Browsing some Japanese I found something which I guessed must be new grammar: 「じょうずく」. First, what I do know that seemed related is how to make adverbs. For な-adjectives: simply add に…

じょうず to be good at something
じょうずに to something well

For i-adjectives to make an adverb we loose an ‘い’ and add ‘く’:

はやい (quick) > はやく (quickly)

So, this ‘new grammar’ looked like じょうずに but formed a little as though じょうず was an i-adjective. The answer to the riddle was kanji. My studies told me that the kanji for じょうず was 上手 and hence I read 上手く as じょうずく. However, 上手く is actually read as 「うまく」!

I’d never asked myself what the kanji for うまく was. Though it makes sense now I’d still like to know why this jyukugo has two readings and why there is both a semi i-adjective style adverb and な-adjective style adverb for the same word!


  1. There is an i-adjective うまい which is shown as 上手い sometimes. Its adverb form is うまく, so when you see a く after the kanji 上手, then it should be read as うまく。
    In summary,
    上手 jouzu
    上手い umai
    上手に jouzu-ni
    上手く umaku
    Is this fun or what?!

  2. Didn’t I just say that? Ah yes, I forgot to mention the i-adjective うまい. Fun? I wouldn’t go that far. Interesting, perhaps.
    I’ve just never encountered うまい in kanji before. These kind of ‘big misses’ are easily remembered which a good thing.

  3. This was posted 4 months ago but I’m bored so why not bite.
    You might as well ask why there is 大きい and 大きな, when they mean the same thing. It’s just the way it is.
    Anyway, in this case, my theory is that this kanji was slapped on as an afterthought in the form of 当て字. I say that because うまい can also be written as 旨い or 美味い when you mean “tasty”. Apparently, you can also write it as 巧い for “skillful” though I’ve never seen it. All this suggests that they just slapped whatever kanji seemed appropriate for the desired meaning afterwards. I have no references to prove this however.

  4. Thanks for the comment – it doesn’t matter if it’s an old post.
    Actually, I often wonder why there is 大きい and 大きな. I don’t know much about 当て字 but I think I see what you are getting at. I can’t believe there are so many ways to write うまい!