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The In-depth Guide to Japanese Adjectives: What They Are, Conjugations, Endings and Examples

Adjectives are the crayons of the speech world. They add color and interest to conversations.

I learned their importance quickly when I began to study Japanese. Adjectives helped me describe my travel stories to my Japanese tutor, which filled in a lot of awkward pauses during study sessions.

As in English, Japanese adjectives come before the noun they’re describing. Think: bright lights, tall buildings or expensive food.

There are two types of Japanese adjectives: い-adjectives and な-adjectives. Except one, all い-adjectives and な-adjectives follow the same set of rules, so learning them is a cinch!

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Japanese adjective conjugation so you can start using them confidently.


Which Japanese Adjectives Should You Learn First?

  • Learn frequently-used adjectives. Japanese adjectives help you describe people, places, things and situations. They’re an essential part of conveying your thoughts and ideas, but for language learners the task can be a bit daunting. Usually, we’re introduced to elementary adjectives like “dark” or “wide”—which are definitely essential, but won’t help you describe all your feels when your favorite manga spirals into a sudden plot twist.
  • Learn adjectives that are relevant to your life. Think of situations that will occur when you’re in Japan or speaking Japanese. Will you be asking for directions? If so, then you’ll benefit greatly from knowing adjectives such as “far” and “near.” Likewise, if you’re going to be shopping for clothes in Tokyo’s best boutiques or taste-testing local cuisine, then adjectives like “expensive” and “reasonable,” or “spicy” and “refreshing” might suit you better.
  • Learn essential, common adjectives. You’ll need to know these adjectives, especially if you’re studying for something like the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). Or if you want to know what everyone’s talking about. The good thing about these adjectives is that most learning resources will introduce them immediately. You can definitely expect to bump into these words from the very beginning:

高い (たかい) — high, tall, expensive
短い (みじかい) — short
遅い (おそい) — late, slow

  • Identify adjectives that you personally use most. These are adjectives that you use in conversation frequently. Since I like to talk about gossip and fashion, my most frequent adjectives would probably be:

まずい — awkward, untimely, unpleasant
キモい (きもい) — gross, disgusting
(いき) — stylish, chic

How to Conjugate い-Adjectives

い-Adjectives (also called “True Adjectives” or “Pure Adjectives”) are adjectives that end in the kana character い.

Note that not every adjective that ends in い is an い-adjective, but we’ll learn more about that in just a bit. Some examples of い-adjectives are:

速い (はやい) — fast

寒い (さむい) — cold

甘い (あまい) — sweet

い-adjectives come directly before the noun they’re describing, as you can see below:

(かのじょは はやい そうしゃだ。)
She’s a fast runner.

(あまい たべものが すきだよ。)
I love sweet food.

They can also be used alone, without a noun proceeding them:

(きょうは すこし さむいね。)
Today is a bit cold.

It’s fast.

When conjugated, the character い is dropped and replaced with another ending.

As an example, let’s look at the adjective 安い (やすい) — cheap.

TenseCasualNormal - Polite






Past Negative安くなかった



Here are two examples of い-adjectives in the past tense:

The camera was cheap

(きのう、そとは さむくなかった)
It wasn’t cold outside yesterday

How to Conjugate な-Adjectives

な-adjectives are also called “Quasi Adjectives” or “Adjectival-Nouns.” These adjectives end in all sorts of characters, including い.

Some examples of な-adjectives are:

きれい — pretty, clean

元気 (げんき) — healthy, lively

 好き (すき) — like

Note that “like” in Japanese is an adjective, rather than a verb. Think of it as saying something is “favorable” or “desirable.”

The character な is always placed between な-adjectives and nouns.

(すきな りょうり)
A favorite dish

(かれは げんきな こどもですね。)
He’s a lively child.

The character な can be dropped if no noun proceeds the adjective.

(よくしつは きれいですか?)
Is the bath clean?

I like it.

If you know how to conjugate です, then you already know how to conjugate な-adjectives.

な-adjectives can’t be conjugated alone.

Instead, their tenses are indicated by conjugating です.

