If you’ve already learned the basics of Japanese, then you’re ready to use more colorful words by learning Japanese adjectives!
As a beginner, it can be frustrating to only be able to express yourself in basic “noun + は + noun + です” or “noun + を + verb” grammar format. Saying things like, “There is a dog” (それは犬です。) and “I study Japanese” (日本語を勉強します。). You want to be able to express a lot more! To be able to say things like “It’s a huge, cute, fluffy dog!” And how about describing things? To say something is “beautiful,” “tasty,” or “amazing.”
Once you start learning Japanese adjectives, you can suddenly express a much wider range of thoughts and feelings. It feels really satisfying!
You’ll need to learn a bit of Japanese grammar with these adjectives, but I’ve saved that for the end. For now, as you look over these words, pay attention to which ones end in い and which ones end in な. These are the two main types of Japanese adjectives, and we’ll discuss how to use each one.
Also, here’s a quick study tip. Although I separated positive and negative feelings as adjective categories, it’s best to learn opposite adjectives as pairs. It’ll be easier to memorize and recall them if you learn them together. And if you forget one, you can use the negative form of the other to say the same thing! For example: “yummy” and “yucky.” If you forget the word for “yucky,” you can say the negative form of “yummy” for the same meaning: “not yummy.”
Japanese Adjectives for Positive Feelings
There are many common adjectives for expressing positive feelings in Japanese. But these listed below will give you a lot of mileage. One of the most common, すごい, means “amazing” but it’s used to say everything from “That’s really cool” to an indifferent “Oh, I see.” It’s often used on its own as a general response to just about anything. And please, take note: すごい is often shortened to a more casual すげー to sound more masculine.
- Good: 良い (yoi)
- Amazing: すごい (sugoi)
- Cool: かっこいい (kakkoii)
- Correct: 正しい (tadashii)
- Simple: 簡単な (kantan na)
- Kind: 優しい (yasashii)
- Happy: 嬉しい (ureshii)
- Energetic: 元気な (genki na)
- Enjoyable: 楽しい (tanoshii)
- Wonderful: 素晴らしい (subarashii)
Another cultural note about these adjectives is that 素晴らしい is often used to say “lovely” or “beautiful” as well. It’s more common to use this adjective than 美しい (“beautiful,” which you’ll see down below) because 美しい is a bit heavier and poetic.
Japanese Adjectives for Negative Feelings
Here is the list of opposites to the words above. Words like ひどい and ダサい are quite strong and insulting when used to describe people. But ひどい is often used to describe a terrible, unlucky, or unfortunate situation, like how すごい is used to describe any good situation. Similarly, you can use 最低 (saitei) to say something or someone is “the lowest, the worst.”
- Bad: 悪い (warui)
- Horrible: ひどい (hidoi)
- Lame: ダサい (dasai)
- Wrong, Incorrect: 間違った (machigatta)
- Difficult: 難しい (muzukashii)
- Mean: 失礼な (shitsurei na)
- Sad: 悲しい (kanashii)
- Lazy: めんどい (mendoi)
- Boring: つまらない (tsumaranai)
- Awful: 嫌な (iya na)
You’ll notice that 間違った means “wrong,” but it doesn’t end in い or な. That’s because this is the past tense adjective form of the noun 間違い (machigai, “mistake, error”). This adjective is only used in the past tense because to be “wrong” or “incorrect,” you must have already done the action or given the answer that is wrong.
Japanese Adjectives for Size and Weight
Now let’s talk about describing what something looks like! For instance, if you wanted to say the “big, fluffy dog” as we talked about earlier, you would say 大きくてふわふわ犬 (ookikute fuwafuwa inu). Now, descriptive words for describing things like texture, such as fluffy, are often used with Japanese onomatopoeia. ふわふわ is an example of onomatopoeia. That’s out of the scope of what we’re talking about here, but onomatopoeia is a perfect next step to learn!
