Suki and Kirai: Likes and Dislikes

In this lesson we'll look at two particular adjectives, suki and kirai, that are used where we would use the verbs "to like" and "to dislike" in English. It's a little strange at first, but easy to understand.

Recommended Background:

You might also want to take a look at second half of The Topic Marker "Wa" if you haven't read it yet, since it covers the thought process that will help you understand this lesson.

Interpreting the Adjectives

Both suki and kirai are na-adjectives, literally meaning something like "liked" and "disliked". We'll stick with just suki for now.

The su in suki is devoiced, same as in desu, so the pronunciation ends up sounding like "s-ki". In fact, why don't we start by just adding desu.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
すきです。 Suki desu. (S-ki de-s) (It) is liked. I like it.

I don't normally like to use this kind of "pronunciation guide", but I want to make it clear that if you're used to the "silent" u in desu, this is the exact same thing. The 's(u)' should take the same amount of time as the 'ki', unlike the English word "ski" where we hold the 'i' significantly longer.

Anyway, this would be the response to the question "Suki desu ka?" (Do you like it?). We'll look at questions in a bit.

When suki is used in a complete sentence, the thing that is liked is the subject of the adjective, so it is marked by ga. The person doing the liking, then, can only be the topic of the sentence, so it gets wa.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
わたしは いちごが すきです。 Watashi wa ichigo ga suki desu. As for me, strawberries are liked. I like strawberries.

So the object of the English verb "to like" becomes the subject of the adjective suki.

If it helps at all, you could also think of suki as meaning "likable" (a more normal English adjective), in which case the partial translation would become "As for me, strawberries are likable". Either way, the logic behind it is that the property of the thing in question is relevant to a particular person.

Because we sort of think of "liking" as an action in English, it seems kind of strange that it should be an adjective in Japanese. But this is really no different from how in English we say things like "Pie is amazing" (when others might not share that opinion).

Furthermore, you'll also come across cases where the Japanese equivalent of an English adjective is a verb, so it goes both ways.

Dropping and Changing the Topic

As with any simple statement, it's more common to drop the watashi wa when stating likes and dislikes.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
ピザが すきです。 Piza ga suki desu. Pizza is liked. I like pizza.

The thing that is liked can also take wa rather than ga.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
ピザは すきです。 Piza wa suki desu. As for pizza, it is liked. I like pizza.

This is an example of the contrastive wa, and would be appropriate in a context where pizza was just brought up as one of several possible choices for dinner. Here, the implication is that pizza gets your vote (in contrast to the other choices).

Finally, it's also possible to drop the subject of suki entirely and just keep the contrasted topic.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
わたしは すきです。 Watashi wa suki desu. As for me, it is liked. I like it.

In this case, the nuance is something like "I don't know about you guys, but as for me, I like it".


Kirai works in exactly the same way as suki.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
きむらさんは グレープフルーツが きらいです。 Kimura-san wa gureepufuruutsu ga kirai desu. As for Kimura, grapefruit is disliked. Kimura dislikes grapefruit.

However, note that kirai is a much stronger word than "dislike" in English, and is usually an accurate translation for "hate" as well.

Because of this, it's common to use suki ja nai desu (or suki ja arimasen) in place of kirai desu, equivalent to replacing "hate" with "don't like" in English.

Strong Like/Dislike

To express stronger likes/dislikes, you can use daisuki and daikirai, roughly translated as "love" and "hate" respectively, but without the extra connotations of the English words. The dai here is the same kanji as the adjective ookii (big/great), so you can also think of daisuki and daikirai as meaning "greatly like" and "greatly dislike" respectively.

Although these words function identically to suki and kirai, keep in mind that they are much stronger, and are often unnecessary in situations where English speakers use "love" or "hate" as an exaggeration for "like" or "don't like".


When asking a question about what someone likes, there are several possible formats.

  Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
Q スポーツは なにが すきですか。 Supootsu wa, nani ga suki desu ka? As for sports, what is liked? What sport do you like?
A サッカーが すきです。 Sakkaa ga suki desu. Soccer is liked. I like soccer.
Q なんいろが すきですか。 Nan-iro ga suki desu ka? What color is liked? What color do you like?
A みどりが すきです。 Midori ga suki desu. Green is liked. I like green.

In the first question, the topic is "sports", giving the category for the answer to nani "what". No "I" or "you" is necessary in the question or the answer.

In the second question, the implied topic is "you", but is normally omitted nonetheless. This time, a specialized question word nan'iro (what color) is used to specify the category, so there's no reason to make "colors" the topic anyway.

There are also two possibilities for yes-no questions.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
かがくが すきですか。 Kagaku ga suki desu ka? Is science liked? Do you like science?
かがくは すきですか。 Kagaku wa suki desu ka? As for science, is it liked? Do you like science?

The first example is the generic question, where the implied topic is "you".

In the second case, science might be the topic of discussion, or it could be a contrastive element again. You might use this version if you're primarily talking about science (if you're taking it, if it's hard, etc.) or to compare it to another subject (i.e., history).

Note: any particular instance of "wa" could be a topic or a contrasted element. Without the context, it's sometimes hard to say exactly which it is, but the meanings are usually very similar.

Suki and Kirai as Modifiers

Since suki  and kirai are na-adjectives, we can also use them to modify nouns by adding na in between.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
すきなシャツ suki na shatsu liked shirt a shirt (I) like
きらいなしごと kirai na shigoto disliked work work that (I) dislike

In this case, the person who likes/dislikes the item is always implied. You can also specify the person using no.

Hiragana Romaji Gloss Translation
わたしの すきなばんぐみ watashi no suki na bangumi my liked (TV) program a TV show I like
ビルさんの すきなおんがく Biru san no suki na ongaku Bill's liked music music that Bill likes

Japanese speakers also use suki in place of "favorite" in English.

Hiragana Romaji Translation
すきないろは なんですか。 Suki na iro wa nan desu ka? What's your favorite color?
やまぐちさんの すきなたべものは ラーメンです。 Yamaguchi-san no suki na tabemono wa raamen desu. Yamaguchi's favorite food is ramen.

I you need to specify "favorite", you can add the adverb ichiban (1st/#1) in front of suki.

See Also

For vocab related to this lesson:

What Next?

Making Comparisons

Conjunctions and Compound Sentences

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