How is 下手 a noun?

I’m sorry, maybe I’ve been studying too long (or I’m just this dumb). But I am struggling here …

how is 下手 a noun…? “unskillful, poor, awkward” all definitely sound like adjectives or adverbs.


If you check a dictionary like, you’ll find that there are more meanings than WaniKani itself teaches. For example, it can be the lower part of something.


へた is a noun not because of other ways you can read the same kanji, but because it can also refer to the person who is unskilled

EDIT: heta can be used in the way I described as a noun, but I forgot the whole na adjective noun thing



This is the first definition of 下手. You can tell it’s a noun definition because it ends in こと.

So yes, technically the English definitions could include such nouns as “unskillfulness.”

Checking how it’s actually defined in monolingual dictionaries will be more illuminating than just looking at the English glosses, which can be very different. The English glosses have more to do with how a word typically gets translated rather than strictly sticking to its grammatical role in the original language.


Japanese doesn’t really have proper adjectives, only nouns that can be used similar to adjectives and verbs that mean “to be X”, that are like adjectives. This is of the former category. It’s a lot like saying “he’s an amateur”


I just went back and realized that Leebo already said the same thing.

Never mind

That’s one of the pitfalls of using JP → (your language) dictionaries.
Take a look at this definition:

  1. うまくいかないこと。
  2. じょうずでないこと。

[ 例 ] ぼくは字が下手だ


Just as one person can have different jobs at different periods of life, the same idea can have different grammatical roles across different languages.

So you get something like this:

  • A given idea can work as an adjective in one language, but as a noun in another language.
  • A given idea can work as a verb in one language, but as an adjective in another language.

I would guess that the more distance between two given languages (in this case, think of the distance between Japanese and English, and compare that to the distance between Spanish and English, which is smaller), the more likely it is that the same idea has different grammatical roles. :thinking:


From what I’ve studied so far, Japanese is a much more noun-centric language than it might appear. Many words in Japanese are technically nouns, it’s just that nouns are very versatile in the language. As an example, any word categorized as a “na adjective” (like 下手) or “no adjective” is actually just a noun - it’s just a certain kind of noun that can take on a descriptive role when attached to another noun with な or の. But adjectival nouns are still nouns after all, so they can be used as standalone nouns in sentences as well.

As for why WK gives words like these definitions that make them seem like adjectives, my guess is that it’s just to make it easier for English speakers to wrap their heads around the concept of adjectival nouns. Or maybe some adjectival nouns are more commonly used in adjectival ways instead of as standalone nouns, so maybe it makes at least some sense from a practical standpoint to give them adjectival English meanings? :woman_shrugging:


That’s been rumored to have happened before.

When it does, it can help to realize that @Leebo is actually an artificial intelligence running on a vast array of underground computers in a bunker somewhere, consuming gigajoules of energy, and wired deep into the Wanikani API. It’s aware of every reply as they are being composed, before they are submitted, 24/7.

It can be startlingly human but the raw speed and intelligence displayed invariably gives it away.


This is really well put.

It’s also why I’m trying to use monolingual Japanese dictionaries more, and why I’m trying to use Japanese grammatical terms rather than English ones as much as possible in my studies. Japanese dictionaries label 「下手(へた)」as 名詞(めいし)形容(けいよう)ダ (“noun” or da-type adjective)

The concept of 名詞 appears to be subtly different from the concept behind the English word “noun”. There is a clue in the kanji behind the word itself: it’s a part of speech that names or is named. That can be a state as easily as an object. Similarly, 形容詞(けいようし) aren’t exactly “adjectives”, they appear to be parts of speech that cause other things to “take the form of” something.

This contrasts with 動詞 which are parts of speech that do (move or change) something.

Japanese grammar confuses beginners like myself when we try to apply western grammatical concepts, especially since particles so often change the function of a word.


So you mean it’s exactly like in English? :stuck_out_tongue: Noun comes from the french and latin word that means “name”. And in romance languages, noun and name are still the same word.


I know you’re teasing, but I literally mean that 名詞(めいし) act like 名詞. This may or may not be how “nouns” behave. It helps me to think of them as distinct things in my head. I’m a big fan of “thinking in Japanese” (if nothing else, it makes clarifying conversation with natives easier).

This particular part of speech may not be the best example, but trying to apply “adjective” and “adverb”, for example, to Japanese can cause some unnecessary mental gymnastics.

I don’t get it. How are 形容詞 not “proper” adjectives? Are English adjectives “proper” adjectives? Because they work pretty much the same other than the fact that English doesn’t do inflections the same way Japanese does.

形容動詞 may be more noun-like than 形容詞, but they still aren’t the same as nouns. A key aspect of adjectives in English is that they can be used to describe a noun or modify a noun (e.g. “the car is red” and “the red car”). Japanese works the same for 形容詞 (e.g. 車が赤い and 赤い車) and for 形容動詞 (e.g. 車がきれい and きれいな車). So what’s the difference exactly?


