Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Patterns of Use
- い-Adjectives that Can Behave like Nouns
Using adjectives like nouns is common in many languages, including English. Just look at an expression like “many will enter, few will win." Many and few are typically used as adjectives, and yet here they function as nouns.
In Japanese, a limited number of い-adjectives in their く form can be used like nouns. These are adjectives that describe the characteristics of a time or place. The only addition to this is 多く, which can behave as noun despite the fact that it doesn't describe a time or a place.
Patterns of Use
い-Adjectives Before Particles of Time or Location
All the い-adjectives in this group can be used before particles of time or location, such as まで (until), へ (to), に (at/in/to) and から (from).
- Next week, a friend from old times is coming to visit.
- He studied until late.
In the first example, 古く can be understood as “old times” or “long ago” and tells us the time period of the friendship, marked with から. In the second sentence, 遅く means “a late time”, and the particle まで tells us that it is the point in time that the action continued until. Though in English we can say "until late", in Japanese まで can generally can’t be used with adjectives or adverbs.
い-Adjectives in Other Positions
Just three い-adjectives can be used in more of the ways nouns can be used. These are 多く, 遠く and 近く. They can be used as the subject of a sentence:
- Many won the lottery.
They can also be used as the object of a sentence:
- I saw a faraway place.
Finally, they can be joined to other nouns with the particle の:
- I went to a nearby store. (Literally: I went to the store of a nearby place)
This is a tricky one because it looks like it’s being used like an adjective, but since only nouns can generally be attached to other nouns with particle の, 近く is actually behaving as a noun here.
い-Adjectives that Can Behave like Nouns
The list of い-adjectives that can behave as nouns is so limited, that it’s worthwhile listing them here. They are organized by whether they are used to describe time, place, or other.