Sometimes I think it's more obvious when to use 〜的 as a suffix for example 国家 "nation/state" vs 国家的 "national", but in a lot of other cases I think the distinction might be more blurred, and they frequently translate to the same word in English.

For example (probably not a complete list):

  • 一時(的)"temporarily"
  • 自動(的)"automatic"
  • 国際(的)"international"
  • 理想(的)"ideal"
  • 一般(的)"general"
  • 直接(的)"direct"
  • 絶対(的)"absolute"
  • 標準(的)"standard"

Is there a common pattern where to use/not use 的 on the end of these kinds of words? For example, in the following sentences taken from the Tanaka corpus, is there any difference between their usage, and can they be interchanged?

Such international cooperation was productive of great results.

Kyoto is internationally famous for its scenic beauty.

Ten years ago his theory would not have been generally accepted.

This church is not a big one, as churches go.

Does 的 always make a noun an adjective or are there cases where it's used for other purposes? (For example there seems to be 直接的に as well as 直接に, and they're both listed as adj-na in Edict, and 絶対に and 絶対的に which I think have different usages etc).

1 Answer 1


I think the best place start an answering your question is by addressing the differnce between 直接的に/直接に and 絶対/絶対的に.

In both cases the ~的 adverb is used to describe more abstract matters:


~と直接に|eyeball-to-eyeball with ~について自身で直接に学ぶ |learn at first hand about


直接的に in a direct way/in a straightforward fashion/in a straightforward manner



絶対にありえん話だ。|That would be obviously impossible. 絶対にあり得ないね。|Never in a thousand years.


絶対的には| in absolute terms

If you go through all those terms in SpaceALC it is quite easy to come up exceptions to challenge this but [一般的に!!!] I suspect this is the best "rule of thumb" you can get when it comes to translation and, as you say, it is blurred, "not immediately obvious" or at best idiomatic.

However if we look at the examples you give it is comforting to see that (I think) the difference applies equally in both English and Japanese:

Where as:

International cooperation is an absolute term for cross-border cooperation.

Internationally famous is more relative term to describe a point on a continium spanning from "unknown outside one country" to "known by everybody in every country".

Or in the second case (一般/一般的)there seems to be a concrete measure of the normal size for a church but the extent to which an idea will be accepted and adopted may be more elastic.

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