Akemi's Anime World

Adjectivity! Japanese Lesson

It's high time we learned to describe things using words other than nouns--everybody's favorite, the adjective. Japanese adjectives aren't horribly tricky, but they're a bit different from English, so brace yourself.

Split the Difference

Japanese adjectives are easy, because basically, they work exactly the same as English adjectives--you stick them in front of the word you want them to modify.

At this point, the trickiest thing to learn about adjectives in Japanese is that there are two different types of them: "na" adjectives and "i" adjectives (that's "i" as in "eee", not like the letter I, by the way). Let's pick a couple of each to play with:

i Adjectivesna adjectives
ii (good)hen (weird)
karai (spicy)shizuka (quiet)

"Hen" is a word fans of Urusei Yatsura are probably familiar with, meaning "strange" or "weird".

The first thing you'll notice is that the i-adjectives all end in "i". Guess why they're called i-adjectives. The na-adjectives don't, however, end in "na"... yet. Check out these example sentences:

"Kore wa ii desu." ("This is good.")
"Kore wa ii katana desu." ("This is a good sword.")

"Kore wa hen desu." ("This is weird.")
"Kore wa hen na katana desu." ("This is a weird sword.")

Now it should make some sense. In the case of i-adjectives, they work exactly like adjectives in English--you can either plunk them right in the middle of a statement to describe something, or put them right before a noun to modify it.

Na-adjectives are just a wee bit trickier, in that when you want to modify a noun with them--but only then--you need to put a "na" between the adjective and the noun. Simple? I thought so.

What About Kono?

If you've been paying attention, you might remember the first set of adjectives from way back in Lesson 2, Part 3: "kono", "sono", "ano", and "dono". And you might also be assuming that they're na-adjectives, since none of them end in "i". Tragically, it's not quite that simple--that particular set of words is sort of a special case.

Thing is, they can't really be the object of a sentence--they can only be used to modify nouns. So really, they're more like mutant half-breed adjectives that only work in one particular situation, which is when they're stuck directly before a noun to identify it as "this whatever" instead of just any old whatever. Bottom line is, they're not either type, and you can't do a whole lot with them.

They can be combined with other adjectives to do all kinds of fun stuff, though. When you do that, the kono-type word always comes first.

"Kono karee wa karai desu." ("This curry is spicy.")
"Kono karai karee wa oishii desu." ("This spicy curry is tasty.")
"Sono karai karee wa abunai desu." ("That spicy curry is dangerous.")

See how you can stick "kono" and "karai" together with "karee" ("curry") to make the double-modifier "kono karai karee" ("this spicy curry"), just like in English? Piece of cake.

"Oishii" is a very common i-adjective meaning "tasty" or "delicious" (it's not terribly specific as to the level of mouth happiness). "Abunai", as many an anime fan knows, means "dangerous". It's an i-adjective, and a handy one, particularly when fighting giant robots or genetically engineered bees or things of that sort.

Random notes: Though the Japanese eat all sorts of curry, Japanese curry is light colored, mild in flavor (certainly not the tongue-scorchers popular in India or Thailand), and a popular home cookin' dish, especially among children. "Abunai!" can be yelled by itself (and frequently is) to mean something along the lines of "Look out!", although technically that's a shortened version of the sentence "Abunai desu!" meaning "It is dangerous!".

Is It?

Asking questions is way-easy--just like with everything else in Japanese, add a "ka" to a statement, and BINGO!, you've got a question.

"Kore wa karai desu." ("This is spicy.")
"Kore wa karai desu ka?" ("Is this spicy?")

No problem, right? Here's an example exchange:

Ryuu: "Kono karee wa karai desu ka?" ("Is this curry spicy?")
Mirai: "Hai. Karai desu." ("Yes. It's spicy.")
Ryuu: "Soo desu ka? Oishii desu ka?" ("Is that so? Is it good?")
Mirai: "Oishii desu yo!" ("It's tasty!")
Ryuu: "Karai desu ne. Karai. Karai! Kuchi no naka ga moeteru yo!" ("It is spicy, isn't it. Spicy. Spicy! My mouth is on fire!")

Other than that Mirai, like Lum, apparently has a high tolerance for spicy foods, what have we learned from this exchange? You can see that after the first sentence "Sono karee" gets left off because the subject is obvious.

More Vocabulary

Here's a table of more useful adjectives with their English meanings in parentheses:

i Adjectivesna adjectives
akai (red)kirei (pretty)
aoi (blue)burei (rude)
urusai (noisy)iya (unpleasant)
hayai (fast)
atarashii (new)
yasui (cheap)
ookii (big)

First off, you probably noticed that two of the adjectives in the na column end in "i". This is not a mistake--just because an adjective ends in "i" doesn't necessarily make it an i-adjective, so you've got to be a bit careful.

There are several useful words in there; "kirei" is very common and falls somewhere between "pretty" and "beautiful". "Burei" is most commonly heard in anime as an insult from royalty or other high-and-mighty folks expecting politeness. "Urusai" "iya" and are two particularly useful adjectives:

"Urusai" literally means "noisy". It is frequently used to imply, in a not particularly polite way, that you should make the source of the noise stop--basically "Be quiet." The blunt "Urusai!" is most common, meaning "Shut up!"

