Can you describe your world in full color?
Or are you stuck in black-and-white?
Let’s start adding some detail to sentences like 猫です (ねこです — It is a cat) and 男の子はパンを食べます (おとこのこは ぱんをたべます — The boy eats bread.)
With the language basics in hand, let’s start ornamenting sentences like these with adjectives. Add vibrant details (and sometimes even necessary information!) like the cat’s size, the amount of bread that’s being eaten or what the boy’s emotional disposition is.
In this post, we’ll give you more than 40 essential adjectives for adding some color to your own Japanese speech.
But first, it’s important to note that Japanese adjectives are a bit trickier than their English counterparts.
That’s because they manifest in multiple ways, primarily the -い and -な varieties, and the fact that they must be conjugated. We’ll give you a quick reminder on how this works below—if you need a more comprehensive adjective grammar rundown, look here first.
How い-adjectives Work
These are adjectives that, as the name implies, typically end in the letter い, such as 寒い (さむい — cold), 高い (たかい — expensive/tall) and 忙しい (いそがしい — busy).
They can simply be dropped in front of the noun you want to modify or conjugated at the end of a sentence. If you’re familiar with the method of conjugation for verbs then you’ll recognize this as a mere extension of that, making for a relatively painless development.
Let’s look at how to say whether it’s “cold” as an example:
今日は寒い。(きょうは さむい) — It’s cold today. (casual)
今日は寒いです。— It’s cold today. (formal)
昨日は寒かった。(きのうは さむかった) — Yesterday was cold. (casual)
昨日は寒かったです。— Yesterday was cold. (formal)
今日は寒くない。— It’s not cold today. (casual)
今日は寒くありません。— It’s not cold today. (formal)
昨日は寒くなかった。— It wasn’t cold yesterday. (casual)
昨日は寒くありませんでした — It wasn’t cold yesterday. (formal)
If you want to link the adjective more intimately to its noun by placing them together, here’s how you would do it.
寒い日です。(さむいひ です) — It’s a cold day. (formal)
明日は寒い日です。(あしたは さむいひです) — Tomorrow will be a cold day. (formal)
寒い日でした。— It was a cold day. (formal)
昨日は寒い日じゃなかった。— Yesterday wasn’t a cold day. (casual)
In such scenarios the adjective doesn’t conjugate, the verb, in these cases “です,” does.
How な-adjectives Work
These don’t end in -な, but rather, -な is placed between the adjective and noun it’s modifying.
If the adjective isn’t directly proceeding a noun it can drop the -な and be placed at the end of the sentence; but it still needs to be conjugated with です, for な-adjectives themselves aren’t the target of conjugation. As such, they’ll follow the same pattern as conjugating です.
As an example, let’s look at how to say whether someone is “serious:”
先生は真面目だ。(せんせいは まじめだ) — The teacher is serious. (casual)
先生は真面目です。— The teacher is serious. (formal)
先生は真面目だった。— The teacher was serious. (casual)
先生は真面目でした。— The teacher was serious. (formal)
先生は真面目じゃない。— The teacher isn’t serious. (casual)
先生は真面目ではありません。— The teacher isn’t serious. (formal)
先生は真面目じゃなかった。— The teacher wasn’t serious. (casual)
先生は真面目ではありませんでした。— The teacher wasn’t serious. (formal)
You’ll notice above example sentences that don’t actually use the -な from which they get their name. That’s because the adjective was put to the end of the sentence in those cases.
Here’s how some of them would look, and what they would mean, if you rearrange them to use -な.
彼女は真面目な先生だ。(かのじょは まじめな せんせいだ) — She’s a serious teacher. (casual)
彼女は真面目な先生でした。— She was a serious teacher. (formal)
彼女は真面目な先生じゃなかった。— She wasn’t a serious teacher. (casual)
The adjective itself doesn’t change, regardless of the tense or nature of the sentence, all that’s changing are the verbs as they’re being conjugated.
Using じゃ and では
Note that in the casual negative and casual past negative conjugations じゃ is used, whereas in the formal versions it’s では instead.
じゃ is simply a contraction of では. You can use じゃ when speaking the majority of the time, except for highly formal occasions (graduation commencement speeches, funerals, etc.).
However, it’s the opposite in writing. Typically, it’ll be written as では unless it’s decidedly informal (quoting casual speech, manga, etc.).
40+ Adjectives for Spicing Up Your Japanese
By now it should be pretty clear that Japanese adjectives don’t work exactly the same as English ones. As we go through this list of words, you’ll see that some have direct correlatives in English, but that’s certainly not always the case.
For example, possessive adjectives (which we’ll cover below) use completely different grammatical mechanisms than English possession does.
Paying attention to how these words work as you learn them—and committing not to rely on English translations—will make these words easier to remember and incorporate into your everyday Japanese.
One great way to see Japanese adjectives in use is with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can also use FluentU’s flashcards to help you learn the adjectives below in context. It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Japanese the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.
