な adjective question

I’m aware of the difference among adjectives and their general use and conjugation, but am seeing mixed things regarding な adjectives in the past tense. Specifically, when the adjective precedes a noun. Maybe examples are better:

彼は変な人です。He is a weird person.

彼は変な人でした。He was a weird person (?)

彼は変だった人です。He was a weird person (?)

彼は変だった人でした。He was a weird person (?)

Are all of these grammatically correct? My biggest question involves the change from な to だった. If not grammatically correct, which ones aren’t? And if they are correct, what are the differences among them and which is most common?


I’m just guessing here since I’ve never heard it but I’d assume that
is incorrect.

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Well, it doesn’t count for much as I’m still only a beginner myself, but while I’ve seen the first two constructions a lot, I’ve never ever yet seen the last two…

They’re all grammatically correct but they mean different things.
彼は変な人です。He is a weird person.

彼は変な人でした。He was a weird person

彼は変だった人です。He is a person who was weird

彼は変だった人でした。He was a person who was weird



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First things first: it’s not wrong to use the past tense form of a な-adjective to modify a noun. This Japanese site on Japanese grammar provides the following examples of how な-adjectives can be used as modifiers:

【A】 新鮮な 野菜を買う。 (連体修飾語)To buy fresh vegetables.

【B】 新鮮だっ た 野菜が腐る。 (連体修飾語)The formerly fresh vegetables will rot.

【C】 子どもが 元気に 遊ぶ。 (連用修飾語)

【D】 子どもは 元気な ほど よい。 (連用修飾語)

Examples A and B clearly show us that both the present tense and past tense forms of な-adjectives are valid modifiers. Also, it is possible to use な-adjective in the past tense in conjunction with a verb in the past tense in order to express a change of state that occurred in the past. For example, we have this article from the Asahi Shimbun:

It contains the following sentence:

Literal translation: There are reasons for which the five rings, beloved in my childhood, became hated.
Idiomatic translation: There are reasons for which I came to hate the five rings I loved in my childhood.

As such, on the surface, I think that all four of your sentences are grammatically possible. (@Leebo, I think your original parsing attempts might also have been correct in that case.) However, the problem here is that we’re looking at a な-adjective and だ・である・です, which doesn’t behave like a typical verb semantically (i.e. in terms of meaning) because all it does is state that something was true or wasn’t true at a particular point. That means that it adds nothing to the information provided by the original な-adjective. As a result, I think sentences #3 and #4 are unnatural, because there’s no reason to phrase things that way: in both sentences #3 and #4, the な-adjective is in the past tense, which tells us that the person ‘was strange’. In that case, what does it matter when he ‘is/was such a person’? For that matter, I think it makes much more sense to think of ‘strange person’ as a single unit, in which case, choosing the ‘simplest’ structure is probably the most natural solution: 変な人でした simply tells us that he was ‘a strange person’ at some point in the past, and that he might not be strange anymore. It contains just as much information as ‘he is a person who was strange in the past’ and ‘he was a person who was strange in the past’ while being much less verbose. Therefore, it makes no sense to use #3 or #4, even if they’re not grammatically wrong.

(If that wasn’t clear, here’s the short version: if you already know the person ‘was weird in the past’, then do you really need to add the words ‘is/was such a person’? Does that provide the reader additional useful information? I think not: if someone ‘was weird’ in 2017, then he ‘was a person who was weird’ in 2018, and ‘is a person who was weird (in 2017)’ right now in 2021. #3 and #4 are grammatically correct, but needlessly complicated because they convey exactly the same information.)

For proof, you can refer to this page in Japanese that contains answers to language questions from… readers of the site, I presume. One reader asks if there’s any context in which「立派だったです」would be acceptable, which I feel is quite similar to your question. The answer given is summed up in its last paragraph:

For now, I treat「美味しいでした。」and「立派だったです。」as no-gos. If you ask why I treat them that way, there is no reason in particular for that, and one can only say that it’s the intuition of a native speaker of Japanese.


Welcome to Japanese, where adjectives conjugate as well as verbs!


As I said in my post, that was my first impression, but then the first native I asked was like “what?” to the 3rd and 4th sentences, and so I figured I’ll just scrap it for now since I was about to get on the train and wouldn’t be able to research it in more depth.

It’s likely, as you noted, that those sentences are grammatical but strange.


Kinda a related question but what’s the difference between these four sentences?

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I’ve heard stuff like

I’ve done lots of immersion and ◯◯だった◯◯でした just sounded off to me but I couldn’t explain what it was. Jonapedia put it very eloquently.


