N5 Grammar – Adjectives

Welcome everyone, this is Mac with another N5 Grammar Lesson from JLPT Boot Camp. Today, we are learning how to describe things with adjectives. To do that, we will be looking at a few, very short exchanges. Let’s get started.

Conversation 1 (0:16)

Our friend Matt is meeting up with his girlfriend Yu to go to the zoo.


       hai       genki

Yu used げんき, which is a な-adjective. These adjectives come to Japanese from Chinese and tend to be written in all kanji or sometimes in hiragana because the original kanji is too complicated. They are different from the い-adjectives we will learn later in that they need a な particle at the end of them if you want to use them to modify or describe a noun.

For example, if I want to talk about a quiet or peaceful shrine, I might say しずかな じんじゃ. You can think of it as the adjective is gnawing on the noun.

What about the negative? How do we say that something is not quiet? All you need to do is add じゃない. This changes it into an い-adjective, so you can place it directly in front of the noun with the な particle.

Conversation 2 (1:24)

And now, Matt and Yu are at the zoo looking at a big elephant.



Matt takes one look at the elephant and makes the comment 大きい or big! It might seem strange in English, but it is very common in Japanese to use an adjective by itself without a subject or topic as long as it can be easily understood. In the sentence above, we can understand that Matt is talking about the elephant because he is pointing at it. Let’s take a look at some other examples:

When eating something nice you can say:

おいしい! – delicious!

あまい!– sweet!

If you see something amazing, you can say:

すごい!– amazing!

You’ll notice that all of these words end in い, and strangely enough they are called い-adjectives. All い-adjectives end in い actually. However, not all words that end in い are い-adjectives. To describe a noun with an い-adjective, we simply need to put it in front of the noun. So if we want to talk about a sweet dessert, we can say あまいデザート (amai dezaato).

What about the negative? How do we say that something is not sweet? That is a little more complicated with い-adjectives. First, we need to hack off the final い (i) and add くない (kunai). This is called the non-past negative casual or plain tense. It is used in structures like clauses as well as in casual conversation.

Generally speaking these two adjectives – い-adjectives and な-adjectives act differently and need to be conjugated differently in different structures. Actually, な-adjectives sometimes act like nouns in structures. And be on the look out for the handful of な-adjectives that look like い-adjectives, like きれい(kirei) for pretty or きらい(kirai) for hated. Both of these words end in い, but are actually な-adjectives. For a full list of these at the N5 level be sure to check out the detailed N5 grammar guide.

Pop Quiz! (3:54)

Can you tell me the following in Japanese?

Cute dog

The Japanese word for cute is かわいい(kawaii) and dog is いぬ(inu).

For cute dog, you would say かわいいいぬ. Again, you don’t have to put anything between the い-adjective and the noun.

Lively dog

Meanwhile, for lively dog, you would say げんきな いぬ (genkina inu). げんき is a な-adjective, so you have to put that な particle there when it modifies a noun.

Not delicious food

The Japanese word for food is たべもの (tabemono).

The word for delicious in Japanese is おいしい, an い-adjective. So we need to hack off the い and add くない. Then, put it in front of the noun, たべもの.

Not a pretty desk, a messy desk

The Japanese word for pretty is きれい (kirei), and the word for desk is つくえ (tsukue).

For not pretty food, we take the な-adjective, きれい or pretty and simply add じゃない (janai). That makes it an い-adjective so we can just put it right in front of the noun, つくえ.


Do you have all that? Let’s review.

There are two kinds of adjectives – い-adjectives and な-adjectives. い-adjectives can be placed directly before nouns, but な-adjectives need the な particle between it and the noun it describes.  To form the negative for い-adjectives, cut off い and add くない.  For な-adjectives add じゃない.

That’s it for this episode. For notes and more practice with the grammar point, stop by the JLPT Boot Camp courses site. There you can find quizzes, study guides for this grammar point, audio flashcards for every line of the dialogs and every grammar point covered in the videos. You can also get all of your questions answered you might have. Just leave me a comment, and I’ll get back to you.

The JLPT Study Guide for the N5 is now available at Amazon. Packed with exercises to help you master all the grammar points needed for the test, this is a must have study guide for anyone preparing for the N5. It also has reading and listening strategies and practice exercises so you can hone those skills before the exam. Once you’ve finished the book, there are 3 practice tests to check your level and 100s of audio flashcards you can use anywhere to review what you’ve learned.

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