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Introduction to using the particle “の”

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Introduction to using the particle “の”

Last time you learned the basics about Japanese adjectives. This week Shiho took a look at the genitive particle “の” with which you can express possession and belonging using two nouns. Of course, there are other ways than “noun の noun” to use this particle, but let’s start with the basics!

Table of Contents
[Combining two nouns with “の”]
[Word order when using “の”]
[Can I use “の” with anything other than two nouns?]
[Exercise]
[Advanced: “の” as equalizer]

[Combining two nouns with “の”]

Particles are part of the foundation of Japanese grammar and they come with many uses and in many forms. Hence, even advanced students can make mistakes when using them. Especially the particle “の” can easily be used incorrectly, despite its simplicity – or maybe exactly because of it!

The basic structure of expressing possession or belonging using “の” between two nouns works as follows:

名詞①+の+名詞②
Noun 1 + の + Noun 2

In this example Noun 1, which is followed directly by the particle “の”, is the possessor or place of belonging, while Noun 2 is the possessed or belonging one. Let’s look at some example sentences:

わたしくるま My car.
会社かいしゃくるま The company’s car.
トヨタのくるま A car by Toyota.
かれくるま His car.
未来みらいくるま A car from the future.

As you can see, “の” always expresses possession or belonging. We are using the words “possession” and “belonging” because the nuance of “の” may change slightly depending on the context. So in the example of “会社の車”, the meaning of “の” can simply be translated to “the company’s car” – the question being “Who’s car?” and the possession being clear.

However, in the example of “トヨタの車”, the question is not simply “Who’s car?”, but rather: “Who constructed this car?” – hence the translation being more along the lines of “A car by Toyota”.
Another example showing this is “未来の車” – this would not be simply translated as “The future’s car”, but it means “A car from the future”. Therefore it is expressing not the possession of the future over the car, but the fact that the car belongs to the future in a less fixed way.

[Word order when using “の”]

The word order when making a genitive-construct as is done with the particle “の” may be slightly different in Japanese than in your mother tongue. Again, the correct word order is as follows:

名詞①+の+名詞②
Noun 1 + の + Noun 2

In this example, let’s say noun 1 is “A” and noun 2 is “B”. Then, “A” (noun 1) explains or gives context to “B” (noun 2). Therefore you always place the possessor/explainer in front of “の”, and the noun being described or “possessed” behind “の”.
In many other languages, this order is the other way around or interchangeable. In Japanese, when using the particle “の”, it must always be this word order.

This difference in word order becomes especially apparent when “の” is used not to express simple possession, but belonging. See this example and the English translation.

○○会社かいしゃ社長しゃちょ The president of ○○company.

As you can see, the word order is switched in this example. Because of this, mixing up the word order when using “の” is very easy – and then the sentence quickly becomes completely confusing, so please keep the correct word order in mind when making sentences using the particle “の”.

Tip: Think of “の” like “‘s” in English. Directly translated it doesn’t make for pretty translations, but it will help keep the correct word order. E.g.:

○○会社かいしゃ社長しゃちょ ○○ company’s president.

The translation may not be elegant, but it does help to get the word order right.

[Can I use “の” with anything other than two nouns?]

The answer is (generally) no. This is in fact a very easy mistake to make. Even lots of advanced students try to use “の” with adjectives. When using adjectives, remember the previous lessons – for “い”-adjectives, you do not need any word in between to connect them with nouns. For “な”-adjectives, you use “な”. Example:

Wrong: かなしいのゆめ
Correct: かなしいゆめ
A sad dream
Wrong: 綺麗きれいはな
Correct: 綺麗きれいはな
A pretty flower

[Exercise]

You can use the following sentence pieces to try and get the word order right! The solutions are further down.

① の/お昼ご飯/今日
② 髪/黒い/は/彼女/の/です
③ 店/美味しい/は/の/クッキー/あの

Solutions:

① 今日きょうのおひるはん Today’s lunch.
② 彼女かのじょかみくろいです。 That girl’s hair is black.
③ あのみせのクッキーは美味おいしい。 The cookies at that shop are delicious.

[Advanced: “の” as equalizer]

You have now learned how to combine two nouns with “の” to express a possession or belonging between these two nouns. One more advanced way to use “の” is to describe the relationship between two nouns using “の” as an equalizer. In this case, the structure is as follows:

名詞①=名詞②
Noun 1 = Noun 2

Examples:

社長しゃちょ寺田てらださん。 President Terada.
友達ともだちののようこさん。 (My) friend Youko.

Using “の” like this does not mean that “社長” owns “寺田さん” or that “寺田さん” belongs to “社長”, but it simply means that President = Terada. Terada “is” the president. Youko “is” my friend.

Please try using “の” a lot and practice getting the word order right!

単語たんごリスト(Vocabulary list)
助詞じょし Particle
上級者じょうきゅうしゃ Advances student, advanced learner
例文れいぶん Example sentences
紹介しょうかいする To introduce (something/somebody)
所属しょぞく Affiliation, belonging
所有しょゆう Possession, ownership
同格どうかく The same rank, equality
かみ Hair
間違まちが Mistake
順番じゅんばん Order (of things)
母国語ぼこくご Mother tongue
未来みらい Future
かれ He