This (titular) assertion is questionable, so I'm (1) putting it in quotes, and (2) placing an asterisk in front of it.

The following page starts with this assertion, which I had not heard before :


The Japanese language does not have words that function as adjectives in a syntactic sense – that is to say that tree diagrams of Japanese sentences can be constructed without employing adjective phrases. [citation needed]

Nevertheless, there are words that function as adjectives in a semantic sense.

[citation needed] ! ! !

Is this a commonly heard notion?

For example :

  • 立派で赤い花
  • 背が高く赤い花が立派なこの植物の名前を教えてください。

It's not obvious how Parse Trees of these strings (above) would be any different from Parse Trees of English strings of similar meanings.

–- that is to say, a tree diagram (or a parse tree) of the latter Japanese string (the sentence) seems like it would be a great example to illustrate [adjective phrases] in Japanese.

This Jp wikipedia page doesn't have anything on it: Wikipedia 形容詞

Any ideas?

  • 2
    The assertion on Wikipedia is incoherent.
    – user1478
    Oct 12, 2016 at 23:13
  • @HizHa oh, sorry about my edit(request), didn't recognize to be a citation.
    – Yuki Inoue
    Oct 12, 2016 at 23:33
  • As the younger folks say, "No worries."
    – HizHa
    Oct 12, 2016 at 23:40
  • Does this post answer you? japanese.stackexchange.com/q/1008/7810 Oct 16, 2016 at 4:16
  • Thank you. That's excellent. I wonder why/when all these people disappeared. ( They are all gone from the Ling.SE too.)
    – HizHa
    Oct 16, 2016 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


Essentially, this is saying that syntactically adjectives work the same as verbs. For example:


  • 食べる犬
  • 犬が食べる
  • 赤い犬
  • 犬が赤い


  • The dog that eats
  • The dog eats
  • The red dog
  • The dog is red

Note that in English you can't say "The that eats dog", "The dog red", "The dog that red" etc. You have to construct the sentences differently depending on whether you're describing the dog with a verb or adjective. This isn't the case in Japanese. If the only thing you knew about a word was how it fit into a sentence, you couldn't tell if it was a verb or an adjective -- but you could in English, because of the extra "that"s and "is"es. That's the argument.

(Note that adjectives do have different morphology, i.e. inflection, than verbs. That isn't what Wikipedia is talking about.)

  • 1
    FWIW, I don't think the Wikipedia article is written very well -- the verbiage is hyperspecific in ways that obscure useful meaning. One could pose the alternative argument that Japanese has no words that function syntactically as verbs, since we don't need relative pronouns to create relative clauses -- i.e., verbs can be used attributively the same as adjectives. But that's not a terribly useful statement to make. Similarly, it is not really useful to state that Japanese doesn't have adjectives. Oct 13, 2016 at 8:24
  • 1
    Yah, I probably wouldn't put it the way the Wikipedia article does either. It would be much clearer to say that verbs and adjectives are not "syntactically distinct," rather than implicitly assuming verb as the base class and declaring adjectives absent. (And that's not even getting into what exactly is covered by "syntax"...)
    – Matt
    Oct 13, 2016 at 10:34
  • Thank you -- you seem to have explained it well, but i still can't grasp it. I'm still chewing on it.
    – HizHa
    Oct 15, 2016 at 6:45
  • 1
    Thanks to the link to the excellent page, your answer makes a lot more sense. ______ japanese.stackexchange.com/q/1008/16344 (From the excellent page from 5 years ago) ___ And indeed, the English adjectives are not quite adjectives in the classical sense, and the line is actually quite blurred between nouns and adjectives in English (Is 'winter' in "winter clothes" an adjective or a noun? And what about 'Hollywood' in "a typical Hollywood ending"?). In fact, English adjectives resemble the na-adjectives of Japanese more than Latin (and French, German, Spanish and Hebrew) adjectives.
    – HizHa
    Oct 16, 2016 at 17:39

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