For example, if you wanted to say something was convenient, you’d take the adjective convenient, 便利 (べんり), and use the past form of です to create:

便利でした (べんりでした) — was convenient

TenseCasualNormal - Polite
Past Negativeではなかったではありませんでした

Some other examples are:

It was clean

(おこのみやきは すきな りょうりだった)
Okonomiyaki was (my) favorite dish

How to Distinguish Between い-Adjectives and な-Adjectives in Japanese

  • Look at how the adjective is written. In their plain form, all い-adjectives will end with the character い. See the following examples:

面白い (おもしろい) — interesting
新しい (あたらしい) — new
楽しい (たのしい) — fun

  • Most な-adjectives consist of only kanji characters or end in a kana character that isn’t い. See the following examples:

便利 (べんり) — convenient
静か (しずか) — quiet
有名 (ゆうめい) — famous

  • Look at the conjugation. The previous rules work for most adjectives, but not all of them. When in doubt, look at the adjective’s conjugation. As you continue to study Japanese, you’ll hear な follow な-adjectives and you’ll use it automatically. If you watch dramas, you may develop the habit of looking off into the sunset and whispering to yourself, “きれいな…” (“beautiful…”).
  • い-adjectives can be changed to な-adjectives. This is done when the last い is dropped from the い-adjective and replaced with な. This is only done when the adjective is placed right before the noun it describes. This is done with common い-adjectives such as 大きい (おおきい — big) and 小さい (ちいさい — small). For example:

大きな木 (おおきな き) — big tree
小さなカップ (ちいさな かっぷ) — tiny cup

Other than in songs, poetry and expressions, you won’t see い-adjectives take the form of な-adjectives—but it’s good to be aware.

いい: The Only Irregular Adjective in Japanese

Japan’s lonesome irregular adjective is いい.

いい is an い-adjective that means “good.” It’s derived from the word 良い (よい), meaning good.

いい appears in hiragana, while 良い is usually written in kanji. いい doesn’t conjugate, while 良い follows い-adjective’s conjugation rules:

TenseCasualNormal - Polite
Past Negative良くなかった

The meaning between the two words changes slightly when conjugated.

良かったです (よかったです) would literally mean It was good,” but usually expresses that “something turned out all right,” or is used to say “thank goodness.”

Japanese Adjective Endings

In Japanese, a suffix is added to a verb or adjective to change its meaning.

For example, by adding the suffix -くてたまりません (unbearably) to the adjective hot, 暑い (あつい), you’ll get:

(あつくて たまりません)
Unbearably hot

Many suffixes that are used with verbs can be used with adjectives. Now that you know some adjectives, it’s time to dress them up and really express yourself:

過ぎる (すぎる) — Too [adj]


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

For な-adjectives, omit です.


(きょうは あつすぎる。)
It’s too hot today.

(わたしの ふらんすごは へたすぎる。)
My French is too poor.

そう — Looks like, seems like [adj]


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

An い-adjective turns into a な-adjective when you add そう to it.

For な-adjectives, omit です.

いい becomes 良さそう (よさそう).

ない (negative form) becomes なさそう.


(かのじょは たかそうな どれすをきていた。)
She wore an expensive-looking dress.

(ちょうしが よくなさそう ですよ。)
You don’t look well.

くなる — Become [adj]


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

For な-adjectives, omit です.


(あしたは さむくなるでしょう。)
It’ll probably become cold tomorrow.

It’ll become easier to drink.

さ — the suffix “-ness” [adj]

This adds a degree or quality to an adjective.


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

な-adjectives don’t often use this ending with some exceptions including (but not limited to):

便利さ (べんりさ) — convenience

重要さ (じゅうようさ) — importance

静かさ (しずかさ) — peacefulness


(やさしさと よわさをこんどうするなかれ。)
Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.

(わたしは ほてるの かいてきさと べんりさをたのしむのが すきよ。)
I like to enjoy the comfort and convenience of hotels.

ければ — If it is [adj]


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

For な-adjectives, omit です and then add ならば or であれば.


(あつければ、さまして のみなさい。)
If it’s hot, let it cool down before drinking it.

(あした ひまであれば、いっしょに いきましょうね。)
If you’re free tomorrow, let’s go together

くなければ — If it is not [adj]


For い-adjectives, drop the final い.

For な-adjectives, use でなければ.


(それが おいしくなければ、たべません。)
If it’s not delicious, don’t eat it.

(びょうきでなければ、かれは くるだろう。)
If he’s not ill, he’ll come.


Like most people, I rely on repetition to memorize new vocabulary and grammar. So practice as much as possible.

You can also find and practice countless useful adjectives in Japanese media, such as movies and dramas. There’s also the language learning program FluentU, which uses native Japanese videos to teach the language in context.

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