Learn Japanese Adjectives: A Comprehensive Guide

japanese adjectives featured image

If you are learning Japanese and would like to find a detailed and easy-to-understand guide to learning Japanese adjectives, then congratulations! You’ve come to the right place.

Adjective is an essential component of the Japanese language. They can describe, define, and distinguish nouns, plus many other functions. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without adjectives – all poetry, romance, and emotion would disappear.

Please do not skip this article if you are struggling with い-adjectives and な-adjectives and are not proficient in their conjugations. I’ll be happy to introduce you to Japanese adjectives from a comprehensive perspective.  Additionally, this article will help you expand your vocabulary by providing a list 120 of the most common Japanese adjectives.

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Note that romanization will not be provided in this article as I assume you should already know the Japanese writing system at this point. If not, please learn them first with the LingoDeer app for free or from our hiragana charts. 

Well, without further ado… please have your notebooks at hand and let’s start learning Japanese adjectives!

japanese adjectives

In Japanese, there are mainly two types of adjectives: い-adjectives and -adjectives. The above image shows their basic usage. Now read on for more details!

い-adjectives

Let’s start with い-adjectives. These are called “形容詞けいようし” in Japanese, which literally means “adjectives.” From here on out, we will refer to these kinds of adjectives as “い-adjectives” for convenience. 

The most prominent characteristic of い-adjectives is that all of them have the “い” ending. Similar to English adjectives, い-adjectives are mainly used to modify nouns or as a predicative in a sentence. Next, let’s learn about い-adjectives conjugation.

い adjectives

Basic Conjugation

Like English, Japanese is a language with tenses. Japanese has only two tenses, present/future tense and past tense, while there are 16 tenses in English. Another difference is that only verbs are conjugated in English, but both verbs and adjectives are conjugated in Japanese.

Furthermore, in English, the way to make an adjective negative is by adding no or not before it. For example, “Today is not hot.” However, in Japanese, negative statements are made by conjugating adjectives.

Take the い-adjective “あつい”as an example. The following table shows its four basic conjugations. If you are unfamiliar with them, please master them as soon as possible because they are essential for newbies.

Present / Future Past
Positive あつ あつかった
Negative あつくない あつくなかった

You may have noticed that the present and future tenses are not separate in Japanese. So how do we determine whether a sentence is in the present or future tense? We can use the rest of the sentence as a clue to figure out its tense.

今日こんにちあつい。明日あしたあつい。

It’s hot today. Tomorrow will be hot, too.

In the above example, two nouns, “今日きょう (today)” and “明日あした(tomorrow),” inform us of what the two sentences’ tenses are.

Besides, there are other ways to identify a tense in a sentence, which you will figure out in your future studies. Now, let’s learn more sentences to grasp the basic conjugation of い-adjectives.

東京とうきょうあつ – Tokyo is hot

ニューヨーク はあつくない – New York is not hot

去年きょねん東京とうきょうあつかった – Last year, Tokyo was hot

昨日きのうあつくなかった – Yesterday was not hot

japanese adjectives illustration 1

How to place い-adjectives in Japanese

If you’re already familiar with the four basic conjugations of い-adjectives mentioned above, let’s see how い-adjectives are applied in sentences. I will introduce this part in terms of the positions of い-adjectives in sentences. 

  • at the end of a sentence

When an い-adjective occurs at the end of a sentence, it is called an PREDICATIVE adjective. If you don’t know much about the concept of sentence clause structure, you can just skip it. Please remember that such a case is common in English as well. The example sentences in the Basic Conjugation part are all cases of い-adjective occurring at the end of a sentence.

東京とうきょうあつい – Tokyo is hot

ニューヨーク はあつくない – New York is not hot

去年きょねん東京とうきょうあつかった – Last year, Tokyo was hot

昨日きのうあつくなかった – Yesterday was not hot

Do you know that Japanese is a language with an honorific system? As a beginner, you are supposed to know the primary difference between polite and casual speech.

