Quality over Quantity: Turning Japanese Adjectives into Nouns by Using み :Welcome to the wonderful world of Japanese learning! Boy, do we have an intriguing grammar point for you today! We’re going to learn how to convey the quality (versus quantity) of something by adding み (mi) to the end of i-adjectives. Strap on your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

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Turning Japanese Adjectives into Nouns by Using み

Adding み (mi) to the end of Japanese iadjectives follows roughly the same rules as adding さ (sa). Both of them turn Japanese i-adjectives into nouns; however, the meaning changes depending on which one you use. Adding さ conveys the quantity of the noun that is objective (i.e. not up for debate). Adding み, on the other hand, conveys the quality of the noun, which is subjective (i.e. up for debate). 

Before we begin with a more in-depth explanation of the differences between adding み versus さ, let’s review some common Japanese iadjectives associated with the suffix み.  

Japanese I-Adjective Review

As opposed to さ, み is only used in a limited amount of situations. Here are a few common Japanese iadjectives associated with adding み.

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
楽しいtanoshiifun
悲しいkanashiisad
痛いitaipainful
苦しいkurushiistrenuous
旨いumaiflavorful

Example sentences:

ゲームセンターはとても楽しかった!
Geemu sentaa wa totemo tanoshikatta!
The arcade was really fun!
1日12時間の仕事は苦しいよ!
Ichi-nichi juuni-jikan no shigoto wa kurushii yo!
Working twelve hours a day is really strenuous!

Working twelve hours a day is really strenuous!

Adding さ to I-Adjectives to Convey Quantity

As you may have learned, adding さ to an iadjective turns it into a noun. Think of it like adding “-ness” to an adjective in English (e.g. tasty  ➝ tastiness, sweet ➝ sweetness). In order to add さ to an iadjective, you simply remove the final hiragana character い (i) and replace it with さ. The meaning of the resulting noun refers to the objective quantity of the noun. Take a look at the table below and see how the meaning changes.

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
楽し  ➝ 楽しさtanoshii  ➝ tanoshisafun  ➝ (amount of) fun
悲し  ➝ 悲しさkanashii  ➝ kanashisasad  ➝ (amount of) sadness
  ➝ 痛さitai  ➝ itasapainful  ➝ (amount of) pain
苦し  ➝ 苦しさkurushii  ➝ kurushisa strenuous  ➝ (amount of) strain
  ➝ 旨さumai  ➝ umasaflavorful  ➝ (amount of) flavor

Take a look at the examples below to see how adding さ conveys objective quantity.

先生は日本語の楽しさを子供に教えました。
Sensei wa nihongo no tanoshisa wo kodomo ni oshiemashita.
The teacher taught the kids the fun of Japanese.
[Lit. “The teacher taught the kids the amount of fun they could experience (e.g. dancing and singing “Ohayou Gozaimasu” songs) through learning Japanese.]
彼女は悲しさを隠す為に笑いました。
Kanojo wa kanashisa wo kakusu tame ni waraimashita.
She laughed in order to hide her sadness.
[Lit. “She laughed in order to hide the degree of sadness apparent on her face.”]
痛さは1から10までを選んでください。
Itasa wa ichi kara juu made wo erande kudasai.
On a scale of 1-10, how much pain are you in?
[Lit. “On a scale of 1-10, what is the amount of pain that you feel?]

Do you see now how adding さ conveys a sense of objective quantity or amount?

Adding み to I-Adjectives to Convey Quality

Now that we have seen how adding さ to i-adjectives conveys quantity, it’s now time to add み to iadjectives in order to convey a subjective quality.

When talking about quantity, we have data, objective evidence, and common sense to back up our statements. However, when talking about quality, we have nothing but our own personal opinions. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure is a human phenomenon, and the way to explain why you view this man’s trash as a treasure is through adding the suffix み to your i-adjectives

In the table below, we will take the same i-adjectives from above and add み to the end instead of さ. Watch how the meaning changes.

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
楽し  ➝ 楽しみtanoshisa  ➝ tanoshimi(amount of) fun  ➝ (quality of) fun
悲し  ➝ 悲しみkanashisa  ➝ kanashimi(amount of) sadness  ➝ (depth of) sadness
  ➝ 痛みitasa  ➝ itami(amount of) pain  ➝ (depth of) pain
苦し  ➝ 苦しみkurushisa  ➝ kurushimi (amount of) strain  ➝ (depth of) strain
  ➝ 旨みumasa  ➝ umami(amount of) flavor  ➝ (quality of) flavor

Take a look at the examples below to see how adding み conveys subjective quality.

また今度会うのを楽しみにしています!
Mata kondo au no wo tanoshimi ni shite imasu!
I’m looking forward to meeting you again!
[Lit. “I feel that meeting you again will be good quality fun!”]
お父さんが亡くなって心から悲しみです。
Otoosan ga inakunatte kokoro kara kanashimi desu.
I feel your father’s death from the bottom of my heart.
[Lit. “Your father died, and there is a deep sadness in my heart.”]
背中の痛みは苦しいです。
Senaka no itami wa kurushii desu.
The pain in my back is really unbearable.
[Lit. “On my personal scale, the depth of pain I experience in my back is at “unbearable.”]
味噌は素材の旨味を引き出します。
Miso wa sozai no umami wo hiki dashimasu.
The miso brings out the flavor of the ingredients.
[Lit. “The miso brings out the succulent flavor (well, in my opinion, anyway) of the ingredients.”]

Do you see now how adding み conveys a subjective sense of quality or depth?

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Summary

In summary, adding さ or み to the end of i-adjectives turns them into nouns. Adding さ indicates an objective quantity or amount. Adding み, on the other hand, indicates a subjective sense of quality or depth.

So, which do you use, み or さ? With advanced grammar points such as this, there is no definitive answer, and even native Japanese speakers debate on their correct usage. 

So? What can you do?? 

Well, you can get out there and practice for starters! Conjugate an i-adjective with your Japanese speaking partner and see if it works. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, you’ll learn a great lesson that you can add to your arsenal of Japanese language mastery.

Get out there and practice, practice, practice!

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