Japanese Grammar

Japanese Prefix and Suffix

14

Last time, you learned how the generic nouns: もの and こと work, e.g. “ケイスケのことをよくっています (I know about Keisuke a lot).” You might consider のこと as a kind of a suffix. That is to say, by attaching のこと to nouns, you can express additional meanings. In this lesson, you will learn more about prefixes and suffixes.

Explanation for How Japanese Prefixes and Suffixes Work

Table of Contents
Change (or Add) Meanings
Change Parts of Speech

The difference between prefixes and suffixes are their positions, i.e. if you place something before words, it’s called a “prefix” and if you place it after words, it’s called a “suffix.” The functions can be divided into two groups. The first is to change (or add) meanings and the second is to change parts of speech, e.g. from nouns to adjectives. That sounds useful, doesn’t it? Let’s learn how they work one by one. Note: we cannot pick up every prefix and suffix here. Please learn them by yourself after grasping the basic concept.

Change (or Add) Meanings

The usage is relatively easy. If there is kanji, you can figure out meanings by utilizing the characteristic kanji has. You cannot connect prefixes or suffixes with all words. You need to memorize combinations depending on the context.

… Undone

解決かいけつ: unsettled 成年せいねん: minor 経験けいけん: inexperience 発達はったつ: undeveloped
完成かんせい: incompletion 開封かいふう: unopened 公開こうかい: unpublished 使よう: unused

… Zero

意味いみ: nonsense ざい: innocence しき: unconsciousness 関心かんしん: indifferent
関係かんけい: unrelated 責任せきにん: irresponsibility じょうけん: unconditional 制限せいげん: limitless

はん… Anti

 はんせい: anti-government はんれい: inverse proportion はん物質ぶっしつ: antimatter

… / … Negative

ゆう: disability そく: irregularity けい: recession
公式こうしき: informal 合法ごうほう: illegal 公開こうかい: private

The above examples are closer to vocabulary rather than grammar. We think that you can use them without a specific explanation.

 

たち, …ども, …がた and …ら: Plurality

わたしたち: we (neutral)
わたしら: we (casual)
わたしども: we (humble)
あなたがた: you (honorific)

Four of them are used with nouns which indicate people and indicate plurality. The point here is that ども can make people’s position low, that is to say, you can even use ども to insult people like “せいどもが全然ぜんぜんごとをしない (the f—king politicians don’t work at all).” By contrast, がた can make people’s position high. Thus, it will sound weird if you use がた to those who belong to your community like どもがた. It should be どもたち.

りょう, …, …ちん and …だい: Money Related Suffixes

しょく: food expense 交通こうつう: travel expense かい: membership fee
レッスンりょう: lesson fee 講演こうえんりょう: lecture fee 郵送ゆうそうりょう: postage
電車でんしゃちん: train fare ちん: rent fee 手間てまちん: wage for labor
電車でんしゃだい: train fare でんだい: electricity rate しゅうだい: cost of repair

English has several words which indicate money, e.g. fare, fee, and expense. Japanese also has several. Unfortunately, they are not completely equivalent. 費 is close to “expense” and “cost” and used with nouns which indicate activities and facilities. 料 is close to “fee” and used with nouns which indicate services. 賃 has a narrow usage and is used with transportation service or in a set phrase like “家賃: rent fee”. By contrast, 代 has a wide usage and is used with nouns which indicate activities, facilities, services, and transportation. 代 can sometimes be replaced with 料 and 賃.

ちゅう, …, and …だい: Time-Related Suffixes

明日あすじゅう: within tomorrow ごとちゅう: during working 一日いちにちじゅう: throughout the day
れんしゅう: when practicing 通勤つうきん: when commuting 混雑こんざつ: when crowed
1950せんきゅうひゃくごじゅう年代ねんだい: 1950s じゅうだい: teenage  

中 has three functions. The first is to indicate deadline like “by” and “within.” The second is to indicate “periods of ongoing actions.” 仕事中 and 仕事をしている間 have the almost same meaning. The third is to work as a temporal adverb which indicates “throughout.” 一日中 and 一日を通じて have the almost same meaning. 時 is used with nouns which indicate actions or states, and works like “通勤する時.” 代 indicates generations and is generally used with years and ages.

Change Parts of Speech

In general, only suffixes have the function to change parts of speech. This usage is a little more difficult than the first one because some of them require conjugation.

てき and …らしい: From Nouns to Adjectives

実践的じっせんてきけんしゅう(だ / です)。
[It] is practical training.
このげいじゅつてき / です)。
This picture is artistic.
イチローは全国的ぜんこくてき有名ゆうめい(だ / です)。
Ichiro is famous nationwide.

…的 changes nouns to na-adjectives. It can be also used in the state-of-being style or as an adverb. You can roughly consider 的 as the counterpart to “-like” in English. For example, “禅: zen” is a noun and can be an adjective like this “禅的な: zen-like.” Note: 禅 is a religious word in Japanese and used in a different way from zen in English. This example is just for the sake of the explanation.

学生がくせいらしい服装ふくそう(だ / です)ね。
[Your] clothes are just like a student’s, aren’t they?
こまかいのはけんきゅうしゃらしい(です)ね。
Being careful is just like a researcher.
学生がくせいらしくちょうせん(しよう / しましょう)。
Let’s try [it] just like a student.