The four example sentences above are all in casual speech. So, how can we convert them into polite speech? It’s easy – add “です(desu)” at the end of the sentences. 

東京とうきょうあつです – Tokyo is hot

ニューヨーク はあつくないです – New York is not hot

去年きょねん東京とうきょうあつかったです – Last year, Tokyo was hot

昨日きのうあつくなかったです – Yesterday was not hot

japanese adjectives illustration 2

  •  before a noun

Like most adjectives in English, い-adjectives can also be placed before a noun. This is called ATTRIBUTIVE adjectives. Again, simply ignore it if you are confused about the sentence composition for now. Let’s take a look at these specific sets of examples below:

あつなつ – hot summer

昨日きのう面白おもしろくない映画えいがました – I watched an uninteresting movie yesterday

You may notice that in the above examples, the い-adjectives, あつ and 面白おもしろくない, are both in the present/future tense, despite the change of negative and positive in the statement. So, can past tense い-adjectives occur before a noun? The answer depends. Generally speaking, when past tense い-adjectives come before a noun, it contains a meaning of “change.” Therefore, it can’t be used for something constant.

あつかったなつ × 

面白おもしろくなかった映画えいが

うつくしかった女優じょゆう

The first sentence has no grammatical errors, but it doesn’t sound very natural for Japanese speakers.

The second sentence is correct. A movie that was once boring has since become attractive (to me) for some reason. Similarly, in the third sentence, the actress who used to be beautiful is now probably no longer beautiful due to advanced age (indeed, I think each age has its charms.)

japanese adjectives illustration 6

  • in the middle of a sentence 

い-adjectives can also occur in the middle of sentences. In this case, they connect two simple sentences to a compound sentence. If you don’t know what a compound sentence is, the following example may help you.

That restaurant was delicious and the servers were friendly.

In the above sentence, “and” connects two simple sentences, forming a compound sentence. Did you get it? Good! Then, how can we combine two simple sentences with い-adjectives in Japanese?

That restaurant was delicious – あの レストラン は美味おいしかった

The servers were friendly – 店員てんいんやさしかった

To answer this question, I’d like to introduce another conjugation of い-adjectives to you – the te-form (て形). By turning the い ending of an い-adjective into くて (美味おいしい → 美味おいしくて), we can turn it into its te-form. The te-form is used to connect two simple sentences.

あの レストラン は美味おいしくて店員てんいんやさしかった。

That restaurant was delicious and the servers were friendly.

I’m guessing you are wondering what the tense of a te-form い-adjective is. Well, it doesn’t have a tense. We can only judge a sentence’s tense by its end part. In the above example, “やさしかった” indicates that it’s a past tense sentence.

This example shows that the restaurant is delicious (美味おいしい), but what if the restaurant’s food isn’t so delicious  (美味おいしくない)? Fortunately, all you need to do is turn the ending い into くて, 美味おいしくない→美味おいしくなくて.

あの レストラン は美味おいしくなくて店員てんいんやさしくなかった。

That restaurant was not delicious and the servers were not friendly.

Some tricky, irregular い-adjectives

After studying the above, I believe you have a basic understanding of い-adjectives. It could be said that the grammar rules I mentioned earlier apply to 99.9% of い-adjectives. Next, let’s learn some tricky ones. They are like a few lilies in a field of roses.

いい

When I was a Japanese language teacher in a high school in 2020, there were always students complaining that one い-adjective in particular, いい, was difficult. However, it’s not difficult at all! The literal meaning of いい is good or nice, and its kanji form is . What most learners find difficult is its conjugation.

Present / Future Past
Positive いい/よい よかった
Negative よくない よくなかった

いい equals よい. When it comes to conjugation, you don’t want to conjugate いい but よい. Let’s think of よい as the stunt double of いい, the big star, to do many difficult jobs for it! 😉

かわいい

かわいい means cute or lovely, and the kanji form is 可愛い. It was just an ordinary い-adjective, but when grading students’ assignments, I noticed that many students made mistakes in its conjugation. If you have the same problem, you may be confused by its double い.

kawaii

The first い in かわいい is a part of the kanji, 愛 (わい). Like other adjectives, かわいい has only one ending, the second い.