I think I agree with you here. You could make an argument for na-adjectives maybes, but い adjectives seem to me to have a truly attributive function as in 青い家が好きだってばよ, where “blue” truly attributes to a house in the way a standard adjective does.

Depending on how you think of na-adjectives you could argue they technically they always function like nouns and are just used as “relative clauses”. That is technically 静かな猿 is a “relative clause” in some people’s opinion, since な is just the copula だ in the form that appears before nouns. Maybe in the fragment 静かだった猿, the more “noun-like” nature of a na-adjecitve is apparent.

All that said, I don’t even prefer to call this a relative clause (there is no relative pronoun used to coordinate). Rather I’d just say だ, or in fact, any verb can function as an attributive adjective, such as in the sentence
Which dog? the “Ate-ramen-dog” where 食べた is functioning as an attributive adjective.

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Actually not quite, some people say that adjectives should morph alongside their noun, to match in in count and such, but that’s not the point currently

As far as I know (though correct me if I’m wrong), na adjectives are nouns that have the additional capability, that if you put a な after it, they can be used like an adjective. I think of this personally, like attaching a -y after a noun, so they are adjectivey nouns (lol). You can still use na adjectives as nouns, so for example, they can be the subject of a sentence. If you want to say that you smooth surfaces are good, you can (afaik) say 滑らかがいい, the equivalent in english would be “smooth is good”, which isn’t grammatical, you would need to turn it into a noun, like “smoothness is good” or similar.
Red on the other hand is both a noun and an adjective at the same time, you can both make it the subject of a sentence and describe something with it.

い adjectives on the other hand are just special verbs, that mean “is X”. That’s why it’s technically not correct to put a copula after it, because this is the verb of your sentence already.

Wikipedia for example uses the words “adjectival noun” and “adejctival verb” for these two

You can use な after words that aren’t na-adjectives for them to do the exact same thing, it isn’t just a special na-adjective thing. It is な is just the form だ (the copula) takes before a noun. Any sentence ending in だ can be changed to な to describe the following noun. In my opinion, this な is functioning as the true adjective.

Not directed at OP, but TIL that people don’t know what an adjective or a noun is.

Heh. I didn’t expect my comment to be at all contentious.

[Apologies in advance for the length of this reply, but it was useful to clarify my own thinking.]

I think the specific point was that the word “unskilled” is unequivocally an adjective in English but 下手(へた) functions as a 名詞(めいし).

「下手だ」is a complete sentence in Japanese. (It’s a “copula”, if I understand correctly — always a big “if” — A is B). In this case, the implied subject (or “zero pronoun”) is coupled with 下手. The subject is heta. I believe the first word in this sentence functions as a 名詞(めいし) in Japanese but means “unskilled” in English (an adjective).

Linguists who use English grammatical terms daily likely have an easier time of it. Normies like myself have to first think about what the words mean in English (occasionally dragging out a dictionary) before they can even start understanding or applying them to Japanese. It’s exhausting!

Names are hard. (What movie or book is that from?)

Since the English terms are usually just as opaque to me as the Japanese terms, I’d prefer to use the latter while learning Japanese. Others might not feel the same.

It’s like (いただ)きます meaning “to respectfully receive”. That’s an accurate translation, but how often have you used those three English words together? It’s an expression commonly used at almost every meal in Japan! If you always translate it in your head, rather thank just “knowing the meaning” (without thinking in English) you’re just creating work for yourself. You’ll struggle to become conversationally fluent.

I’m similarly finding it useful to learn the Japanese terms for grammatical functions rather than trying to apply only loosely understood (by me) English terms to them. The latter can have additional baggage or nuances that might or might not apply (beats me). Applying the Japanese names allows me to avoid “thinking in English”.

In other words, “thinking in Japanese” with 形容詞(けいようし) and 形容動詞(けいようどうし) seems less exhausting than trying to translate and then apply “い-adjective”/ “な-adjective” or “adjectival verb”/“adjectival noun” or God knows what other terms might exist for the same thing (because I first have to think about what those words mean in English).

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That seems unnecessarily convoluted to me. If you want to rely solely on Japanese and just think of 形容詞 as 形容詞, great. But if you’re going to use an English term, why call them “special verbs” instead of “adjectives” given that they are 99% the same as English adjectives?

Adjectives are definitely a word class distributionally distinct from at least nouns, in Japanese (you might have a better argument trying to claim that い adjectives are technically verbs).

That doesn’t mean that a lot of words can’t be used as both, or that nouns and な-adjectives don’t have much in common (adjectives and nouns have a lot in common in English, too).

You can’t modify an adjective with another adjective, for example, or a noun with an adverb.