Using 〜にくい for "Difficult to..."

    • Verb
    〜にくい is derived from an obsolete adjective 難い (difficult). It is used to describe the difficulty or hardship of doing something or achieving something, like we say “difficult to do something.”

    Table of Contents

    What Is にくい?

    Derived from the obsolete adjective 難いにく  (difficult), 〜にくい is used to describe the difficulty of an action or achievement, in much the same way that we might say "difficult to do something" in English. To express the opposite, the ease of doing something, we have 〜やすい, which is derived from the adjective 易いやす  (easy).

    〜にくい expresses the difficulty of doing something as a characteristic of whatever you're talking about, rather than a characteristic of the person who is doing the action. For example, when you say "このフォークは使いにくい," it suggests "This fork is difficult to use (because it has a weird shape)," but not "This fork is difficult to use (because I am terrible at using forks)."

    にくい for Physical and Psychological Difficulty

    〜にくい can be used for both physical and psychological difficulty. First, let's take a look at an example of physical difficulty:

    • このフォークは使いにくい。
    • This fork is difficult to use.

    Maybe the fork is weirdly shaped or is made of soft material that makes it difficult for you to use. Now let's look at an example that shows psychological difficulty:

    • このフォークは使いにくい。
    • This fork is difficult to use.

    Ha! These two examples look… and they are identical. Because the sentences didn't come with any context, how we interpret them is totally up to us. So what could be the psychological difficulty of using this fork? Maybe earlier you saw the fork being licked by your mom (eww!), or maybe it's the fork you and your ex picked out together and has so much emotional value that just looking at it makes you cry (aww).

    にくい for Tolerance and Unlikeliness

    Since 〜にくい states the difficulty as an attribute of whatever we're talking about, it can be used to describe someone's tolerance, or the unlikeliness that someone will do something, often related to something innate about that person. When 〜にくい is used this way, the English translation is usually something like "Y doesn't X easily." Let's take a look at an example:

    • 私の姉は車酔いしにくい。
    • My older sister doesn't get car sick easily.

    This would literally translate to "My older sister is difficult to get car sick," indicating that the person's sister has tolerance against getting car sick.

    にくい for Modifying Nouns

    Again, the main mission of 〜にくい is to describe an attribute of whatever you're talking about. Since it was originally derived from the adjective 難いにく , this form also behaves like an adjective. Therefore, oftentimes, you will see this 〜にくい modifying nouns just like adjectives do (and it is useful to be able to use it in this way!).

    For example, you can say things like:

    • 使いにくいフォーク
    • a fork that's difficult to use
    • 歩きにくい靴
    • a pair of shoes that are difficult to walk with

    がたい For Non-Physical Difficulty

    Earlier, I mentioned 〜にくい came from the obsolete adjective 難いにく  (difficult). As you may know, the same kanji is used for a very common adjective that means "difficult" — むずかしい. There is yet another way of reading 難い, which is がたい. Just like 〜にくい, 〜がたい can be paired up with a verb to show the difficulty of doing something. However, 〜がたい is often used in writing and has a stiff feeling to it. It is also only used with certain non-physical action verbs as idiomatic expressions. For example, paired up with 信じる (to believe), you can say:

    • そのニュースは信じがたい。
    • The news is difficult to believe.

    Other Forms of にくい

    〜にくい is added to the end of the Verb Stem Form. 使い is the stem form of 使う, for example.

    〜にくい itself conjugates just like い-adjectives, since the origin of 〜にくい is the い-adjective 難いにく .

    Form 日本語 English
    Plain Polite
    Present Form 使いにく 使いにくいです is difficult to use
    Negative Form 使いにくくない 使いにくくないです is not difficult to use
    Past Form 使いにくかった 使いにくかったです was difficult to use
    く Form 使いにく in a way that is difficult to use
    て Form 使いにくくて difficult to use, (and)
    Conditional Form 使いにくければ if difficult to use...
    Measurable Noun Form 使いにく user-unfriendliness