Present / Future Past
Positive かわいい かわいかった
Negative かわいくない かわいくなかった

多い、少ない、近い、遠い

おお and すくない respectively mean “many” and “few.” ちかい and とお respectively mean “near” and “far.” They seem like just four common adjectives by their meanings. However, it would be best for you to be careful about their applications.

Most い-adjectives can freely occur in the ATTRIBUTIVE position (before the noun) and the PREDICATIVE position (at the end of the sentence). However, the above four ones are restricted to the predicative position only.

many people few people nearby hotel distant city
おおひと × すくないひと × ちかいホテル × とおまち ×
ひとおおい 〇 ひとすくない 〇 ホテル がちかい 〇 まちとおい 〇
おおくのひと すくなくのひと 〇 ちかくの ホテル 〇 とおくのまち

As you see in the table, these four adjectives cannot occur in the ATTRIBUTIVE position (before the noun), but if you change their endings from い to く and add the particle の, they can be placed before the noun. My beginner friend, don’t worry about why this is just yet – just remember this particular rule for these four adjectives.

い-Adjectives with しい ending

First of all, please don’t be nervous. We are not talking about a new kind of adjective here. Adjectives ending in しい still belong to the group of い-adjectives. Additionally, their conjugations and other grammatical rules are no different.

い-adjectives ending in しい are often used to describe emotions, feelings, and personal qualities, as in the following examples:

うれしい – happy

かなしい – sad

さびしい – lonely

大人おとなしい – gentle

ずかしい – shameful

In Japanese, い-adjectives that end in しい and contain an emotional meaning can only be used to describe one’s own feelings, but not others. Why? Because we can’t read people’s minds and know how they are feeling. I know this sounds strange because, in English, we would say things like “you are sad.” However, い-adjectives cannot be used to describe others’ feelings or emotions.

わたしかなしいです – I’m sad 〇

あなたはかなしいです – You are sad ×

Nevertheless, if it is an interrogative sentence, you can use emotional い-adjectives that end with しい to ask someone how they feel.

(あなたは) かなしいですか – Are you sad? 〇

It should also be noted that not all い-adjectives ending in しい describe people’s emotions.

な-Adjectives

After reading the above, I’m sure you’ve already grasped the gist of い-Adjectives. Next, let’s take a look at the application of な-adjectives. な-adjectives are called “形容動詞けいようどうし” in Japanese, which means adjectival noun

The first thing we need to figure out is that い-adjective and な-adjective are the two main groups that comprise Japanese adjectives. In other words, the functions of these two categories are the same. The only difference is in their conjugations.

な adjectives

You may be confused as to why there are two types of adjectives in Japanese when English has only one. Well, we may need to learn a bit about the history of the Japanese language. 

い-adjectives are mainly native Japanese words (wago), but they are very limited in number and cannot meet the needs of many expressions. Therefore, since the Heian period, Japanese people have converted nouns with adjectival meanings into adjectives, called な-adjectives (adjective nouns) today. The origins of these nouns tend to be borrowed words from Chinese.

Basic Conjugation

As I introduced in the い-Adjective section, conjugations in Japanese are mainly changes in tense and statement. All な-adjectives have the だ ending, but when you look up them in the dictionary, だ is missing. For example, the な-adjective “安全あんぜん” (safe) can only be found as “安全あんぜん” when you look it up in the dictionary.

Similar to い-adjectives, which rely on changing their い ending in order to conjugate, な-adjectives also depend on their だ ending.

Present / Future Past
Positive 安全あんぜん 安全あんぜんだった
Negative 安全あんぜんではない 安全あんぜんではなかった

One more thing to note: the spoken form of ではない is じゃない. Similarly, ではなかった equals じゃなかった. Besides, unlike with い-Adjectives, when a な-adjective is placed before a noun, you must change its ending だ into な—for example, 安全あんぜんところ. This is why it’s called な-adjective.