- Big: 大きい (ookii)
- Small: 小さい (chiisai)
- Tall: 背が高い (se ga takai)
- Short: 背が低い (se ga hikui)
- Wide: 広い (hiroi)
- Narrow: 狭い (semai)
- Thick: 太い (futoi)
- Thin: 細い (hosoi)
- Heavy: 重い (omoi)
- Lightweight: 軽い (karui)
Note that “thick” is often used to say “fat” as well, so be careful with that word. And the kanji 背 means “back” or “spine.” So when you say 背が高い, you’re literally saying “long spine” or “short spine” to describe height!
Japanese Adjectives for Color
Not all Japanese colors are い or な adjectives. So, if you want to use them as adjectives, you combine them to the noun using the particle の. For example: ピンクの花 (pinku no hana, “pink flower”).
The colors which are い adjectives can be changed into nouns simply by dropping the い. So, 赤い becomes 赤.
- Red: 赤い (akai)
- Orange: オレンジ (orenji)
- Yellow: 黄色い (kiiroi)
- Green: 緑 (midori)
- Blue: 青い (aoi)
- Purple: 紫 (murasaki)
- Pink: ピンク (pinku)
- Black: 黒い (kuroi)
- White: 白い (shiroi)
- Grey: 灰色 (haiiro)
- Brown: 茶色 (chairo)
A couple of kanji notes that will help you remember “grey” and “brown.” The kanji 灰 means “ash.” And 茶 means “tea.” The second kanji in both, 色, means color. So they read as “ash color” and “tea color.”
Japanese Adjectives for Distance and Speed
You can use these adjectives to express length, depth, distance, and speed. But note that 短い is “short,” but it’s not used to call someone short. You can describe objects with 短い, though, or things like hair: 髪が短いです。(Kami ga mijikai desu.)
- Long: 長い (nagai)
- Short: 短い (mijikai)
- Far: 遠い (tooi)
- Near: 近い (chikai)
- Deep: 深い (fukai)
- Shallow: 浅い (asai)
- High: 高い (takai)
- Low: 低い (hikui)
- Fast: 速い (hayai)
- Slow: 遅い (osoi)
遅い can also mean “late,” as in to show up late to an appointment, or to describe the late hour (遅い時間 – osoi jikan).
Japanese Adjectives for Quantity and Intensifiers
These adjectives are extremely useful. They allow you to express quantity without specifying a number — which is very helpful if you forget your Japanese numbers or the counters that go with them!
- Many: 多い (ooi)
- Few, less: 少ない (sukunai)
- A little: 少し (sukoshi)
- A lot: たくさん (takusan)
- Enough: 十分な (juubun na)
- Lacking, not enough: 足りない (tarinai)
たくさん doesn’t end in い or な, but it’s still an adjective. Like with colors, you’ll use の to connect it to nouns.
Japanese Adjectives for Characteristics
You’ll use and hear these adjectives all the time, so make sure to memorize them! A couple not listed below that are extremely common: やばい (yabai) and うまい (umai). These are a bit casual and used as Japanese slang words. やばい can be used to say something is awful or amazing. And うまい means “good,” and it’s often used instead of おいしい (listed below), to say something tastes yummy.
