Special Na-adjectives in Japanese which are really not

By | April 27, 2014

As most of you studying Japanese probably know, the language has to types of adjectives: Na-adjectives (i.e. 素敵(な))and I-adjectives (i.e. 大きい). Each of these has different rules for conjugation into various forms.

There is a few words in Japanese that look like Na-adjectives that derived from a I-adjective. Here is a list of a few commons ones:

  • 大きな (Similar to 大きい)
  • 小さな       (Similar to 小さい)
  • おかしな(Similar to おかしい)

Even the way they are used (for example “大きな車”) is similar to Na-adjectives, but strictly speaking they are not.

The reason this matters in practice is because their usage is limited to the above pattern, and you would typically not use them in other forms as a true Na-adjective could be. Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • 大きな人                     Correct
  • 大きだ                         Incorrect
  • 大きじゃない人  Incorrect
  • 大きくない人   Correct

I found a very interesting post in Japanese which discuss this in detail here. The Japanese is somewhat difficult, but the quick summary is that you should treat these words a you would その and この. In grammatical lingo they are called classified as 連体詞 (pre-noun adjectival).



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6 thoughts on “Special Na-adjectives in Japanese which are really not

      1. mc

        I agree this one was interesting. I don’t recall having given this differentiation any thought before.

  1. narutovu207

    One of my Japanese teachers at college once explained the difference between 大きな and 大きい as the former focuses on the static size without any space to grow/shrink, while the latter describes size in (indirect) comparison with other objects. Therefore, we have 大きな課題 (not 大きい課題) but 大きいサイズ (not 大きなサイズ). Also, we have no expression for development in 大きな case but legitimately say 大きくなった. I googled it today as well and found this article:
    Somehow it quite fits in with what my teacher said. Just some sharing of my little knowledge it it could be a good reference to you. 😀

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, I didn’t know about that subtle difference at all! Also based on the article you sent, it looks like the 〜な forms are more appropriate for non-physical things. Interesting!


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