Where can な-adjectives be placed in a sentence

In the above session, we looked at a breakdown of な-adjectives. Next, let’s look at their specific application in sentences.

  • at the end of a sentence

Like い-adjectives, when a な-adjective occurs at the end of a sentence, it is called an PREDICATIVE adjective. As I mentioned earlier, い-adjective and な-adjective are the same in their application – the only difference is their conjugations. Here are a few examples of な-adjectives placed at the end of sentences.

このくに安全あんぜん – This country is safe.

あのまち綺麗きれいだった – That town was beautiful.

日本語にほんご上手じょうずでは ( じゃ ) ない – Not good at Japanese.

店員てんいん親切しんせつでは ( じゃ ) なかった – The servers were not friendly.

I mentioned that Japanese is a language with an honorific system. Respect in Japanese is mainly expressed at the end of sentences. How can we convert the above casual sentences into polite speech? 

You may remember that い-adjectives are converted to honorific speech by adding です directly at the end of the sentence. However, な-adjectives work a little bit differently. To convert a な-adjective from the casual form to the polite form, we need to change its だ ending.

Present / Future Past
Positive だ = です だった = でした
Negative ではない = ではありません ではなかった = ではありませんでした

Therefore, the above four casual sentences are converted into the following:

このくに安全あんぜんです – This country is safe.

あのまち綺麗きれいでした – That town was beautiful.

日本語にほんご上手じょうずではありません – Not good at Japanese.

店員てんいん親切しんせつではありませんでした – The servers were not friendly.

japanese adjectives illustration 4

  • before a noun

When a な-adjective is placed before a noun, it is called an ATTRIBUTIVE adjective. You need to change the ending from “だ” to “な” or put it after the present negative of casual speech (-ではない、-じゃない)

安全あんぜんくに – safe country

綺麗きれいまち – beautiful city

上手じょうずじゃない日本語にほんご – not good at Japanese

親切しんせつではない店員てんいん – unfriendly servers

Likewise, when past tense な-adjectives are placed before a noun, it states a fact of the past that is no longer true now.

綺麗きれいだったまち – The town used to be beautiful 

親切しんせつではなかった店員てんいん – The staff was unfriendly

In the first example, the town used to be beautiful or clean. Now perhaps many tourists have made it dirty. In the second example, the staff used to be unfriendly, but now it is possible that new staff is hired or the same one has been trained to be friendly.

  • in the middle of a sentence

We have already discussed the concept of compound and simple sentences before. A な-adjective may also appear in the middle of a sentence and be used to connect two simple sentences. In order to do these, we need the te- form, remember? The te-form of a な-adjective is to change its ending from “だ” to “で.”

綺麗きれいだ → 綺麗きれい

親切しんせつだ → 親切しんせつ

 

あのサロンは綺麗きれいで、スタッフも親切しんせつだ。

That salon is beautiful and the staff is friendly.

Neither an い-adjective’s nor a な-adjective’s te-form indicates the tense. Instead, the tense is reflected by the last part of the sentence.

Some tricky な-adjectives

Here are several な-adjectives that confuse many beginners, so please be careful!

嫌い

The meaning of “きらい” is “dislike.” It looks like an い-adjective, but it is not. It would be best if you remembered it as an exception. Its conjugation is not different from other な-adjectives.

きらいなひと – disliked person

数学すうがくきらいだ – I dislike math

同じ

We have already mentioned that when an adjective is placed before a noun, its ending needs to be changed from to . When it comes to this rule, おなじ is the black sheep of the な-adjective family because it should be placed before nouns without な.

おなひと – the same person

おなはな – the same flower

綺麗

Many of my students will take the な-adjective 綺麗きれい (beautiful) as an い-adjective. The い is part of the kanji 麗(れい), not the word ending. Thus, 綺麗きれい is no different from any other な-adjective.