I guess if we have a time machine then it was only strange in a different timeline, but now the past is altered so

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To add a little more to this, the reason アッー!そうだったんですか? might seem a little strange is because it does a couple of things:

  • the ん is a truncated form used for emphasis (and in the case of a question, to emphasize the need for explanation)
  • the sentence refers to the past (hence, そうだった)
  • です is used to maintain politeness

In the present it would look like this:
However, the below wouldn’t make much sense, I think:

So the form ◯◯だった◯◯でした would really depend on the context. In the original examples だった is used as a noun qualifier so that works :slight_smile: .


This is just my attempt, but I’m not extremely sure because I have to say that Japanese tenses still confound me to a certain extent. (I’ve done some reading, including one academic paper on ている and た, but I’ve never had a detailed summary from a single authoritative source that compared all the Japanese tenses and linked them to tenses in other languages, so I’m still a little unsure. In contrast, in French or in English, I can list uses for each tense and explain exactly what each means. Simply put, I know some things about Japanese tenses, but my knowledge is kinda fragmented and mostly based on experience, feel and analogies with English, so I don’t feel confident in saying ‘I’m right’ because I don’t know if my original sources were right to begin with. You see what I mean?) Anyway, so…

①Are there words you’ve heard from the/a person you like that made you happy?
②Are there words that would/will make you happy if you heard/hear them from the/a person you like?
③Were there words you’d heard from the/a person you liked that made you happy?
④Were there words that would have made you happy if you had heard them from the/a person you liked?

I really should go and read another paper on tenses or something, or perhaps I should dig up that old paper and read it again as revision, but if I remember correctly, the issue with Japanese tenses is that they have a different reference point from English tenses: in English, when the speaker is speaking determines everything. On the other hand, in Japanese, it’s the perspective of the person perceiving each action that matters. That’s why (this was an example raised in that paper, which I don’t really remember because I read it a few months ago) in old Japanese stories about the Buddha, you notice that even though everything happened in the past, not everything is written in the past tense. That also explains why it’s natural to keep 好きな in the present tense: at the time at which the person spoke, that person was liked/loved by you. The ‘liking’ was still taking place at that point, so you can’t use 好きだった人.

I agree with almost everything you said, but I don’t see why this sentence sounds weird. It’s definitely natural if you’re asking a question about something (generally surprising) that happened in the past.

I think the reason this is uncommon or strange is that in conversation, のだ・のです always uses だ・である・です in the present tense. The reason for that is that this is a structure used for emphasis with regard to what is currently being discussed, meaning that the matter being considered (nominalised by の) is presently relevant.

However, apparently 〜たのだった does exist, but with a slightly different nuance: aside from the N2 grammar structure のだった that is used to express regret (I’m labelling it as N2 because that’s how it comes up on JLPT sites), のだった is more generally used to explain a situation with a rather moved tone. It’s generally used in writing, and doesn’t appear much in speech. That means that「そうだったんでしたか?」is probably possible, but it would sound quite serious, and most probably be a response to a statement from someone else that already ended in のでした. That’s what I think.


I’d like to ask for some clarification of the meaning of each sentence.

The first is clear.

The second where the verb is in past tense, would that mean that the person is no more, meaning he no longer exists? Because the verb is in past tense?

The third sentence the adjective is in past tense, so would that be used in the sense that he was weird but is no longer weird?

Or could the second and third sentence be used and understood to be interchangeable?

Me, someone who studies Latin…


I think this can be explained in the frame of what @Jonapedia set up with the time vs narrative reference, which I just now realized is also present in the timeline order of sentence clauses when using 時 as “when” (clause A + (の/な)時, clause B).

彼は変な人でした。 means that our recollection from the current time refers to the past. We remember the person as being strange, but we don’t know how he is now. He might be dead, he might be alive. The sentence doesn’t provide enough context by itself.

彼は変だった人です。 To me this would mean that he “used to be” a weird person, but we’re describing the person from our current perspective.

I think there is a slight difference in the nuance between sentence 2 and 3:
sentence 2 - we don’t know whether the person still is weird. We only know of his past self.
sentence 3 - we know he used to be weird. That was his quality as a person, but we inspect him from our current perspective.

sentence 3 would be similar to this one:
彼は自転車に乗っていた人です。 He is a person who used to ride a bike.
That defines him from our current perspective.


Nope. It wouldn’t. As for why: because です・だ・である in Japanese – unlike ‘to be’ in English – is not an existence verb. It just tells you whether or not something is true, or whether or not something is something else. It’s like a ‘truth value’ more than anything else. Could it be used for a dead person? Yes. However, it could be used for a living person as well! All the sentence says is

[He] was [a weird person]

‘Was’ here is like an equal sign or an arrow. So too is でした.

I personally think that sentences #2 and #3 are almost the same thing, and that sentence #2 is more natural (as I said above) and should be preferred. However, I agree with @AndyMender’s assessment that sentence #3 more strongly implies that the weirdness is now over, because the weirdness is explicitly classified as a past quality.


Thank you for that explanation. I often forget that です isn’t exactly the same as English’s state of being verb.

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