第60課: Adnominal Adjectives: /i/ vs /na/

The first thing that you might be wondering what an adnominal adjective is. The word "adnominal" simply means something that modifies a noun. In which case, all adjectives are adnominal. However, adnominal adjectives in the realm of Japanese grammar refer to adjectival phrases that don’t conjugate and solely modify the noun they attach to and are not interpreted as predicates modifying a noun. First, let’s see quickly what’s meant by this.

i. (やま)(ちい)さい(とり)たちを観賞(かんしょう)しています。
Yama no chiisai toritachi wo kanshō shite imasu.
I’m admiring the small birds of the mountain.

ii. あの(やま)(ちい)さな(まち)()んでいます。
Ano yama no chiisana machi ni sunde imasu.
I live in the small town on that mountain.

iii. 日本人(にほんじん)本当(ほんとう)体格(たいかく){が・の}(ちい)さい人種(じんしゅ)なんですか。
Nihonjin wa hontō ni taikaku [ga/no] chiisai jinshu na n desu ka?
Are Japanese really a race whose build is small?

Particle Note: Either ga が or no の can be used to mark what would be the subject if the dependent clause were being used as an independent clause.

As you can see, chiisai 小さい may be part of a predicate modifying a noun as in ii., but doesn’t always have to as is the case in i. Phrases that utilize no の are actually adnominal minus how the particle is used in iii.  As for chiisana 小さな, it is grammatically akin to the particle no の as it too only modifies whatever noun follows it. Unlike no の, though, it must be right next to the noun and can’t float away like it does in i. and ii. with yama no 山の. 

iv. {(ちい)さい・(ちい)さな}(とき)から大好(だいす)きでした。
[Chiisai/chiisana] toki kara daisuki deshita.
I loved it since I was little.

As you can see, chiisana 小さな shows that adnominal adjectives can in fact at times function as predicates modifying a noun. Interestingly enough, chiisai toki 小さい時 is only ever interpreted as “when one is/was little” and it is chiisana 小さな that can be interpreted as that or “small time” depending on context. It’s just that chiisana 小さな is used a lot more in front of nouns. 


Terminology Note: Adnominal adjectives are called rentaishi 連体詞 in Japanese. Remember that adnominal adjectives simply means adjectives that don't conjugate. The reason why they're so important to point out specifically is to know how they differ in nuance and usage with other adjectives.


Curriculum Note: This will be the first installment of coverage on these adjectival phrases. This lesson, however, will only be those that end in /na/. Other kinds of adnominal nouns will be discussed in later lessons.

/i/ & /na/ Pairs

The real questions that you probably have now is how does the adnominal adjective chiisana 小さな differ with the regular chiisai 小さい, and how many other of these pairs of phrases exist. In the chart below, you will see that the third column details whether the form can be used as a regular adjectival noun by including da だ, which is of course used when the adjectival noun is the predicate.

 Meaning Ending in /i/ Ending in /na/
 Warm 暖かい
Atatakai
 暖か{な・だ}
Atataka [na/da]
 Square 四角い
Shikakui
 四角{な・だ}
Shikaku [na/da]
 Soft 柔らかい
Yawarakai
 柔らか{な・だ}
Yawaraka [na/da]
 Fine/minute 細かい                  
Komakai
 細か{な・だ}
Komaka [na/da]
 Small 小さい
Chiisai 
 小さな
Chiisana
 Large 大きい
Ōkii
 大きな
Ōkina
 Strange 可笑しい
Okashii
 可笑しな
Okashina
 New 新しい
Atarashii
 新たな
Aratana

All of the /na/ forms in the right column are examples of adnominal adjectives. Even if any of these words do have other conjugations, those conjugations would be incredibly limited in scope and would need to be studied separately. 

1. か(ぼそ)(こえ)はだんだん(おお)きくなっている。(Use of 大きい)
    Kabosoi koe wa dandan ōkiku natte iru.
    The fragile voice is becoming gradually larger.

2. (おどろ)くほど(ちい)さな素足(すあし)(あらわ)になった。 (Use of 小さな)
    Odoroku hodo chiisana suashi ga arawa ni natta.
    Surprisingly small bare feet became exposed.

Grammar Note: This is an example of 小さな being used as a predicate; however, it is still juxtaposed right before the noun it modifies. Only the degree of the sense of "small" is being modified, and that is via the adverbial phrase 驚くほど. Otherwise, adnominal adjectives do not have the same free range as other adjectives to be used in complex predicate phrases that modify nouns. 

3. (ちい)さな(こえ)(はな)しかける。(Use of 小さな) 
    Chiisana koe de hanashikakeru.
    To talk to someone in a small voice.

4. (やわ)らかかった。(あたた)かかった。(Use of 柔らかい & 暖かい)
     Yawarakakakatta. Atatakakatta.
     It was soft. It was warm.

5. (かわ)()いて(こま)かく()りました。(Use of 細かい)
    Kawa wo muite komakaku kirimashita.
    I peeled the skin and finely cut it up.

6. (おお)きい希望(きぼう)(くも)()いている。(Use of 大きい)
    Ōkii kibō no kumo ga waite iru.
    Large clouds of hope are gushing forth.

7. (おお)きな希望(きぼう)(くも)()いている。(Use of 大きな)
    Ōkina kibō no kumo ga waite iru.
    Clouds of great hope are gushing forth.

