Table of Contents
- What Are み Nouns?
- Recognizing み Nouns
- Immeasurable, Subjective States
- み Noun Cheat Sheet
What Are み Nouns?
Like the suffix 〜さ, 〜み turns adjectives into nouns that indicate quality or state. It can be helpful to think of these noun-making suffixes as similar to -ness in English:
- Sweetness: the quality or amount of being sweet
- Spiciness: the quality or amount of being spicy
- Sourness: the quality or amount of being sour
In English, words that end in -ness represent both quality and amount, but in Japanese these are ideas are split between two different suffixes, 〜さ (amount) and 〜み (quality).
Let's look at some examples to make this clear:
甘い (is sweet) → 甘さ (amount of sweetness) → 甘み (quality of sweetness)
- This cake is sweet.
- What amount of sweetness would you like in your bubble tea? Please choose from 1 through 10.
- As summer turns to fall, the special quality of sweetness of these tomatoes comes through.
The amount or level of sweetness you want in your bubble tea is different than the quality of sweetness you taste when biting into a tomato. The tomato's sweetness is subjective—you're perceiving that sweetness yourself, and it may seem more or less sweet to someone else (though the sweetness is undoubtedly there). So even though 〜さ and 〜み can be translated into English the same way, they are used for entirely different situations. さ nouns are used for states that are objectively observed or measurable, み nouns are used for subjective and immeasurable states.
To form み nouns, take the stem form of an adjective and add 〜み.
い+ み = 高み
Recognizing み Nouns
み nouns can be hard to figure out at first glance, and even after several more glances, it will still be pretty hard. But by understanding a few core concepts and a little practice, it will start to take shape in your mind.
A good place to start is to consider if these nouns have other forms. You'll find that a good number of み nouns have verb equivalents that end in 〜む. For example:
|Verb Form||Noun Form|
|楽しむ (to enjoy oneself)||楽しみ (enjoyment)|
|悲しむ (to be sad)||悲しみ (sadness)|
|痛む (to feel pain)||痛み (pain)|
|苦しむ (to suffer)||苦しみ (anguish)|
These are all things you feel or emotions you have. You can't really measure something like pain, though you can try. It's really based on how something feels to you personally.
Another way to look at it is the actual suffix itself: 〜み. In some cases, especially with flavors, the kanji 味 (flavor) is used instead of the hiragana み: 旨味 (flavorful-ness), 辛味 (spiciness), 甘味 (sweetness). When you think of it from this angle, flavor is not something you can objectively measure. What's spicy to you may not be spicy to someone else.
To take this metaphor a little further, what is the "flavor" of depth (深み)? What is the "flavor" of lightness (軽み)? Certainly you can measure something's weight (重さ), but what is the "flavor" of emotional heaviness (重み)? None of these adjectives actually take the kanji for flavor (味), but it can be a useful metaphor for their subjectiveness. How you feel about these is what matters—your subjective idea—and that's when you use 〜み.
That said, when it's hard to figure out which to use, 〜み or 〜さ, lean toward 〜さ. When it comes to turning adjectives into nouns, 〜さ is much more common and versatile than 〜み—you can only pair 〜み with a limited number of adjectives.
For example, the adjectives below can't take 〜み. Even if we might have different ideas about what constitutes "bigness," it isn't something we feel with our emotional bodies, so we can't use 〜み. The same can be said for the physical "hardness" of an object. Even if two people have different ideas about how hard something feels, we have to rely on our physical senses, not our internal feelings, to make this judgment.
⭕️ 大きさ (bigness)
⭕️ 固さ (hardness)
On the other hand, there are some adjectives that are seemingly objective but can take 〜み when "flavored" by the speaker. In these cases, it might be hard to feel for English speakers since we often lack an equivalent in our language:
- measure height
- aim for height (a.k.a. "the stars")
高さ (height) is something objective while 高み (higher goals) is subjective.
It is hard to know which adjectives cannot take 〜み. In fact, native speakers seem to disagree on the boundaries of what constitutes an acceptable み noun. For example, adjectives that describe emotions but traditionally have not taken 〜み are beginning to be used as み nouns anyway:
- Your kindness is deep.
- I have gladness.
Immeasurable, Subjective States
Even though み nouns are more limited than さ nouns, they are the only choice in certain situations. When a state is immeasurable or subjective, it's better to use a み noun.
There's weight of an object which can be measured, but there's also weight that your words carry. You can measure the depth of a hole, but what about depth of color? These are immeasurable states.
- That movie has a story with a lot of weight.
You can't weigh the heaviness of story, but you know a heavy story when you hear one.
- Maeda has a lot of warmth to her, don't you think?
This is a figurative warmth that is immeasurable, but we can all agree it exists. It's something you feel, so the adjective takes 〜み instead of 〜さ.
- Cooperating with other people is Nakagawa's strength.
Nakagawa's strength can't be measured in this instance—it's not physical. But we can feel when someone has an ability to do something we can't, even if it can't be placed on a scale.
The above examples, while immeasurable, also depend on personal perspective—they're subjective. Maybe to some people Maeda seems like a cold person. Maybe others would think that the movie's story is light and breezy. It depends on how you feel. Immeasurable things take personal perspective and feeling to fully grasp, and so these two aspects of み nouns tend to blend together.
When you are talking about a flavor or taste as something subjective, use 〜み to turn it into a noun, and use 〜さ when you're talking about how sweet/spicy/salty something is as objectively measurable information. In both cases, you can use the kanji 味 (flavor) in place of 〜み.
- The spiciness of the soup is just right!
- The spiciness of this soup is sophisticated.
In the first example sentence, we are telling the listener whether or not the spiciness of the soup is okay for everyone who will eat the soup, not only for us. So you should choose 辛さ to state your judgement of the spiciness of the soup as an objective information. On the other hand, we are describing our own opinion about the spiciness of the soup in the second sentence. So 辛味 is more suitable.
Similarly, colors often take 〜み when referring to the color of food.
- Apples that have a deep, red color are delicious.
み Noun Cheat Sheet
Now that you've learned a bit more about how to use み nouns, check out this table that lays out many of the み nouns available. This isn't all there is, but considering how few み nouns there are total, this is a majority. Studying this table will give you a good idea of what is possible when it comes to み nouns, and then you'll be better able to choose when to use them.