"Iya" is tremendously useful word with no good English equivalent. You'll frequently hear the sentence "Iya desu." (or the blunt form "Iya da."), which literally means "it is distasteful". However, in Japanese, the feel is much more like "I don't want to." or "I don't like that." or just "Gross!". If you want to be really blunt, you can just go with "Iya." which covers everything from "No." (as in, "I refuse because I find it unpleasant.") to "Eew!" That version is frequently screamed in anime by women about to be assaulted by something particularly repulsive.

If Only It Were That Simple

Remember back when I said Japanese adjectives were really simple? I was actually lying. The problem is, Japanese adjectives get conjugated--that means that, like making a verb past tense, you change the adjective some depending on the context of the sentence. It'd just be confusing to go into much detail at this point, but I'll go ahead and give one quick and useful example of how to make an i-adjective negative.

To make an i-adjective negative (and, therefore, the whole sentence negative), chop off the "i" at the end and replace it with a "kunai". Examples:

"Kore wa oishii desu." ("This is tasty.")
"Kore wa oishikunai desu." ("This is not tasty.")

There, that wasn't so painful, was it? We'll leave it at that for now.

Putting It All Together

Basic Adjective Patterns:

"[Something] wa [adjective] desu." ("[Something] is [adjective].")

"Kore wa [i-adjective] [something] desu." ("This is a [adjective] [something].")

"Kore wa [na-adjective] na [something] desu." ("This is a [adjective] [something].")

Combining kono/sono/ano/dono and an adjective:

"Kono [i-adjective] [something] wa [something] desu." ("This [adjective] [something] is [something].")

"Sono [na-adjective] na [something] wa [something] desu." ("That [adjective] [something] is [something].")

"Dono [i-adjective] [something] desu ka?" ("Which [adjective] [something]?")

Making an i-adjective negative:

[base]i = Positive
[base]kunai = Negative

Example time:

"Kono aoi uchuusen wa watashi no desu."

Remember that "uchuusen" means "space ship". Can you figure the whole thing out without peeking? "This blue space ship is mine." Another one:

"Anata no atarashii kuruma wa kakkoii desu."

Again, "kuruma" is "car", and "kakkoii" is a handy adjective meaning "cool/good looking/impressive" -- cool is probably the closest English equivalent, since "kakkoii" is a heavily used word and covers a lot of ground in Japanese (you'll hear it all the time in anime if you listen). So, if you put it together, the sentence means "Your new car is cool."

This sentence also illustrates that if you combine "anata no" (or another possessive) and an adjective, the adjective always comes last. A final example sentence

"Omae wa hen na yatsu da."

This is a less polite sentence: "omae" is an impolite version of "you"; "yatsu" is a fairly crude word for person, roughly equivalent to saying "guy" or "dude" (though it technically applies to both males and females); "da", as you've seen used a few times already, is the blunt form of "desu", which is very common in informal Japanese. So, the sentence as a whole means "You're a weird dude."

More Examples

Here's today's set of examples, mostly involving food:

  1. "Watashi wa kirei desu." ("I am pretty.")
  2. "Watashi wa karai desu." ("I am spicy.")
  3. "Watashi wa karai karee desu." ("I am spicy curry.")
  4. "Oishii karee wa karai desu." ("Good curry is spicy.")
  5. "Kore wa oishii yo!" ("This is tasty!")
  6. "Hen na yatsu." ("Weird guy.")
  7. "Anata wa kirei desu." ("You are pretty.")
  8. "Anata wa kirei na hito desu." ("You are a beautiful person.")
  9. "Ii yo!" ("That's fine!")

The first three sentences, though weird, are all pretty straightforward. The fourth involves a two adjectives--one modifying the subject directly, and one describing it--pretty much the same as in English. Note that in this case it's more natural to say "good curry" in English rather than "tasty curry", but "oishii" is much more natural in Japanese than "ii" (basically, "ii" really means "good", as in the good guys, not "good [tasting]" or something like that).

Sentence 5 demonstrates an informal way of using adjectives--the full, polite sentence would be "Kore wa oishii desu yo!", but cutting the "desu" out is an easy way to make it casual.

Sentence number 6 is again rather blunt, in this case omitting both the subject and the verb. Similar to English, this isn't common outside of offhanded remarks.

Seven and eight are similar ways to say the same thing, since "hito" just means "person". In English it's natural to use "pretty" in one case and "beautiful" in the other, but although there is a stronger word for beautiful in Japanese ("utsukushii"), "kirei" works fine in both these cases.

Finally, number 9 is another informal sentence, and a very common one. Though it literally means "It's good." or "That's good.", it's a friendly way of agreeing that covers all sorts of ground in Japanese. Equivalent phrases in English, depending on the situation, would be "That's fine.", "Ok.", "No problem.", and "Sure."

In Closing...

In part 3a, we'll learn some new and generally useful ways to identify where something is.