Japanese Grammar

Japanese Adjectives with Particle が

na-adjective

Last time, you learned how to express state-of-being with a particular topic like “わたし学生がくせいです (I’m a student).” Then, what should you do if you would like to say “I am a young student?” In this article, you will learn how to use Japanese adjectives with the particle が.

How to Modify a Noun Using Japanese Adjectives with the Particle が

Table of Contents
Na-adjective
I-adjective
Particle が

Adjectives have two functions: the first is to directly modify a noun like “young student” and the second is being a complement like “students are young.” In Japanese, there are two types of adjectives called “na-adjective” and “i-adjective.” Let’s go over them with their functions one by one.

Na-adjectives

大変たいへん: difficult, hard
りっ: fine, splendid
じょう: well, skillful

The above words are na-adjectives. 

大変たいへんごと: hard job
りっいえ: splendid house
じょうほん: good Japanese

When you directly modify a noun using a na-adjective, you need to put な between the noun and the adjective. This is the reason why it is called a na-adjective.

大変たいへんじゃないごと: not hard job
りっじゃないいえ: not splendid house
じょうじゃないほん: Lit. not good Japanese

When it comes to negative expressions, you can make the negative form with na-adjectives by attaching じゃない instead of な.

大変たいへんごと(だ / です)。
[It] is a hard job.
りっじゃないいえ(だ / です)。
[It] is not a splendid house.
じょうほん(じゃない / じゃありません)。
Lit. [It] is not good Japanese.

Now, you can express state-of-being with na-adjectives. Both of the negative expressions are correct.

ごと大変たいへん / です)。
The job is hard.
いえりっじゃない / じゃありません)。
The house is not splendid. 
ほんじょう / です)。
Lit. [Your] Japanese is good.

When you use a na-adjective as a subject complement, it will work in the same way as Japanese nouns. That is to say, you just need to add (だ / です)or (じゃない / じゃありません).

Supplementary Learning

Japanese doesn’t have the equivalent word of “the.” You need to guess whether you’re talking about a specific thing or not based on contexts. Also, possessive markers like “your” is often omitted if contexts clearly tell who the possessor is.

I-adjectives

かわいい: cute, lovely, charming, pretty
あたらしい: new
ながい: long

Adjectives which end with い are categorized into i-adjective. 

かわいいいぬ: cute dog
あたらしい建物たてもの: new building
ながはなし: long speech

Unlike na-adjective, you don’t have to add anything when you directly modify a noun. Actually, a few na-adjectives also end with い, e.g. きれい and ゆうめい. You have to just memorize these kinds of exceptions. Jisho is a useful tool to look up part of speech.

かわいくないいぬ: not cute dog
あたらくない建物たてもの: not new building
ながくないはなし: not long speech

You can also make the negative form with i-adjectives by replacing the last い with く and adding ない. 

かわいいいぬ(だ / です)。
[He/She] is a cute dog.
あたらしくない建物たてもの (だ / です)。
[It] is not a new building.
ながはなし(じゃない / じゃありません)。
[It] is not a long speech

Now, you can express state-of-being with i-adjectives. Both of the negative expressions are correct. When you use i-adjectives as a subject complement, you MUST NOT do the same thing you do with na-adjectives. The variety of form is called “inflection.” Using inflection in place is significantly important when learning Japanese. *Changes of forms of verbs are called “conjugation.”

Inflection of I-adjectives

  Casual Polite (Colloquial) Polite (Formal)
Plain Form かわいい かわいいです
Negative Form かわいくない かわいくないです かわいくありません

When you express the plain form in a casual tone, you don’t attach anything. When you are using a polite tone, you attach です after i-adjectives. Regarding the negative form, you replace the last い with く and attach ない or ありません respectively. There is a colloquial expression. You can express the polite-negative form by attaching です to くない. You should be familiar with both of them.

いぬがかわいい(です)。
[The] dog is cute. *かわいいだ is wrong! 
建物たてものあたらない / ないです/  ありません)。
[The] building is not new.
はなしながい(です)。
[The] speech is long. *長いだ is wrong! 

The Particle が

One question has probably come to your mind now; What is が in the examples above? The particle が has many functions, one of which is to express subjects of predicates. Here are more examples.

そらあおい(です)。
[The] sky is blue.
ごはん美味おいしい(です)。
[The] meals are delicious.
書館しょかんしずか(だ / です)。
Libraries are quiet.
まちにぎやか (だ / です)。
[The] towns are lively.

If you would like to add a topic, it will be like this;

田舎いなかそらあおい(です)。
As for the country, [the] sky is blue.
とうきょうまちにぎやか (だ / です)。
As for Tokyo, [the] towns are lively.

Advanced Topic: The Second Function of the Particle が

There is a class in Japanese adjectives, which is called “adjectives of emotions.” The structure differs from the ones that you have been learning so far, which is “adjectives of states.” Let’s check the comparison.

Adjectives of States
田舎いなか そら あおい(です)
Topic Subject Predicate
As for the country, [the] sky is blue.
Adjectives of Emotions
わたし とうさんが 心配しんぱい(だ / です)
Topic / Subject Object of Emotion Predicate
I worry about my father.
*”心配しんぱい: worry” is a na-adjective in Japanese.

When you express your emotions with adjectives, the topic and the subject are likely to be the same because if you are the topic, only you can feel your emotion. Thus, you need to use the topic particle は to set the topic and the subject. And, generally, objects of emotions are set by the particle が. This is the second function.

[わたしは] かあさんが き(だ / です)
[Topic / Subject] Object of Emotion Predicate
[I] like my mother.
*”き: like” is a na-adjective in Japanese.

If contexts clearly tell who you’re referring to, the は part can be omitted likewise.

When Adjectives of Emotion Don’t have Objects

With this case, objects of emotion accordingly disappear. And again, if contexts clearly tell who you’re referring to, the subject can be omitted. When you are talking about yourself, the subject is often clear enough to omit.

[わたしは]   うれしい(です)
[Topic / Subject]   Predicate
[I] am glad.

Note: The Subject CANNOT Be a Third Person

You cannot express other people’s emotions like this because you cannot exactly know other people’s mind. Thus, in this case, you need to use expressions of hearsay, guesses, questions, etc, which you will learn later in detail.

Natural わたしはおとうさんが心配しんぱい (だ / です)。
Unnatural なかさんはおとうさんが心配しんぱい (だ / です)。
Exception
Natural なかさんはおとうさんがき(だ / です)。
Tanaka-san likes [his/her] father.

き is an exception. You can use this even if the subject is a third person

Summary

  1. When to directly modify a noun with na-adjectives: 大変たいへんごと
  2. When na-adjectives work as a complement: ごと大変たいへん(だ / です)or (じゃない / じゃありません).
  3. When to directly modify a noun with i-adjectives: かわいいども
  4. When i-adjective work as a complement: どもがかわいい(です)or かわいく(ない / ありません).
  5. The particle が expresses subjects of predicates.
  6. (Advanced) The particle が expresses objects of emotions

Now, you know how to use Japanese adjectives with the particle が. You might wonder when a topic and a subject are same like “cats are cute,” which particle you should use, は or が. Actually, both ねこかわいい and ねこかわいい are correct and natural Japanese, but the nuances are different. You will learn the usage in detail with Japanese verbs next.

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