- Delicious: おいしい (oishii)
- Disgusting: 不味い (mazui)
- Beautiful: 美しい (utsukushii)
- Ugly: 醜い (minikui)
- Expensive: 高い (takai)
- Cheap: 安い (yasui)
- Hot: 暑い (atsui)
- Cold: 寒い (samui)
- New: 新しい (atarashii)
- Old: 古い (furui)
- Fresh: 新鮮な (shinsen na)
- Rotten: 腐った (kusatta)
- Bright: 明るい (akarui)
- Dark: 暗い (kurai)
- Clean: 清潔な (seiketsu na)
- Dirty: 汚い (kitanai)
- Soft: 柔らかい (yawarakai)
- Hard: 硬い (katai)
- Strong: 強い (tsuyoi)
- Weak: 弱い (yowai)
- Safe: 安全な (anzen na)
- Dangerous: 危ない (abunai)
- Wet: ぬれた (nureta)
- Dry: 乾いた (kawaita)
- Quiet: 静かな (shizuka na)
- Noisy: 騒々しい (souzoushii), うるさい (urusai)
- Busy: 忙しい (isogashii)
- Free: 暇な (hima na)
- Cute: 可愛い (kawaii)
- Pretty: きれいな (kirei na)
- Scary: 怖い (kowai)
- Round: 丸い (marui)
- Sharp: 鋭い (surudoi)
You’ll notice that 高い is listed here again — it means both “expensive” and “tall/high.” And as for the adjective “noisy”… Well, 騒々しい means “loud” and “noisy,” but stating it as a fact. うるさい is used to describe something or someone who’s loud, annoying, obnoxious, picky, or fussy. So it has the connotation that whatever is “noisy” is also irritating.
How to Use Japanese Adjectives: A Quick Grammar Lesson
Now, let’s learn how to use these adjectives in sentences. As I mentioned, there are two forms of Japanese adjectives: い-adjectives, and な-adjectives. Unlike English, Japanese adjectives conjugate to fit the sentence. The positive, though? If you already know basic Japanese verb conjugation, then this is fairly simple.
い-adjectives in Japanese
い-adjectives can simply drop in front of a noun as is, or be added to the end of a sentence and conjugated to fit the tense.
For example, if you wanted to say “dirty socks,” you would just drop the adjective 汚い in front of the noun, socks – 靴下. So you get 汚い靴下.
But if you wanted to say “My socks are dirty,” you’d say 靴下が汚いです. Since this is in the present tense, all we have to do is add です to the end, which is the helping verb “is” or “to be.”
If you wanted to express it in the past tense, you drop the い and add かった, like casual-form verb conjugation. So, 汚い becomes 汚かった (kitanakatta). For negative and past negative, drop the final い and add くない (present) or くなかった (past). Again, 汚い would become present negative 汚くない (kitanakunai) or past negative 汚くなかった (kitanakatta). In formal situations, you can use ありません instead of ない: 汚くありません (kitanakuarimasen).
Remember how I told you this comes in handy if you forget the opposite word? If you forget the word for “clean,” you can just say “It’s not dirty” or 汚くないです.
If you want to join two adjectives, you drop the い and add くて to the first adjective only. So, let’s use 汚い靴下 again. Maybe these dirty socks are also stinky (臭い, nioi). So, we would drop the い from 汚い and change it to 汚くて. Then add the second adjective and noun: 汚くて臭い靴下 (kitanakute nioi kutsushita).
な-adjectives in Japanese
な-adjectives, like い-adjectives, conjugate when placed at the end of sentences. But when used directly before a noun, they’re used as-is. So, let’s use 元気な as an example. If I wanted to say an “energetic child,” I would say 元気な子供 (genki na kodomo). But if I wanted to say “The child is energetic,” I would drop な and add です: 子供は元気です (kodomo wa genki desu).
To make this negative or past tense, you would conjugate the verb です like you normally would. でした (past), ではありません (present negative), ではありませんでした (past negative). In casual form, this would be だ (present), だった (past), じゃない (present negative), and じゃなかった (past negative).
To combine two な-adjectives, you only have to add で to connect them. So, if the child is energetic yet quiet, you could say 子供は元気で静かです (kodomo wa genki de shizuka desu).
Color Your Sentences With Japanese Adjectives
Now you know all the basics of Japanese adjectives! Make sure to practice them with your Japanese language exchange partner so you get the hang of conjugating them fast.
And if you’re looking to learn more Japanese, JapanesePod101 is a great place to start. You can learn more vocab and grammar in context while listening on the go!
What other adjectives would you add to the list? Share them in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.