Nuance Restrictions

When /i/ and /na/ pairs exist, the ones that end in /i/ are naturally objective, typically used with concrete nouns, but are not limited to literal interpretations, and the ones that end in /na/ are naturally subjective, typically used with abstract nouns, and almost always limited to literal yet emotional interpretations.

However, this is not all you have to consider. Some forms do have nuances the others don’t. You also can’t just choose which form you want in a set phrase. After all, set phrases are set for a reason. With that being said, we will now focus on what exactly these nuance restrictions are.


Chiisai/Chiisana 小さい・小さな Ōkii/Ōkina 大きい・大きな

Generally speaking, chiisana 小さな and ōkina 大きな are only used to indicate physical size but with a subjective twist. Only chiisai 小さい and ōkii 大きい may be used to indicate small/large monetary values, and they may even be used to mean “old” and “young” in the context of age among siblings.

8. 400よんひゃくえんですか。すみません、{おおきい ○・おおきな X}のしかないんです。
    Yonhyakuen desu ka? Sumimasen, [ōkii ○/ōkina X] no shika nai n desu.
    It’s 400 yen? I’m sorry, but I only have large ones (bills).

9. 世界一小せかいいちちいさい紙幣しへいなんですか。
    Sekai’ichi chiisai shihei wa nan desu ka?
    What is the world’s smallest paper bill?

10. おおきくなったね。
      Ōkiku natta ne.
      My, you’ve grown.

11. ちいさいころからずっとそうおもっていました。
      Chiisai kara koro zutto sō omotte imashita.
      I’ve always thought so since I was little.

12. 中央ちゅうおうちいさなテーブルがありました。
      Chūō ni chiisana tēburu ga arimashita.
      There was a small table in the center.

13. 世界せかい一番大いちばんおおきい建物たてものなんですか。
      Sekai de ichiban ōkii tatemono wa nan desu ka? 
      What is the largest building in the world?

14. おおきな政府せいふもとめるひとたちがかならずどこのくににもいる。
      Ōkina seifu wo motomeru hitotachi ga kanarazu doko no kuni ni mo iru.
      There are always people who seek big government in any country.


Okashii おかしい vs Okashina おかしな

Okashii おかしい is generally used in positive connotations in the sense of “funny” whereas okashina おかしな is generally used in negative connotations in the sense of “weird/suspicious/odd.” This, of course, is only a rule of thumb, but it generally holds true. However, it is important to note that this distinction really has nothing to do with being objective or subjective or being concrete or abstract.

15. おかしなかおをする。
      Okashina kao wo suru.
      To make a strange/suspicious face.

16. おかしいかおをする。
       Okashii kao wo suru.
       To make a strange/funny face.

17. おかしいはなしですね。
      Okashii hanashi desu ne. 
      What a strange thing to say.

18. おかしな行動こうどうる。
      Okashina kōdō wo toru.
      To take strange/suspicious action(s).


Atarashii 新しい vs Aratana 新たな

Although aratana 新たな was grouped as an adnominal adjective above, the adverbial form aratani 新たに does exist, and it is actually quite common. The difference between atarashii 新しい and aratana 新たな is that the former is more suitable for objective/concrete contexts whereas is most suitable for (potentially) subjective/obscure. The latter form also happens to be primarily used in writing and has what can be best described as a ‘cool’ nuance.

That isn’t to say aratana 新たな and aratani 新たに are never used in the spoken language. To the contrary, because they are ‘cool’ sounding with great emotional undertones, they are used extensively in advertisement and the like.

19. あたらしい家具かぐいました。
      Atarashii kagu wo kaimashita.
      I bought new furniture.

20. あらたな冒険ぼうけんはじまる!
      Aratana bōken ga hajimaru!
      A new adventure will become!

21. あたらしいかんがえにってわる。
       Atarashii kangae ni tottekawaru.
       To replace with a new idea.

22. 決意けついあらたにしました。
      Ketsui wo aratani shimashita.
      I’ve renewed my resolution.


Yawarakai 柔らかい vs Yawarakana 柔らかな

Yawarakana 柔らかな is only capable of referring to literal softness of the five senses. However, yawarakai 柔らかい may be used more broadly despite being less subjective. For instance, when used in the phrase yawarakai hon 柔らかい本, it can refer to erotica. However, other phrases are more common for this.

As you may have already noticed, whenever forms are not interchangeable, it is the set phrases and obscure instances that only seem to matter.  Of course, everything distinguishing /i/ and /na/ forms still apply.

23. {やわらかい・やわらかな}感触かんしょく見開みひらく。
        [Yawarakai/yawarakana] kanshoku ni me wo mihiraku.
        To open one’s eyes to a tinder sensation.

24. やわらかな日差ひざしをかんじる。
       Yawarakana hizashi wo kanjiru.
       To feel gentle sunlight.

25. やわらかな物腰ものごしせっする。
      Yawarakana monogoshi de sessuru.
      To look after/deal with a gentle demeanor.

26. やわらかい(お)もちつくった。
      Yawarakai (o)mochi wo tsukutta.
      I made soft rice cake.

27. やわらかな(お)もちべませんか。
      Yawarakana (o)mochi wo tabemasen ka? 
      Why not have some soft rice cake?