It's widely claimed that Japanese and Korean have very similar grammars despite their differences in (non Chinese-derived) lexicon.

Whether they're actually genetically related can be regarded as an open question though the consensus has them in separate families but recognizes at least a strong Sprachbund.

In assessing the extent of the similarities and differences I'm interested in Korean's adjectives.

In the case of Japanese there is a class of adjectives that behave like nouns, they are called "-na adjectives". The second class of Japanese adjectives conjugate very much verbs and are called "-i adjectives".

Is there a similar division in the adjective system of Korean, or is this one of the differences between the two grammars?

  • I have an answer written and ready to post but I'm little unsure of what you mean by "behave like nouns". Can you provide a few examples of each type of verb? That way I can check that my answer really does address your question.
    – acattle
    Apr 4, 2014 at 2:52
  • @acattle: Japanese verbs have complicated agglutinating morphology, lots of inflection. -i adjectives follow those patterns to a large degree. Japanese nouns have no inflection and rely on syntax, particles, etc, to express their role in a phrase or sentence. -na adjectives are much like this but take a -na ending or particle when they are positioned before a noun as a qualifier. I'm not an expert but the first hit when I googled "Japanese na adjective" gives a good intro and even says "Very often -na adjectives actually act like nouns!". Apr 4, 2014 at 3:03
  • I get the feeling but don't know for sure that -i adjectives are native Japanese words (or mimic their pattern) and -na adjectives are from borrowed Chinese words and consist mostly of two characters / morphemes with "on" readings. Apr 4, 2014 at 3:13
  • One easy way is to look at making negative and past forms. -i adjectives take the negative and/or past endings directly. -na adjectives require a copula (です/だ) in the negative and/or past form. Apr 4, 2014 at 3:30

1 Answer 1


I'm still not entirely sure if I'm understanding -na-type adjectives correctly, but I figured I'd give you an overview of Korean adjectives. I suspect that Korean does have the -na-type adjectives you want but I think they also have -na-type verbs too.

Both adjectives and verbs in Korean inflect in almost identical ways. Both take sentence-ending inflections (such as the formal (ㅂ/습)니다, less formal (아/어)요, etc) and tense inflections (such as the past tense 았/었). Compare the verb 가다 (to go) to the adjective 크다 (to be large):

갑니다 (go, formal)
크나다 (big, formal)

가요 (go, casual)
커요 (big, casual)

갔어요 (went)
컸어요 (was big)

Both adjectives and verbs can inflect as noun modifiers but use slightly different particles. Adjectives use ㄴ/은 for both past and present. Verbs also use ㄴ/은 for past, but use 은/는 for present.

가는 사람 (the person who is going)
큰 사람 (the person is/was large)

간 사람 (the person who went)
큰 사람 (the person who is/was large)

I believe they use the same for future:

갈 사람 (the person who will go)
클 사람 (the person who will be large, although semantically this seems weird)

Furthermore, both Korean verbs and adjectives can use the X + do construction. Usually the X is a noun derived from Sino-Korean vocabulary. 노래 (song) + 하다 (to do) = 노래하다 (to sing). Similarly, (strength/health) + 하다 = 강하다 (strong). However, even when using this construction they still use their respective noun modifier inflections:

노래*하는* 사라 (the person who is singing)
강** 사람 (the person who is strong)

The only way I can think of to treat an adjective as a noun is using ㄴ/은 것 (literally a noun modifier + thing ). Verbs also follow the same pattern:

강한 것 (the strong thing but I believe being strong is also possible)
노래하는 것을 좋아해요 (I like singing, literally I like the singing thing)

  • x + do or do + x is very common across many unrelated languages: Spanish hacer + x, Turkish x + etmek, etc. Apr 4, 2014 at 3:27
  • Because Korean has verbs/adjectives that don't use the X + do construction and verbs/adjectives that do, I just wanted to show that both types follow the same rules.
    – acattle
    Apr 4, 2014 at 3:34
  • Even though Japanese and Korean have very similar grammars they have very different traditions for teaching materials as in phrasebooks, intros, grammar outlines, etc. So it's proving difficult to find stuff about nounish adjectives still even with the info you've provided ... What happens with Korean adjectives which are old loanwords from Chinese? Apr 4, 2014 at 3:36
  • AHA! It seems there are Korean adjectives that require 하다, so these may be the equivalent. I don't believe Japanese has adjectives which take する. If the Korean 하다 adjectives are mostly Sino Korean that would strongly support this hypothesis I think. Armed with this new idea a Google search quickly found a blog post introducing four types of Korean adjectives: guwonja.blogspot.jp/p/blog-page.html Apr 4, 2014 at 3:44
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    @hippietrail Glad I could at least point you in the right direction. I think it's worthwhile to reiterate that verbs can (and very often do) use the 하다 construction as well. In fact, one of the big challenges when learning vocabulary was figuring out what was a verb and what was an adjective since they that different "noun modifier" particles. There's no easy way to tell just from looking at the dictionary form.
    – acattle
    Apr 5, 2014 at 17:26

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