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I think 優しげ is a な adjective. Whereas 優しい is an い adjective. When I look up their meanings, their English translation is essentially kind/gentle, and they seem to be both adjectives modifying something in a clause. Is there a usage difference between them?

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げ is a suffix to adjective to mean "like" as in "優しげ”、”悲しげ”、"喜ばしげ," "勇ましげ”、”得意気.” It's originally used to connote "a tint" of something.

Adjective + げ can be used as an adjective like, "優しげな表情 - affectionate expression”, ”悲しげな声 - sorrowful tone”, "喜ばしげな態度 - joyful manner," "勇ましげな顔 - valiant look”, ”得意気な顔 - triumphant face,” as well as a verb, "優しげに撫でる - stroke lovingly," ”悲しげに弾く - play sorrowfully”, "喜ばしげに話す - talk joyfully," "勇ましげに歩く - march bravely”, ”得意気に話す - speak proudly.”

The difference between "優しい言葉" and "優しげな言葉" is subtle. "優しい言葉" is plain gentle / kind words, while "優しげな言葉" is "words that are felt gentle / kind," keeping a sort of reservation. However both are saying the same thing.

  • Can I do this げ thingy with every い adjective? Or does this only work with adjectives ending in しい? – Sweeper Apr 8 '17 at 18:19
  • @Sweeper.As I said, “げ” is an adjecctival suffix to add the meaning of “like / with a tint.” It can be added to many adjectives that end with “い” sound. But I wouldn’t say most. We say “優しげ,” ”悲しげ,” “嬉しげ” “楽しげ,” but we don’t say “大きげ,” ”小さげ,” ”高げ,” ”低げ,” ”早げ,” ”遅げ.” Instead we say “大きめ,” ”小さめ,” ”高め,” ”低め,” ”早め,” ”遅め.”Are there any rules to govern this distinction and these usages? I don’t know. I’m speaking and writing only according to custom. Somebody who are familiar with Japanese language grammar can tell you. – Yoichi Oishi Apr 8 '17 at 21:23
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I would say 優しげ means "seemingly kind/gentle" and 優しい means "kind/gentle".

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