Introduction to Japanese: Volume 1

Chapter 9

Adverbs

Last chapter, we learned about adjectives and started our studies on the particle が. In this article, we will learn about adverbs and their usage, how to form them from adjectives, and about onomatopoeias in Japanese. In the Kanji part, we will learn about the days of the week and some visually similar Kanji to characters we have already studied.

I-keiyoushi adverbs

There is a reason we learned adjectives in the previous chapter: forming adverbs from adjectives in Japanese is relatively easy. For i-keiyoushi, we simply substitute the 「い」 for 「く」. Let’s see the table below (which includes some adjectives we had not seen before) to exemplify what I mean.

Adjectives Adverbs
Japanese English Japanese English
大きい Big 大きく Big
小さい Small 小さく Small
おいしい Delicious おいしく Deliciously
うれしい Happy うれしく Happily
かなしい Sad かなしく Sadly
やさしい Kind やさしく Kindly
あかるい Bright あかるく Brightly
くらい Dark くらく Darkly
はやい Fast/Early はやく Fast/Early
おそい Slow/Late おそく Slowly/Late
いい Good よく Well

 

The above process of converting an adjective into an adverb in Japanese is analogous to how “ly” is added to adjectives in English to make them into adverbs, but with the advantage of always being regular. Well, almost always: the single exception, again, is いい, which becomes よく when we change it into a verb. We saw the reason for this in our previous chapter: いい was originally よい, and while the basic form has changed, all its derivations and conjugations have remained the same.


Like in English, adverbs in Japanese are used to modify verbs, adjectives (both i-keiyoushi and na-keiyoushi) and other adverbs, but they can occasionally modify nouns. As we always do in Japanese, modifier precedes what is modified. Let’s see the next sentences to compare how we use adjectives and adverbs.

ドウドウはたかいです。(Doudou is tall.)

ドウドウはたかくなりました。(Doudou has grown tall.)

みどりははやいひとです。(Midori is a fast person.)

みどりははやくはしります。(Midori runs/drives fast.)

Adverbs created by changing an i-keiyoushi often modify verbs, as we saw in the previous sentences. The verb なります – which means “to become”, “to grow”, “to turn into” and therefore denotes change – is often used with these adverbs.

Before we continue, it bears mentioning that according to Japanese grammar rules, these words are not truly adverbs, but rather the “continuative form” of adjectives. This is because while words like 高くare obviously an inflection of words – you might have noticed that 高く is simply 高くない (“not tall”) without the negative ない part –, while true adverbs are never inflectable. However, this distinction is not of interest for us.

Na-keiyoushi adverbs

If you thought that transforming an i-keiyoushi into an adverb was easy (and it was), you haven’t seen the na-keiyoushi yet: simply attach the particle 「に」instead of 「な」 to it.

かよこはきれいな人です。(Kayoko is a beautiful person.)

かよこはきれいになりました。(Kayoko has become beautiful.)

ヒロキはしんせつな人です。(Hiroki is a kind person.)

ヒロキは私にしんせつにはなしました。(Hiroki kindly talked to me (Hiroki talked to me in a kind way).)

Just like in English, not all Japanese adverbs are derived from adjectives – think about words like “always”, “often” or “sometimes”. These words – which we call fukushi – are adverbs by themselves, and as such, have no conjugation and are used without particles.

Common adverbs in Japanese
a little (amount) すこし a lot (amount) たくさん
about, approximately やく absolutely ぜったいに
again また already もう
always いつも anyway とにかく
especially とくに extremely, very とても
indeed, really ほんとうに increasingly ますます
gradually だんだん just, precisely ちょうど
more もっと most もっとも
never, at all ぜんぜん* not yet, still まだ
not very あまり* often よく
perhaps たぶん quite かなり
seldom めったに* slightly, a bit ちょっと
slowly ゆっくり sometimes ときどき
soon すぐ suddenly 急に

 

From this huge list, we will today focus on the adverbs of degree and time, namely:

  • とても
  • あまり
  • ぜんぜん
  • いつも
  • よく
  • ときどき
  • めったに

I will come to the asterisk (*) in a minute.

