Using い-Adjective Past Form (〜かった)

    • Adjective
    Use 〜かった on an い-adjective to put it into the past tense. い-adjective かった can be used at the end of a sentence or immediately before a noun, but this second use is a little tricky.

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    かった for Past Tense

    When an い-adjective ends in 〜かった, it is in the past tense form. So while 悲し means "is sad," 悲しかった means "was sad." Getting to this form is easy—just remove the final 〜い from an adjective, and add the past tense suffix 〜かった:

    • 悲し + かった
    • was-sad

    Easy enough, right? Let's move on to how past tense い-adjectives are used in sentences.

    Past Tense い-Adjectives in Sentences

    Just like present tense い-adjectives, い-adjectives in the past tense form 〜かった can occur in two positions: directly before a noun, and at the end of a sentence. Their use at the end of sentences is a little more straightforward, so we'll start there.

    When a past tense い-adjective ends a sentence, it shows the tense of the entire sentence. So let's say that I watched Titanic last night; a notoriously sad movie that brings tears to my eyes every time I see it (why'd you have to let go of the raft, Leonardo!? 😭) Anyway, the next day, I was still feeling sad about it, so I decided to write about it in my journal:

    • 昨日見た映画は悲しかった
    • The movie that I watched yesterday was sad.

    The い-adjective 悲しかった serves two functions here. It describes a quality of the subject noun, 映画 (movie), and it also marks the entire event as having occurred in the past. Not too bad so far, right? Well, let's shake things up a bit. Let's rearrange the sentence so that the い-adjective comes directly before the noun, as in "sad movie":

    • 昨日悲しい映画を見た。
    • I watched a sad movie yesterday.

    In this sentence, it is the verb 見た that marks the event as past. The い-adjective is no longer in the past tense form; the かった suffix has been replaced with the present tense suffix 〜い. Why is that?

    To answer this question, we need to think about the relationship between the adjective (悲しい) and the noun that it describes (映画). It has something of an "equal" relationship, as in 映画 (movie) = 悲しい (sad), right? This relationship is unchanging; Titanic is sad and will always be sad, no matter if I watched it yesterday or last year, or if I watch it again next week or ten years from now. In cases like this, い-adjectives that occur before a noun will be in the present tense.

    a timeline that shows how a movie is 悲しい and doesn't change

    However, there are cases in which い-adjectives with the past tense suffix 〜かった can come directly before a noun. In these cases, it will be clear that the "equal" relationship between the adjective and the noun is no longer true. Sorry to be a downer, but here's another sad example that will clarify this point:

    • あんなに優しかった彼氏は変わってしまった。
    • My boyfriend, who used to be so kind, has changed.

    In this sentence, 優しかった (was-nice) is in the past tense, indicating that it is no longer true now. In other words, 彼氏 (boyfriend) ≠ 優しい (nice), at least not anymore.

    a boyfriend, who used to be so kind, but has changed

    Unless there is a clear reason why the "equal" relationship between the adjective and noun is broken, then it's safe to assume that the い-adjective will be in the present tense.

    Making かった Polite

    Politeness in Japanese is marked at the end of a sentence with forms like です and 〜ます. If you have a sentence that ends in a past tense form い-adjective, you can level-up your politeness by adding です. Let's see how that would look:

    • 楽しかった + です
    • was-fun (polite)

    If you know anything about です, you might know that it has a past tense form too: でした. With that in mind, you might be wondering if we can leave the い-adjective in its present tense form (楽しい) and add でした to it for the same meaning as 楽しかったです. The answer is no! Don't do it! です (and its cousin だ) only mark for tense as a last resort. As a general rule, if there is some other element that can mark for tense (like an い-adjective), then です will only be used to make a sentence polite. Let's recap with a quick example:

    ❌ 楽しいでした

    ⭕ 楽しかったです

    Other Forms of い-Adjectives

    Check out the chart below to see how 〜かった fits into the い-adjective paradigm. Click on other conjugations or forms to learn more about them!

    Form 日本語 English
    Stem Form
    く Form strongly
    て Form くて strong, (and)
    Present Tense Form is-strong
    Past Tense Form かった was-strong
    Negative Form くない is-not-strong
    Past Negative Form くなかった was-not-strong
    Conditional Form ければ if strong...
    Measurable Noun Form strength
    Subjective Noun Form strong point