Difference between 大 and 大きい

Hey, i’m currently fighting with understanding what is the difference between 大 and 大きい. I kinda understand that 大きい is 大 in adjective form, but since 大 is already an adjective i’m really confused. Sorry if the topic has already been created, but i can’t find the answer anywhere.

Thank you !

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It’s not an adjective on its own. 大 is a kanji that represents a concept of big/large.

大きい、大いに、大きな erc are vocabulary words that use that kanji.


You can use (だい) as a prefix for many words that add the meaning of “large” to that word, but it’s not really a word on it’s own, or an adjective even, at least from a grammatical point of view, regardless of how it translates into English. (おお)きい is a separate word on its own, and is an い-adjective.


So if i understand it correctly, doest it mean that for example 山 is just a concept of a mountain and it also happens to be a noun ?

Yes, in the case of 山, the kanji is a representation of the concept “mountain” and it is also the way to write the word “mountain.”

Think of Kanji like parts of words. Some parts of words can also be words on their own while others can’t. For example, in English, “eatery” is a word (meaning restauarant) with the parts “eat” and “ery.” The part “eat” is also a word on its own but not “ery.” It just depends on the Kanji.

Probably the best rough analogy I have seen is that Kanji are to Japanese words what Greek/Latin/etc. roots are to English words. For “eatery,” the suffix “ery” part actually comes from the Latin word “arius.” If we lived in a world where Greek/Latin/German used Kanji, then “eatery” would probably be a jukugo word made up of the kanji for “essen” (German word for eat which the English word derives from) and “arius.”


やま is the word for “mountain”, and you can represent it with the kanji 山. But the kanji itself can be used as a building block for other words without it being a word on its own. Many simple nouns can be represented with a single kanji.

And actually, if you see 大 alone, it’s probably more likely to be a noun meaning “a large (serving)”, as in when you order ramen or udon, etc.

Yes, you see 山 in, for example, 火山 (かざん), which means volcano. The concept of mountain is there but the meaning of mountain itself, isn’t.

Isn’t that just an abbreviation for 大盛, in the same way you can use L as an abbreviation for “Large”?

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I might just be overthinking it. If i said that kanji is a concept that is used to create words and in some cases the word can be the kanji itself, am i right ?

Maybe if you said おお I might say it’s an abbreviation. But you say だい. It’s listed in its own in the dictionary (shrug)

Well, it could be, but you could replace 盛 with practically anything else and it would still function. At least, that’s how it works in Mandarin. 小、中、大. Small, medium, large. I don’t know if Japanese handles them in the same way, but these ‘size’ kanji just refer to a particular size within a given category or type. As 大辞林 puts it in one of だい’s definitions:
③ 大小があるもののうち,大きいほうのもの。「生ビールの―」

Uh… I think that, especially in the case of Japanese, which adopted kanji independently later on… it’s more like… words exist. Some words can be represented by single kanji. Some words are represented by multiple kanji even though they express a single concept, like 今日 (one word, two kanji). At the same time, because kanji are such a common way of representing words now, sometimes, things go in reverse: kanji can be combined to form new concepts, and each kanji’s reading becomes part of the new word.

To put it another way, especially in the case of Japanese… kanji and words exist separately. They just happen to be associated, usually on the basis of meaning, and sometimes on the basis of sound.

I’d say it’s more like… 山 is a picture/diagram/symbol for ‘mountain’ as a concept. It can also be used to represent ‘mountain’ as a standalone word, and in that case, it’s read やま. やま is the word and sound, 山 is the symbol, and ‘mountain’ is the concept and meaning.

Separately, kanji themselves (in Japanese, at least) don’t have grammatical categories of their own. They just represent meanings, and occasionally specific sounds based on common pronunciations.

I feel like I understand now. Thank you all very much !


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