…らしい changes nouns to i-adjectives and indicates their typical characteristics. You may consider “like” is the counterpart in English. With the third example above, we have further conjugated it into an adverb, i.e. らしい => らしく.

…がる: From Adjectives to Verbs

ボブはあしいたがっている / います)。
Bob has pain in his foot.
ボブはあしいたい(です)。
=> Wrong
どもちゅうしゃを(いやがる / いやがります)。
Children dislike injections.
なかさんはあたらしいものばかりしが / ります)。
Tanaka-san wants only new items.

…がる changes adjectives of emotions to verbs. The conjugation is to replace the last い of i-adjectives with がる and to attach がる to na-adjectives instead of な. As you learned, you cannot use adjectives of emotions with other people because you cannot exactly know how they feel. …がる is the suffix that allows you to do so. When you describe ongoing states, you need to use the te-form + いる. When you describe constant states like the third and fourth examples, you use the plain form.

…さ: Adjectives to Nouns

やさしさ: kindness
じょうさ: robustness
ひろさ: largeness, area
たかさ: highness, height

…さ is the counterpart to “-ness” in English and changes adjectives to nouns. The conjugation is to replace the last い of i-adjectives with さ and to attach さ to na-adjectives instead of な. After changing, some of them will have a new meaning (*the third and fourth examples). Although you can connect most of the i-adjectives with さ, some of the na-adjectives cannot be connected. For example, you cannot use na-adjectives which end with 的.

かた and …よう: Verbs to Nouns

かんがかた: way of thinking
かんがえよう: way of thinking (manner)
かた: way of eating
べよう: way of eating (manner)
寿司すしかた: way of eating Sushi
えきへのかた: way of going to the station

You can change verbs into nouns by attaching かた or よう to the polite form instead of です. かた comes from the word “方法ほうほう: way” while よう comes from the word “よう: manner.” Therefore, both of them can indicate “way of doing.” Verbs with objects can also become nouns. In that case, the particle の or a combined particle will have an important role. Be careful, however, よう cannot be used in the context which indicates procedures or methods.

かたいよう によって、「あげる」は失礼しつれいに(なる / なります)。
Depending the way of saying, ageru will sound rude.
かた描きようおしえてください。
Please teach me how to paint pictures.

じょう: Nouns to Adverbs

じつじょう: virtually
計算けいさんじょう: computationally
職業しょくぎょうじょう: from one’s professional point of view
きょういくじょう: from an educational point of view

…上 is generally used with words which have their origins in Chinese and change nouns to adverb. Some of them have the counterpart in English like the first and second example above. If there is no counterparts, you can consider …上 indicates something like “from Noun’s point of view” or “as a Noun.”

この会社かいしゃじつじょう倒産とうさんして(いる / います)。
This company is virtually bankrupt.
きょういくじょうまんぎはよく(ない / ありません)。
Reading manga in excess is not good from an educational point of view.

…っぽい: Tendency

どもきっぽいです)。
Children tend to get bored
どもっぽいことはしないで(ください)。
Don’t do something childish.
こうきゅうっぽいうでけい(だ / です)ね。
[It] is a high-class looking watch, isn’t it?
やすっぽいあじが(する / します)。
[It] tastes cheap.

This is an exception. っぽい can connect with verbs, nouns, na-adjectives, and i-adjectives. The conjugation is to attach っぽい to the plain form of verbs instead of ます, to just attach っぽい to nouns, to attach っぽい to na-adjectives instead of な, and to replace the last い of i-adjectives with っぽい. After the conjugations, it will work as an i-adjective.

Regarding the function, when you connect っぽい with verbs which indicate change of states, it means that you tend to get the states (*the first example). When you connect っぽい with nouns or adjectives, it means that you are close to the states that nouns or adjectives indicate. For example, 子供っぽい means you are like a child (but not a child). In English “like” is a very strong word. By saying “like a child,” you can express both “子供らしい: one who has typical characteristics of children” and “子供っぽい: one who is childish or childlike.” In Japanese, 子供らしい and 子供っぽい are different. You can use 子供らしい with children, i.e. children themselves can have the typical characteristic. However, you cannot use 子供っぽい with children, i.e. you must be just close to the state of children.

 

ゆきるっぽい
It seems that it will snow.
明日あしたれっぽい
As for tomorrow, it seems that it will be sunny.
これは美味おいしいっぽい
It seems that this is delicious.

っぽい has another function, which indicate judgments based on situations just like ようだ and みたいだ. Of the three, っぽい sounds casual the most.

Summary

  1. The general functions are to change meanings and to change parts of speech.
  2. You cannot connect prefixes and suffixes with all words.
  3. Some suffixes require conjugation.

There are a lot of prefixes and suffixes which we don’t introduce here. We think that prefixes are simple enough, but suffixes may confuse you if you try to learn their usages by yourself. If that is the case, memorize the summary first. Any suffix can be divided into the two groups. After understanding which type suffixes work as, you can figure out the usage by checking combinations and conjugations. Next, you will learn advanced sentence ending particles.