Ask JP: Akai vs Aka

I got a good question via email yesterday, and I realized that it would be a good idea to post answers to some of the more interesting questions I get here. I’ve added romaji for those who can’t read Kana and Kanji yet.

I was studying colors at the moment and got a clear vision of it, thanks to your website. When I was doing exercises I came across 2 weird sentences that I found in other books.

The first one is: The flower is red.
The book says: 花は赤いです。 [Hana wa akai desu]
Shouldn’t the い [i] be dropped?

This is how I think it should be:
花は赤です。[hana wa aka desu] (The flower is red, without い)
But 赤い花。[akai hana] (Red flower, this is with い)
Can you clearify that for me please?

An other very odd thing I found was this sentences : The flag is red, white and blue.

旗は赤く、白く、青いです。 [Hata wa akaku, shiroku, aoi desu]

Shouldn’t it be like this? :
旗は赤、白、青です。[Hata wa aka, shiro, ao desu]

And what it the meaning of -ku ?

It might be possible to use 赤いです [akai desu] in simple sentences, but I know that 赤です [aka desu] is always safe. To answer your question though, you are not actually dropping the い, instead there are two words for red.

あか [aka] (a no-adjective) and あかい [akai] (an i-adjective)

(Read more about adjectives)

Another case where you have the same root but two possible word categories is “big” – おおきい [ookii] (i-adjective) and おおきな [ookina] (attributive, a category that does not inflect).

What I said about these is the Primary Colors section of Colors in Japanese is essentially correct, so you can use that rule safely for colors in polite Japanese.

One thing that I did not mention is that you can say the following:

花は赤い。 [Hana wa akai]

This is how all i-adjectives are used in informal Japanese.

The fact that  赤です [aka desu] is usually used in polite Japanese instead of 赤いです [akai desu] is peculiar to color words that have both forms. Likewise for the fact that you say 赤い花 [akai hana] , but not *赤の花 [aka no hana] (this one is definitely bad).

To answer your second question,

旗 は赤く、白く、青いです [Hata wa akaku, shiroku, aoi desu] is the same as 旗は赤くて、白くて、青いです [Hata wa akakute, shirokute, aoi desu], which is the way you will probably learn first. These -く and -くて both connective endings, and work for all i-adjectives. The first is used mostly in written, and the second mostly in spoken Japanese.

東京は大きくて、こんでいるとしです。[Toukyou wa ookikute, kondeiru toshi desu] (Tokyo is a big, crowded city.)

Note: kondeiru (to be crowded) is the progressive form of komu (to get crowded).

For na- and no-adjectives, the corresponding connetive is で. These will (eventually) be covered in the Verbs and Conjugation section of the beginning lessons.

It is definitely possible that there are mistakes in the books you are using, but it looks like both of these sentences are grammatical. If you ever want a native speaker to check something out, also consider using one of the forums I recommend.

Note: please check the lessons to see if I’ve already written about something before sending an email about it.

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