Don’t make a てき out of 的 (てき)

By | April 9, 2014

The Japanese suffix 〜的(てき)is extremely useful and will help you understand many existing Japanese words, as well as act as a tool to create your own.

The simplest way to understand this suffix is to see that it turns nouns into (Na) adjectives.

  • 劇(drama)     =>  劇 (dramatic)
  • 政治 (politics) =>  政治 (political)
  • 教育 (educational) => 教育 (educational)
  • 語学 (linguistics) => 語学 (linguistics)

In all the above examples, the word without the 的 (on the left side) is used normally with the same pronunciation. However there are some cases where a word that ends with 的 either is not used in isolation, or has a different pronunciation when it is.

  • (してき)- personal
  • (ちてき)- intellectual
  • (しんてき)- mental

But the really great thing about 的 is that it can be used rather loosely after almost any noun to turn it into an adjective, even if the resultant word is not in the dictionary.  In many of these cases there is no single-word English translation, but you can express the general idea in English using “related to…” or “having to do with…”.

  • 日本語的な問題 => a problem related to Japanese
  • オタク的な趣味 => a hobby like a otaku (~nerd)
  • 気持ち的な部分 => a part (or aspect) related to feelings

Although the adjectives created are technically Na adjectives, in certain causes the な is dropped. I can’t give you a thorough set of rules when you use な and when to drop it, but it’s best to use な unless you’ve seen it omitted by a fluent speaker. Here are two examples of this:

  • 政治的理由 => political reason
  • 知的玩具     => intellectual toy

You can also add に or には after a 的-ified word to express “in terms of …”.

  • 内容的には問題ないけど。。。
  • There is no problems in terms of the content but… (there is a problem in terms of something else like presentation)
  • 明日、天気的に大丈夫?
  • Is tomorrow going to be OK in terms of weather? (i.e. is there a good weather forecast?)

One interesting usage is when 的には is added after a first person pronoun, such as 僕的には. This seems to be a relatively modern usage which has become more frequently used in the last few years. It can be used when comparing one’s opinion against something else, and can be translated as “as for me…”. The Japanese expressions 僕としては and 僕にとっては are similar in meaning. Some have said that this usage has a feeling of depersonalization or a sense of vagueness to it, and you can see a discussion on this in Japanese here.

For those that missed it, this article’s title was an attempt at a pun using the dual meanings of the word てき: the meaning discussed here and the meaning “enemy”, normally written as 敵. Probably not the best joke, but hey I tried (:


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