A quirk of modern Japanese Grammar: adjectives becoming nouns

By | August 14, 2018

Having given grammar a major focus in my studies of Japanese, I’m pretty sensitive to incorrect or unusual grammar. One thing I have come across a few times in the last year or so is a sentence where what is supposed to be an i-adjective (ex: kawaii) is treated like a noun.

I’ll give a specific example that I came across in an advertisement of a recent edition of the Lighthouse magazine:

  • 毎日楽しいがいっぱい! (mainichi tanoshii ga ippai!)

If you are just skimming this sentence without thinking about grammar, you’ll probably catch on that it means “there’s fun every day!” However, if you look a little closer you will see that 楽しい is being used as a noun, which is incorrect grammar.

Interestingly, if you try to interpret the sentence as-is you literally get something like:

  • Every day is fun, but (there are) many!

This is because that when a noun or i-adjective or followed by が it acts as a connection, similar to the English “and” or “but”.

The traditional way to use 楽しい as a noun would be to follow it with one of these words:

  • もの (mono): a physical thing (like a book)
  • こと or 事 (koto): an abstract thing (like the experience of visiting Japan, or an idea)
  • の (no): more generic, can represent either above case

(Note: there are other ways like というの, but I won’t get into those here)

If I were to rewrite the above sentence with correct grammar, I would say:

  • 毎日楽しいがいっぱい! (mainichi tanoshii koto ga ippai!)

You could also add an ある (aru) to the end of the sentence, since it is implied; but I wouldn’t call that incorrect grammar.

Speaking with a Japanese person, it appears that this odd grammar pattern has started to become popular lately, and it can be considered as an “abbreviation” (省略). Fortunately, I haven’t seen it too many places except newspapers (where cost may be based on letter count).

Even if this usage does grow and become commonplace I’ll just have to get used to it; after all, I’m usually the one on the other side of the argument, saying stuff like language is always evolving.

Just out of curiosity I did a google search for “楽しいがいっぱい” and found a majority of the results were in the last two years. I only found one or two results from 2014 and 2015. This isn’t really a scientifically accurate way to measure usage of this term, though it is consistent with what I have seen.

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