Making sense of な- adjectives and の- adjectives : Two adjectives that you have been using unknowingly ever since you started studying Japanese. As usual, we can’t fit everything in one blog but we’ll try our best to give you an understanding of na- adjectives and no- adjectives.
Compare and contrast
Like what we mentioned above, both na-adjectives and no-adjectives are part of the basics that you learn when studying Japanese. Most of the readers today will probably think about how they’ve learned or at least heard of na- adjectives alongside ii-adjectives but have never heard of no –adjectives before. Yes, you heard us, we said –adjectives. We are sure that you have heard of and are quite familiar with な- adjectives but unknowingly, you’ve been using no-adjectives since you started studying the basics of Japanese! Does 女の子 (onna no ko: girl) ring a bell? Well, we’ll talk more about both na-adjectives and no-adjectives below along with a few examples to help you out so get ready and buckle up boys and girls!
When learning Japanese adjectives, you are usually introduced to ii-adjectives and na-adjectives. Ii-adjectives are quite self explanatory as these words modify a noun and end with ii. Na-adjectives however, do not end with an -ii and it essentially acts as a noun as conjugation rules for both are the same. Also, na-adjectives can directly modify a noun by attaching な(na) between the adjective and the noun. Here is an example.
不思議 (fushigi: mysterious) + な (na )+ 本(hon: book) = 不思議な本 (fushigi na hon: mysterious book)
As you can see from the example above, the noun you are trying to describe or modify is found after な (na ) and the noun before な (na ) describes or modifies the noun found after that. Never forget the na between your adjective and noun! Here are a few more sentence examples.
必要 (hitsuyou: important) + な (na )+ 手紙(tegami: letter) = 必要な手紙（hitsuyou na tegami: important/necessary letter)
きれい (kirei: beautiful) + な (na )+ 花 (hana: flower) = きれいな花 (kirei na hana: beautiful flower)
好き (suki: like) + な (na ) + テレビ番組 (terebi bangumi: tv show) = 好きなテレビ番組 (suki na terebi bangumi: TV show that I like)
大変 (taihen: hard) + な (na ) + 仕事(shigoto: work) = 大変な仕事（taihen na shigoto: hard/difficult work)
Contrary to na-adjectives, the term no-adjectives isn’t all too popular so there is a possibility that you might not have even heard of it before this blog! But like what we mentioned earlier, no-adjectives are actually quite commonly used even from a beginners level of Japanese learning. Before we talk about it’s function in this context, let’s talk about how the particle の is used. It is used to express possession and expression of the relationship of 2 or more nouns. Also remember that no-adjectives are used to describe or modify a noun. Based on these, you can already have an idea on how no-adjectives work.
To summarize no-adjectives, similarly to na-adjectives are adjectival nouns. This is where a noun is used as an adjective by placing the の particle after it. Let’s look at the example I gave you earlier.
女 (onna：female）＋ の（no）＋子（ko：child）= 女の人 (onna no hito：girl)
Looking at the structure above, the noun you are trying to describe or modify is found after の（no）and the noun before の（no）describes or modifies the noun found after that. Let’s look at a few more examples.
私（watashi: me）＋ の (no) ＋ ペン (pen) = 私のペン（watashi no pen: my pen)
世界中(sekai juu: worldwide)＋ の (no) ＋デザイン (dezain: design) =世界中のデザイン (sekai juu no dezain: worldwide design)
最初（saisho: first) + の (no)＋写真(shashin: photo) = 最初の写真(saisho no shashin: first photo)
本当 (hontou: real + の (no)＋気持ち(kimochi: feelings) = 本当の気持ち（hontou no kimochi: real feelings)
Looking at the examples above, I’m pretty sure anyone who’s reading this blog suddenly had that “Aha!” moment. It’s not complicated at all and you have probably been using it way before reading this blog.
Some common ground
Yes, you heard that right. There are some adjectives that can use な OR の. Of course, they have the same function as they are both adjectives but do keep in mind how there might be some subtle change in meaning for a few words. Also, keep in mind that in some cases, one of the other (な OR の) may be more frequently used with certain words compared to the other. Let’s look at an example below.
Ano hito wa yumei da to omotta kedo futsuu no hito da yo.
I thought that person was famous but he was just an ordinary person.I thought that person was famous but he was just an ordinary person.
普通（futsuu：ordinary) + の (no)＋ひと日（hito：person) = 普通の人 (futsuu no hito: Ordinary person)
The word 普通(futsuu) here is used more in a labeled, categorized or generalized description of the noun. In the speakers head, people are categorized as famous or ordinary and in this case, the person was labeled as an ordinary person based on their category and not based on his personality.
Abi san no kareshi wa futsuu na hito desu yo.
Abis boyfriend is a normal person.
普通（futsuu：ordinary) + な (na )＋人（hito: person) = 普通な人 (futsuu na hito: Ordinary person)
Futsuu here followed by na, however, is more of a specific description of his personality. There is no category and mainly answers more about the persons character.
There are many adjectives out there that are compatible with either な OR の so make sure you try and compile a list so you don’t get confused and always remember to be careful about subtle changes in meanings.