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What Are さ Nouns?
〜さ is a suffix that attaches to adjectives and turns them into nouns. It is similar to adding "-ness" to adjectives in English to turn them into nouns (e.g., goodness, freshness, liveliness). It's used for qualities that are objectively measurable or observable, such as size, speed, strength, or cleanliness. However, when adding the "-ness" quality to adjectives that are not objectively measurable or talking about your personal point of view, use the suffix 〜み instead. Overall, 〜さ is more common than 〜み, so it's safer to lean toward 〜さ when you're not sure which one to use.
Forming さ nouns is simple. Just remove the present tense ending 〜い from い-adjectives or the な from な-adjectives, and add 〜さ.
い+ さ = 高さ
な+ さ = 便利さ
How to Use さ Nouns
In English, when we want to indicate the quality or amount of an adjective, we add -ness to the end of it. It can be helpful to think of さ nouns as similar to -ness in English.
- Deliciousness: the quality or amount of being delicious
- Newness: the quality or amount of being new
- Shortness: the quality or amount of being short
In English, words that end in -ness represent both quality and amount, but in Japanese these ideas are split between two different suffixes, 〜さ (amount) and 〜み (quality). さ nouns are those that you can objectively observe and measure. Almost any adjective can become a さ noun, so when choosing between 〜さ and 〜み to turn your adjectives into nouns, it's a very safe bet to use 〜さ.
In general, な-adjectives are not often turned into さ-suffix nouns, but it's useful to memorize some that are common, such as:
- 便利さ: convenience
- 忠実さ: loyalty
- のどかさ: calmness
- 正確さ: accuracy
- 完璧さ: perfection
- 賑やかさ: liveliness
使う → 使いやすい → 使いやすさ
to use → easy to use → usability
男 → 男らしい → 男らしさ
man → manly → manliness/masculinity
行く → 行きたい → 行きたさ
to go → want to go → eagerness to go
It's also worth noting that さ-suffix nouns that are in opposite pairs (big and small, tall and short) tend to have different meanings on the positive ends of those spectrums. The positive ends usually represent the entire idea of that measurement. Confusing, no? For example, when we use 大きさ (bigness), it often means "size," while the opposite end of the spectrum, 小ささ (smallness), only means "smallness" and can't represent the concept of size as a whole. When we use 速さ (quickness), it often means "speed," and 遅さ (slowness) can only mean slowness. To represent the entire concept of measurement between two extremes, adding 〜さ to the positive end usually does the trick.