Japanese Grammar

How to Modify Nouns with the Ta-form

The Ta-form as Adjective

Last time, you learned how to express past tense and perfect present tense like “昨日きのうケーキをべました (I ate cake yesterday)” and “さっきケーキをべました (I have eaten cake just now).” In this lesson, we would like to focus on one of the special functions of the ta-form: to be treated as an adjective.

Explanation for How to Let the Ta-from Modify Nouns

You have already learned some ways to modify nouns like relative clauses. In fact, the ta-form is deeply involved with modification. First of all, let’s complete the conjugation rule. Nouns and adjectives also have the ta-form.

The Conjugation Rule

Nouns and Na-adjectives

  Plain Ta-form
Casual 先生せんせい 先生せんせいだった
Polite 先生せんせいです 先生せんせいでした
Casual-Negative 先生せんせいじゃない 先生せんせいじゃなかった
Polite-Negative 先生せんせいじゃありません 先生せんせいじゃありませんでした


  Plain Ta-form
Casual さむ さむかった
Polite さむいです さむかったです
Casual-Negative さむくない さむくなかった
Polite-Negative さむくありません さむくありませんでした

The basic idea remains the same as verbs with the ta-form. When you use polite speech, you replace す with した in affirmative and add でした in negative sentences. When the last character is い, you replace い with かった. What is new here is that you replace だ with だった when you conjugate nouns and na-adjective in casual speech. And, you add です with i-adjectives in the ta-form (寒かった) to express polite speech (寒かったです). This is where learners often make a mistake. Keep in mind that “寒いでした” is wrong.


むかしわたししゃ(だった / でした)。
I was a doctor a long time ago.
昨日きのうげんじゃ(なかった / ありませんでした)。
As for yesterday, [I] was not fine.
The summer in the last year was very hot.
旅行りょこうたのしく(なかった / ありませんでした)。
As for the travel, [it] was not fun.

Of course, they can be used as a predicate. As you learned before, you can be more formal or colloquial in negative sentences like this;

(Formal) 昨日きのうげんでは(なかった / ありませんでした)。
(Polite-Colloquial) 旅行りょこうたのしくなかった(です)。

Now, let’s move on to the main topic: how to modify nouns by using the ta-form

The Ta-form Used in Noun Phrase or Relative Clauses

Relative Clause and Nominalizers

なかさんが った ふく ふく(だ / です)
Subject Verb: Ta-form Modified Noun  
Relative Clause: Topic/Subject Predicate
Clothing that Tanaka-san bought is a Japanese clothing.
なかさんが 有名ゆうめいだった こと・の は 本当ほんとう(だ / です)
Subject Adj: Ta-form Nominalizer  
Relative Clause: Topic/Subject Predicate
[The fact that] Tanaka-san was famous is true.

Both relative clauses and nominalizers allow you to connect the ta-form with nouns or こと・の as you can with the plain form. The conjugation and the conjugation remain the same as the ones used as a predicate. Here are more examples.

昨日きのうんだジュースをおぼえて(いる / いますか)?
Do [you] remember the juice which [we] drank yesterday?
Meals which [my] mother made are delicious.
タバコをったことを後悔こうかいして(いる / います)。
[I] regret [that I] smoked.
去年きょねんさむかったことをわすれて(いる / います)。
[We] forget that [it] was cold last year.
なかさんが女優じょゆうだったことに(おどいた / おどきました)。
[I] have been surprised with [the fact] that Tanaka-san was an actress.

That’s simple, isn’t it? Be careful; however, you need to pay attention to the following three points.

1. Past-Adjectives

有名ゆうめいだったひと:  person who was famous
げんじゃなかったいぬ:  dog which was not fine
さむかったふゆ:  winter which was cold
たのしくなかった旅行りょこう:  travel which was not fun

Since adjectives can directly modify nouns, the above examples are natural in Japanese. Let’s say that they are past-adjectives and indicate constant states in the past.

げんじゃなかったいぬ:  dog which was not fine [in the past]
げんいぬ:  dog which is fine [now]

Essentially, the examples above have the same meaning. Since adjectives indicate constant states, using adjectives in past tense indicates that the attributes have already changed at present.

昨日きのうつよ強かったあめって(いた / いました)。
[It] was strongly raining yesterday

This sentence expresses a continuous action in the past. That is to say, the constant state: “strong rain” doesn’t change. Thus, つよい should be used.

強いつよかったあめがついに(やんだ / やみました)。
The strong rain has finally stopped.

This sentence expresses the end of the action. That is to say, the constant state: “strong rain” has changed. Thus, つよかった should be used. Here are more examples.

さむふゆきらい(だった / でした)。
[I] disliked cold winters
さむかったふゆは(わった / わりました)。
The cold winter has finished.
昨日きのう有名ゆうめいしゅに(った / いました)。
[I] met a famous singer yesterday.
有名ゆうめいだったしゅはもう引退いんたいして(いた / いました)。
The famous singer had already retired.

2. Verbs of the Ta-form Treated as Adjectives

ふとったひと:  person who got fat
せたひと:  person who got thin
かばんをったひと:  person who held the bag
ものひと:  person who put on a kimono

This usage is applicable for only verbs which can express resultant states. For such verbs, the plain form indicates momentary actions and the te-form + いる indicates ongoing states. That is to say, ふとった means the momentary action taken in the past. Let’s see the following chart.

Ta-form Treated an Adjective

After the action: ふとった, the state: ふとっている has been on going. Therefore, In Japanese, we essentially regard “ふとったひと: person who got fat“ and “ふとっている人: person who is fat” as the same meaning and they can be roughly translated as “fat person” in English. Here are more examples.

わたしふとったひとき(なんだ / なんです)。
I like a fat person.
ものひとあるいて(いる / います)。
A person who wears a kimono is walking.
おおきいかばんをったひとが(いる / います)。
There is a person who has a big bag.

3. Nouns Treated as Adjectives

先生せんせいだったなかさん:  Tanaka-san who was a teacher
しゃだった井上いのうえさん:  Inoue-san who was a doctor
たからものだったおもちゃ:  Toy which was a treasure

This is part of Japanese relative clauses. Only when the tense in relative clauses is past, you can directly connect nouns with nouns.

Tanaka-san who was a teacher is smart.
しゃだった井上いのうえさんはかねち(だ / です)。
Inoue-san who was a doctor is rich.
これがたからものだったおもちゃ(だ / です)。
This is the toy which was my treasure.


  1. You can directly connect the ta-form with nouns in relative clauses and こと・の in nominalization.
  2. Past-adjectives require facts that constant states have changed.
  3. Verbs which express resultant states can be treated as adjectives.
  4. Nouns in past tense can be connected with nouns in relative clauses.

Although you have learned several grammatical points here, you can place a priority on the No.3 in the summary. That’s one of the highest frequently used expressions in Japanese. Actually, the ta-form still has another important function, which expresses discovery and recall. Next, you will learn the last function of the ta-form. 

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