綺麗きれいなスカート – beautiful skirt

日本は綺麗きれいだ – Japan is beautiful

小さな、大きな

Don’t these two words look familiar? Remember we mentioned “ちいさい” and “おおきい” in the “some tricky い-adjectives” part? First, let’s make it clear that “ちいさい” and “おおきい” are い-adjectives, while “ちいさな” and “おおきな are adnominal adjectives (not な-adjectives.)

Although they are not な-adjectives, I prefer to mention them here as they are very important. The primary difference between them and な-adjective is that they do not have the ending だ and cannot be placed at the end of a sentence (PREDICATIVE). They can only be put before a noun.

おおきな問題もんだい – big issue

問題もんだいおおきな × 

 

ちいさな会社かいしゃ – small company

会社かいしゃちいさな ×

Well, “おおきな,” “ちいさな” is mainly used to modify nouns with abstract concepts, in the above example, “問題もんだい (issue)” and “会社かいしゃ (company)” are both abstract concepts in human society. In contrast, “おおきい,” “ちいさい” tend to modify visible, concrete things.

おおきい リンゴ – big apple

リンゴはおおきい – The apple is big

 

ちいさいまる – small circle

まるちいさい – The circle is small

japanese adjectives illustration 5

How to connect い-adjectives and な-adjectives together

Remember when we discussed い-adjectives and な-adjectives joining two simple sentences? We need to convert them to the te-form.

So how do we put two い-adjectives or two な-adjectives or an い-adjective and a な-adjective together as if we were constructing Gundam models? Again, you need to convert them into their respective te-forms. The following four sets of examples can give you a clear explanation.

  • あかるくてやさしいひと – a sunny and gentle person (two い-adjectives, あかるい, and やさしい)
  • 綺麗きれいしずかなまち – beautiful and quiet town (two な-adjectives, 綺麗きれい, and しずか)
  • あかるくて元気げんき子供こども – a cheerful and energetic child (an い-adjective and a な-adjective)
  • 元気げんきあかるい子供こども – an energetic and cheerful child (Yes, the order can be reversed)

Nouns can also be adjectives

As I mentioned, な-adjectives were created to make up for the deficiency of い-adjectives. They are converted from adjectival nouns. For example, 綺麗きれい means beauty, but when converted into a な-adjective 綺麗きれいな, its meaning becomes beautiful.

In modern Japanese, many nouns are still used as adjectives without being converted into adjectives. When a noun modifies another noun, we need to join them with の.

わたしのカバン – my bag

みどり植物しょくぶつ – green plants

ネコ のもの – cat food

120 most common Japanese adjectives list

Dear readers, thank you for reading this far. If you wish to expand your vocabulary of Japanese adjectives a bit more, below is a list of 120 essential Japanese adjectives. You can also download the pdf.

Adjective

Hiragana

Meaning

Colors

1

赤い

あかい

red

2

青い

あおい

blue

3

みどり

green

4

黄色い

きいろい

yellow

5

黒い

くろい

black

6

白い

しろい

white

7

むらさき

purple

8

ピンク

ぴんく

pink

9

茶色い

ちゃいろい

brown

Personalities

10

優しい

やさしい

kind

11

親切な

しんせつな

hospitable, friendly

12

友好的な

ゆうこうてきな

friendly

13

礼儀正しい

れいぎただしい

polite

14

社交的な

しゃこうてきな

outgoing

15

正直な

しょうじきな

honest

16

無邪気な

むじゃきな

innocent

17

意地悪な

いじわるな

mean, nasty

18

退屈な

たいくつな

boring

19

ずるい

sly

20

真面目な

まじめな

serious

21

勇敢な

ゆうかんな

brave

22

楽観的な

らっかんてきな

optimistic

23

悲観的な

ひかんてきな

pessimistic

24

わんぱくな

naughty

25

怠け者

なまけもの

lazy

26

頑固な

がんこうな

stubborn

27

繊細な

せんさいな

sensitive

28

賢い

かしこい

smart

29

勤勉な

きんべんな

deligent

30

謙虚な

けんきょな

humble

31

神経質な

しんけいしつな

picky

32

複雑な

ふくざつな

complicated

33

不器用な

ぶきような

clumsy

Characteristics

34

大きい

おおきい

big, huge

35

小さい

ちいさい

small, little

36

浅い

あさい

shallow

37

深い

ふかい

deep

38

高い

たかい

tall, expansive

39

低い

ひくい

short (person’s length)