ドウドウ:かよこ、おさけすききですか?
かよこ:おすきがとてもきです。みどりは?
みどり:わたしはおさけがあまりきではありません。
ドウドウ:おさけがぜんぜんきではありません。

Doudou: Do you like alcohol, Kayoko?
Kayoko: I like alcohol very much. What about you, Midori?
Midori: I do not like alcohol very much.
Doudou: I do not like alcohol at all.

The adverb of degree とても increases the intensity of the word or action it modifies and is normally only used with positive sentences. In the above dialogue, Kayoko uses it to indicate that she likes alcohol a lot (by the way, sometimes you might see it written as とっても; this is a spoken variant that Japanese may use to indicate extra emphasis. Think of it as when you say I really like something).

When we want to decrease the intensity of the word we are modifying, we should not use とても; instead, we should use あまり, which roughly means “not very”, or ぜんぜん, which means “not at all”. By the dialogue above, we can get that Midori is not a big fan of alcohol, but possibly drinks it from time to time, while Doudou does not like it and probably does not drink at all. Just like とても requires a positive sentence, あまり and ぜんぜん require a negative sentence. That is what the asterisk in the list above means.

Let’s move forward to our next dialogue.

みどり:田中先生たなかせんせいはよくかいがいにきます。
ヒロキ:そうなんですか?いいですね。
みどり:ときどききます。

Midori: Tanaka-sensei often goes abroad.
Hiroki: Is that so? That is so nice. I seldom go (abroad). What about you?
Midori: (I) go sometimes.

If in the previous dialogues we were talking about how much the characters liked or did not like something, the adverbs いつも, よく, ときどき and めったに(among others) allow us to know how often people do something or something happens. Please note that めったに, meaning seldom, also requires a negative verb.

Onomatopoeias and sounds in Japanese

A final type of adverb we will see in this chapter are onomatopoeia (words that resemble the source of the sound that it describes). While every language has this kind of words (think boom, chirp, hiccup, meow or zap in English), onomatopoeia in Japanese have a much wider range of meanings, including words that are not associated with a particular noise but rather a psychological state. Also, while onomatopoeias might sound a bit childish in English, they are very common in both spoken and written daily Japanese.

ドウドウはいそいそといえをでました。(Doudou left home happy and excited.)

かよこはいらいらと仕事に行きました。(Kayoko went irritated to work.)

ヒロキはうとうとと本をよみます。(Hiroki was dozing off while reading a book.)

人にじろじろとはなしません。(Do not talk rudely at people.)

There are virtually endless onomatopoeia in Japanese, and their meaning is often hard to guess. For example, ぴかぴか means “shiny”, “brightly”, but I doubt you would guess it just by the sound (although thinking about Pikachu, the electric pokemon, might help). Similarly, you would probably get nervous and anxious if someone asked you the meaning of ひやひや, until I told you it means “nervous and anxious”.

Do not worry about learning them all at once, as probably there is not a single Japanese who knows them all. Once you learn enough of them to regularly be able to identify and understand them, though, give yourself a pat in your back – it means you are becoming ペラペラ (fluent) in Japanese!

Shukudai section

1) Rewrite the sentences below using あまり and ぜんぜん, making necessary changes to verb conjugation.

その本がはとてもいいです。(That is a very good book.)

これはとてもおもしろいえいがです。(This is a very interesting movie.)

ちちのりょうりはとてもおいしいです。(My father’s food is very delicious.)

2) Rewrite the sentences below using よく, ときどき and めったに, making necessary changes to verb conjugation.

かよこはいつも電車で仕事へ行きます。Kayoko always goes to work by train.

この電車はいつもおくれます。This train is always late.

田中先生はいつもしゅうまつにはたらきます。Tanaka sensei always works on weekends.

ヒロキはいつもテレビを見ます。Hiroki always watch television.

Kanji

We will learn about 13 Kanji this time. Roughly, our study today has two parts: first, we will learn the Kanji used to express the days of the week and the classical elements (water, fire, etc.). If you are a Sailor Moon fan I guarantee you this will be a blast. Then, we will learn some characters that are semantically or visually similar to Kanji we have studied before. This is our list for today:

This Kanji means “moon”, or つき. Since ancient Japanese used a lunar calendar, this Kanji appear in many month-related words, such as 一月いちがつ (January), 二月にがつ (February), 先月せんげつ (last month) and 来月らいげつ (next month).