For the Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Descriptive Adjectives
These are the types of words you think of when you think “adjectives,” those that describe and modify nouns. These can be further broken down into the following sub-groups:
Here you’ll find the most common adjectives, those describing color, shape, size, etc.
大きい (おおきい) — Big
小さい (ちいさい) — Small
重い (おもい) — Heavy
軽い (かるい) — Light
明るい (あかるい) — Bright
暗い (くらい) — Dark
速い (はやい) — Fast
遅い (おそい) — Slow
丸い (まるい) — Round
鋭い (するどい) — Sharp
良い (よい) — Good
悪い (わるい) — Bad
元気な (げんきな) — Energetic
面倒くさい (めんどうくさい) — Bothersome
As you might imagine, these ones are for comparing things. But comparisons don’t work in Japanese the same way they do in English. There are no words for “better,” “worse” or “faster.” Instead, you can use words like もっと, which means “more,” to indicate that what you’re talking about is to a higher degree than normal.
速い (はやい) — Fast
もっと速い (もっとはやい) — More fast/faster
You can also use の方が (のほうが) as a way of saying something is “more than.” It’s not necessary to have something specific to compare to when using this construction.
それの方が美味しいです。(それのほうが おいしいです) — That one is more delicious.
For comparison between multiple things, you can use より. You might also see or hear よりも, but there’s no difference between it and より.
明日は、今日より暑い。(あしたは、きょうより あつい) — Tomorrow will be hotter than today.
Just as there are no direct corresponding words for “better” or “worse,” there’s similarly no exact vocabulary for “best” or “worst.” Rather, there are a few words that can be attached to others to indicate that they’re to the utmost degree.
一番 (いちばん) — Number one, best
最も (もっとも) — Most
The latter is typically a bit more formal, but you’ll hear the former relatively frequently in casual conversation.
寿司は私の一番好きな食べ物です。(すしは わたしの いちばんすきな たべものです) — Sushi is my favorite food.
Note: In Japanese, 好き (すき — like) is an adjective, not a verb as it is in English. Alternatively, think of it as meaning “desirable.” And not only is it an adjective, it’s a な-adjective, thus the -な between 好き and 食べ物.
How Much or How Many? Quantitative Adjectives
Describing amounts of things. This can include numbers, words referring to amounts and some counters.
Here are some adjectives for amounts:
半分 (はんぶん) — Half
Note: ハーフ (はーふ) can also mean “half,” but it carries other connotations that you probably don’t intend. So even though 半分 may technically refer to “half a minute,” it’ll be understood as “half” in most contexts.
全部 (ぜんぶ) — Whole
沢山 (たくさん) — A lot/many
少し (すこし) — A little
And as you may know, Japanese has many different counters for many different types of things. A rundown of some of the more common and important ones can be found here.
For This n’ That: Demonstrative Adjectives
These adjectives are for determining which noun or pronoun you’re referring to.
これ — This
それ — That
あれ — That (over there)
Just add -ら to make them plural: これら (these) and それら / あれら (those).
Whose Is It? Possessive Adjectives
Japanese doesn’t have particular words for relationships of ownership. Instead, they use the particle の to indicate possession.
私の (わたしの) — Mine
彼女の (かのじょの) — Hers
彼の (かれの) — His
私達の (わたしたちの) — Ours
あなたの — Yours
For Your Burning Questions: Interrogative Adjectives
Question words that modify nouns.
どちら/どれ — Which
何 (なに) — What
誰の (だれの) — Whose
For Identifying People or Things: Distributive Adjectives
For describing certain members of a group.
全ての (すべての) — Every/all
どちらの…でもない — Neither
X でも , Y でもない — Neither X nor Y
いずれかの — Either
AかBか — Either A or B
両方の (りょうほうの) — Both
Not Feeling Precise? Indefinite Adjectives
Indefinite adjectives are used in vague, ambiguous descriptions.
各 (かく) — Each
十分な (じゅうぶんな) — Enough
大半 (たいはん) — Most
別の (べつの) — Another
We often use the word “some” as an indefinite adjective in English, but in Japanese it’s typically implied by context.
Putting It All Together
With your new arsenal of adjectives, let’s decorate those dry, white bones of sentences we began with.
猫だ。(ねこだ) — It is a cat.
大きい猫だ。(おおきい ねこだ) — It is a big cat.
大きい猫は重かった。(おおきい ねこは おもかった) — The big cat was heavy.
男の子はパンを食べます。(おとこのこは ぱんをたべます) — The boy eats bread.
小さい男の子は沢山パンを食べます。(ちいさい おとこのこは たくさん ぱんをたべます) — The small boy eats a lot of bread.
病気の男の子は緑色のパンを食べました。(びょうきの おとこのこは みどりいろの ぱんをたべました) — The sick boy ate green bread.
From these, it’s evident that a suite of adjectival vocabulary united with the grammatical knowhow is an enormous leap forward in language capability.
You’re now well on your way to painting a rainbow in Japanese!