The Japanese language has a number of adverbs that all end with 「り」 ri.


To list just a few:






たっぷり and



To be honest, I didn’t notice how many there actually are until one of my students pointed it out. I may not have ever considered the related grammatical function they serve, because I didn’t recognize that they are all adverbs. When I think of adverbs, only a few basic adverbs come to mind – words such as 「とても」, 「よく」, and 「すこし」. However, as he pointed out, we do have quite a few adverbs ending in 「り」.


Matching Exercise:
Here are some りadverbs. Can you connect each one to its meaning?

Answers can be found at the end of the article.

1. ぴったり     A. full, plenty of
2. がっかり  B. strong, firm, solid
3. しっかり C. tightly, fit, exactly, perfectly
4. たっぷり D. moist, damp
5. しっとり E. to be disappointed

How was it? Was it difficult? These words all sound fairly similar, but they have very different meanings. How can you keep them all straight? My students always want to know just such a trick – and of course, I want to help them – but there really are no shortcuts or rules of thumb when it comes to this group of adverbs. Therefore, I recommend creating a phrase for each word that allows you to mentally map the term to a particular situation.

For example:

That T-shirt size fits perfectly.


彼女が来なくて がっかりした。
I’m disappointed that my girlfriend didn’t come.


Pull yourself together!!

Please put the lid on tightly.

He spread the jam on thickly.

This cake is delicious and moist.

You can also find these adverbs in the wild and try to remember the context in which you saw it used. This phrase is often used as buzzword in shampoo advertisements, for instance: 「しっとりタイプ」

In English, “to be disappointed” contains a linking verb (“to be”) and a predicate adjective (“disappointed”). In the same way, even when a “true” Japanese verb exists, Japanese people sometimes use phrases in the form of 「りadverb + する」 


Instead of using the verb 「おどろく」 to indicate a state of being surprised, for example, Japanese natives are often heard saying 「びっくりする」. Other り adverbs commonly used in this manner are 「がっくり」 and 「のんびり」.

Another peculiarity of some り adverbs is their similarity to onomatopoeia:

べたべた > べったり

ページがべったりくっついてる。The pages have stuck together.

ふわふわ > ふんわり

ふんわりしたケーキ light and soft cake

のそのそ > のっそり

くまが のっそりうごいた。A bear moved ponderously.

Looking at this, we can see that りadverbs give us some clues about the ways in which Japanese people sense and interpret the world around them, just as Japanese onomatopoeic words do. Combined with their abundant usage in modern Japanese, this valuable insight makes understanding these adverbs a key step toward attaining Japanese proficiency.

Answers to the matching exercise:

1. C; 2. E; 3. B; 4. A; 5. D

Hero image by Tim Pierce (CC BY 2.0)