40

安い

やすい

cheap

41

古い

ふるい

old

42

新しい

あたらしい

new

43

安全な

あんぜんな

safe

44

危ない

あぶない

dangerous

45

清潔な

せいけつな

clean

46

汚い

きたない

dirty

47

強い

つよい

strong

48

弱い

よわい

weak

49

忙しい

いそがしい

busy

50

暇な

ひまな

leisurely

51

狭い

せまい

narrow

52

広い

ひろい

wide

53

可愛い

かわいい

cute

54

嫌いな

きらいな

disliked

55

美しい

うつくしい

beautiful

56

綺麗な

きれいな

pretty

57

醜い

みにくい

ugly

58

渇いた

かわいた

dry

59

濡れた

ぬれた

wet

60

遠い

とおい

far

61

近い

ちかい

near

62

速い、早い

あやい

fast

63

遅い

おそい

slow

64

多い

おおい

many

65

少ない

すくない

less, few

66

暑い

あつい

hot (weather)

67

寒い

さむい

cold (weather)

68

涼しい

すずしい

cool

69

熱い

あつい

hot (thing)

70

冷たい

つめたい

cold (thing)

71

硬い, 堅い

かたい

hard

72

柔らかい

やわらかい

soft

73

明るい

あかるい

bright

74

暗い

くらい

dark

75

賑やかな

にぎやかな

bustling

76

静かな

しずかな

quiet

77

十分な

じゅうぶんな

enough

78

足りない

たりない

lacking

79

匂い

におい

flavour

80

臭い

におい

smelly, stinky

81

臭い

くさい

smelly, stinky

82

太い

ふとい

fat (body type)

83

細い

ほそい

thin (body type)

84

長い

ながい

long (thing)

85

短い

みじかい

short (thing)

86

厚い

あつい

thick

87

薄い

うつい

thin (thing)

88

鋭い

するどい

sharp

89

鈍い

にぶい

dull

90

痒い

かゆい

itchy

91

重い

おもい

heavy

92

軽い

かるい

light

93

上手い

うまい

appetizing

94

旨い

うまい

delicious

95

不味い

まずい

unappetizing

96

上手な

じょうずな

skillful

97

下手な

へたな

inferior

98

甘い

あまい

sweet

99

辛い

からい

spicy

100

酸っぱい

すっぱい

sour

101

塩辛い

しおからい

salty

102

詰まらない

つまらない

boring

103

面白い

おもしろい

interesting

104

偉い

えらい

great (person)

105

凄い

すごい

wonderful

しい ending

106

恋しい

こいしい

beloved

107

寂しい

さびしい

lonely

108

難しい

むずかしい

difficult

109

易しい

やさしい

easy

110

懐かしい

なつかしい

missed

111

恥ずかしい

はずかしい

shy

112

大人しい

おとなしい

obedient

113

頼もしい

たのもしい

reliable

114

図々しい

ずうずうしい

shameless

115

楽しい

たのしい

happy

116

嬉しい

うれしい

happy, excited

117

親しい

したしい

intimate

118

悲しい

かなしい

sad

119

素晴らしい

すばらしい

wonderful

120

貧しい

まずしい

poor

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Anonymous
Anonymous
2 months ago

Hi, you have a typo in “simply ignor it”.

blogger deer
Admin
blogger deer
2 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Hi, thank you for your kind comment. Just edited. Do you find the article helpful?

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 months ago

I believe some of the conjugations for かわいい are in the wrong place on its conjugation table. Thank you for the thorough explanation of adjectives!

blogger deer
Admin
blogger deer
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Hi, thank you for pointing out a potential mistake. Can you specify which conjugation is in the wrong place?