mean something not intended. So we need to be careful with its use. However, usually, almost all combinations of “kireina” and other words don’t give us bad impressions. So please don’t be nervous with it that much.
Explanation 3b: and the restA question may come to your mind. What happens if people say “utsukushii yujo da”? This could imply existence of not beautiful friendship? The answer to this questions is, “yes”. However, fortunately, an antonym of “utsukushii” is still acceptable because its meaning is just, ‘not beautiful’. It’s much better than ‘not clean’ or ‘dirty’ which makes us feel something illegal or inappropriate relationship.
By the way, when we want to express something really clean in Japanese, only one possible way is using the na-adjective, “kireina”, or its stem part, “kirei”. In this case, we need to be careful with context and words used together. For detailed explanations of use of noun stem parts, please refer to another blog post.
Summary of utsukushii and kireinaSo far, I’ve explained two adjectives, “utsukushii” and “kireina”, and also their differences. Let me summarize my explanations as follows.
- utsukushii – 美しい (うつくしい) : an i-adjective meaning ‘beautiful’.
- kireina – 綺麗な (きれいな) : a na-adjective meaning ‘beautiful’, ‘clean’, ‘neat’ or such.
- Their adjective types are different. “Utsukushii” is an i-adjective and “kireina” is a na-adjective.
- “Kireina” has more meanings than “utsukushii”.
- Depending on context or other words used together, “kireina” could mean something different from what we really want to mean. Needs to be careful with its use.
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.