As you see, it can be a bit tricky Kanji to read, since while it is read がつ in month names and some other words, most of the time we read it as げつ – for example, 月曜日げつようび (Monday – day of the Moon). As it is common when the last syllable of the first kanji is つ, it often becomes a small tsu (っ) when it’s placed before another kanji; for example, the words 月刊げっかん (monthly publication), 月光げっこう (moonlight) or 月給げっきゅう (monthly salary).

Finally, common words with different readings include the words 毎月まいつき (every month) 正月しょうがつ (New Year) and 旧正月きゅうしょうがつ (“Old New Year aka Chinese Lunar New Year).

Sample sentence: 月曜日げつようび月給げっきゅをもらいます.

Sample sentence: 来月らいげつは12月です.

Sample sentence: 毎月まいつき月刊げっかんきをよみます.

This Kanji means “fire”, in Japanese, ひ, in words borrowed from Chinese, か. The word that matters the most for us now is 火曜日かようび (Tuesday). You might think Tuesday is the “day of fire”, but actually it borrows its name from 火星かせい (Mars).

Other words with this Kanji include 火事かじ (fire as in the emergency/tragedy), 消火器しょうかき (fire extinguisher) and 花火はなび (fireworks).

Sample sentence: 火曜日かようび花火はなびます.

This Kanji means “water”, みず. In words borrowed from Chinese, we read it as すい. For example – and for the surprise of no one –, we have 水曜日すいようび (Wednesday), and as you can imagine, 水星すいせい (Mercury).

Other common words with this character include 水準すいじゅん (standard/ water level), 香水こうすい (perfume) and 水泳すいえい (swimming).

Sample sentence: 
みどりは水泳すいえい大好だいすきです.

This Kanji, meaning “tree” or “wood”, is one of the few pictographic characters (that is, a sketch of the object they represent) in use. The Japanese reading – and the Japanese word for tree – is き. The Chinese reading is もく, hence 木曜日もくようび (Thursday) and 木星もくせい (Jupiter).

Sample sentence: 木曜日もくようびはレディース・ナイトです.

A bit on the complex side to write, this Kanji is nonetheless very common, meaning “gold”, and, by association, “money” or “capital”. The Japanese reading – and the world for “money” – is かね. The Chinese reading is きん, making the day of the week 金曜日きんようび (Friday) and the planet 金星きんせい (Venus).

This Kanji is used in a myriad of common words, such as 料金りょうきん (fee, fare), 金色きんいろ (golden colour), 税金ぜいきん (tax) and 奨学金しょうがくきん (scholarship), not to forget お金持かねもち (rich person).

Sample sentence: ひろきはお金持かねもちではありません.

Sample sentence: バスの料金りょうきんもたかいです.

An easier Kanji to draw, this character means “soil” or “earth” (but not “Earth”). The not often used Japanese reading is つち; the more often used Chinese reading is と or ど, such as in 土曜日どようび (Saturday) and 土星どせい (Saturn).

It also appears in some common words such as 土地とち (plot of land), 領土りょうど (dominion) and 国土こくど (country, territory).

Now you will understand why I call learning the days of the week the “Sailor Moon method”, named after the popular Japanese shōjo manga series: just as the days of the week in Japanese are each named for a planet (or an astronomical body such as the Moon or the Sun), so are each of the girls in the story. Now you know why Sailor Moon is Usagi Tsukino (うさぎ月野), Sailor Mars is Rei Hino (レイ火野), Sailor Mercury is Ami Mizuno (亜美水野), Sailor Jupiter is Makoto Kino (まこと木野) and finally Sailor Saturn is Hotaru Tomoe (ほたる土萠). The sole exception is Sailor Venus, who was name after “love” rather than “gold”: Minako Aino (美奈子愛野)

Sample sentence: 日本にほん土地とちたかいです.

This Kanji means “weekday”, as the Kanji component for “day” in the left hints. As we have seen, this character is used to write the days of the week – and that is pretty much about it. Because it is a considerably hard-to-write Kanji, don’t worry about writing for now, as long as you can remember its sound: よう. The last day of the week, by the way, is 日曜日にちようび (Sunday).

