Why do some i-adjectives take ‘な’ before a noun?




Those aren’t i-adjectives. 大きな and 小さな are their own words, separate from 大きい and 小さい. They basically mean the same thing, but are more poetic and tend to show up in literature rather than everyday conversation.



Fast like the wind :grin: nice!


There are a small set of adjectives where they can be what’s called a pre-noun adjectival. So they can’t end a sentence. There’s subtle differences in usage as well, but it’s not super important for a beginner to worry about them.

Like I said, it’s a small set. So you can’t do it with every い adjective.

Here’s a stack exchange about it.


Much clearer now. Thank you.

That aside, if I’m not wrong, the な-adjective versions tend to be used for abstract sorts of ‘largeness’ and ‘smallness’, like when the thing that is big or small is a concept (like a difference) rather than a concrete object or person (like a box).

There might be more to it though, because I only read half of the article I opened about the difference between the two versions.

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I just searched usages in 本好き book 10 (what I happen to have easily available right now), and at least based on this book I don’t think that’s accurate.

For 大きい (direct adjectival usage only), it modified:

  • 図体
  • 子供達
  • An in-world animal

For 大きな, there were 35 usages in total. Here are all the unique usages:

  • 仕事
  • もの (as in 小さな力で大きなものが動かせるんだ)
  • イラスト
  • 政変
  • 釘 (as in 大きな釘を打つ)
  • 荷物
  • 魔力
  • 魔獣
  • 問題点
  • 失点
  • 違い
  • ひび (as in a crack)
  • 原因
  • 理由
  • 不安
  • 武器 (used figuratively)

There are a lot of abstract usages for sure, but from just this book there are several usages describing things physically, including イラスト, 荷物, 影, 魔獣, 牙, 箱, ひび, 塊, and 葉.


I’ll just link to the article I got the idea from and quote a possible interpretation:

(taken from https://www.nihongo-c.jp/blog/blog-entry-100.html)

That essentially suggests when the trend isn’t followed, the concrete object described is in fact a mental image. I don’t know if that’s the case in the examples you raised though.

Several of the usages were definitely actual physical things. But this is just one book by one author, so it’s not proof on its own. Maybe it comes partly down to personal preference.

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And as the page says, it’s a 傾向=‘trend’. It’s probably not absolute either. For example, for 大きなもの above, it could have been a matter of maintaining symmetry with 小さな力.

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I saw it being used in reference to physical objects in the books I’ve been reading as well so I thought it’s the opposite actually (the na-version referring to physical objects) :sweat_smile:.

But I will double-check later today again.

The promised なs
  • 大きなめがね - big glasses
  • 大きなだんろ - big fireplace
  • 大きなつの - big antlers/horns
  • 大きなはね - large wings
  • 大きな目 - big eyes

That’s from 江戸川乱歩 赤いカブトムシ (a book for very young audiences)
小さい and 大きい do not appear even once. But as @adamstan pointed out later, it could also be a phonetic thing so it’s easier to read for/to kids.

I often hear な versions in songs - I guess that in addition to its “poetical” value, な is much easier to sing than い. There’s something about “i” sounds in general (regardless of language) that makes them quite hard to sing with nice tone and in tune on long notes :wink:

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