Sample sentence: 土曜日どようびにジムへきます.

After learning a very complicated Kanji, it is only fair to see some simpler ones. This one means “river”, or かわ, in Japanese. People with some geographical knowledge about Japan may have noticed the naming pattern of Japanese rivers, like Sumidagawa (隅田川) or Yodogawa (淀川); this is because when we use this Kanji as a suffix, we actually write がわ (Incidentally, this also means that writing “Yodogawa River” actually means writing “Yodo river river”, so let’s us all avoid doing that).

Other than many river-related words, this Kanji is often used in Japanese names, such as 川島かわしま (Kawashima), 石川県いしかわけん (Ishikawa Prefecture), 長谷川はせがわ (Hasegawa) and 古川ふるかわ (Furukawa).

Sample sentence: 淀川よどがわ水泳すいえいしません.

Sample sentence: 石川県いしかわけんはとてもきれいです.

Continuing with basic Kanji, this one, meaning “mountain”, is another of the pictographic characters. The Japanese word for mountain is やま; however, when used as a naming suffix, we use the Chinese reading, さん. Therefore, the correct pronunciation for 富士山 is Fujisan, not “Fujiyama”.

In addition to words like 火山かざん (volcano), this character commonly appears in Japanese surnames and place names, such as 山本やまもと (Yamamoto), 山田やまだ (Yamada), 山口県やまぐちけん (Yamaguchi Prefecture), and 中山なかやま (Nakayama).

Sample sentence: かよこは富士山ふじさんきませんでした

Sample sentence: ひろき、やまきですか?

Combining both the Sun and Moon characters, this Kanji means “light”, “brightness”, or even “clarity” and “wisdom”. It has a number of similar, but slightly different, Japanese readings, such as あかるい (bright, cheerful), あからか (obvious) and あかがた (dawn), as well as the common highly irregular 明日あした (tomorrow).

The most common Chinese reading is めい, and appears in many words, like 文明ぶんめい (civilisation), 明確めいかく (clear, precise) and 声明せいめい (proclamation).

Finally, remember: 明 is not a Kanji compound; it is one Kanji composed of two components, 日 and 月.

Sample sentence: ドウドウは明日あしたにシネマにきます.

Sample sentence: かよこはとてもあかるいひとですね.

Put two “trees” together, and you get はやし, meaning “woods” or “grove”. Ah, if only Kanji were always this easy! The Chinese reading, りん, is often used for forestry-related words, like 林業りんぎょう (forestry) – nothing that you are likely to meet in a daily conversation. You may, though, find this character in Japanese surnames, such as はやし (Hayashi) and 小林こばやし (Kobayashi).

If 木 means “tree” and 林 means “woods”, the logical progression is もり means “forest”. You can also find the Japanese word in some names, like 青森県あおもりけん (Aomori Prefecture). The Chinese reading is しん, as in the word 森林しんりん (forest).

It might be interesting to talk about words like 森林. If each Kanji by itself already means “forest”, why do we need both? While some Kanji compounds are formed by two characters with similar meaning simply to reinforce this meaning, an important difference is that Kanji compounds tend to be words of Chinese origin, which were traditionally used by more educated people in academic, governmental or religious settings. To this day, these words are seen as more かたい (hard), so you are more likely to hear a word like 森 in a casual conversation and read the word 森林 in a paper.

We are not finished with the trees yet! My intention here is to call your attention to how useful Kanji radicals (the components that make up Kanji) are if you master them, and how terrifying they can be if you start mixing them up. This Kanji means “rest”. See the part left of the “tree”? That is supposed to be a 人, that is, a person, so the idea is that the person is resting against the tree.

The verb “to rest” is やすみます. The Chinese reading is きゅう; compounds with this character often indicate a rest or a pause, like 休憩きゅうけい (break, recess), 休日きゅうじつ (holiday), 休学きゅうがく (temporary absence from school) or 夏休なつやすみ (summer vacations).

And having said that, I think it is a nice time to call it a day and have a nice break after studying so many Kanji. See you in our next chapter!

Sample sentence: 明日あした休日きゅうじつです.

Sample sentence: わたしやすみます.