Japanese Grammar

Particle の: Possessor and Modifier

Picture That Picasso Painted

In the first entry: Japanese Nouns: State-of-Being, we briefly mentioned the particle の with the sentence pattern: Noun の Noun. As you may have notice already, this is a very useful, powerful particle. In this lesson, you will master all of its functions.

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Explanation for How the Particle の Works

Although we have picked up two major roles in the title, they can be further subdivided. This is actually very simple because the form remains the same as “Noun の Noun” and there is a common rule: the first noun modifies the second noun. Let’s go over each function.

Five Functions of the Particle の

Possessor: Noun A Possesses Noun B

わたしパソコン(だ / です)。
[It] is my PC.
先生せんせいほん(だ / です)。
[It] is the teacher’s book.
とうさんくるま(だ / です)。
[It] is [my] father’s car.

This is a very simple function. の can express who the possessor is.

Author (Creator): Noun A Creates Noun B

ピカソ(だ / です)。
[It] is the picture that Picasso painted.
ビートルズうた(だ / です)。
[It] is the song that the Beatles composed.
村上むらかみはるしょうせつ(だ / です)。
[It] is the novel that Haruki Murakami wrote.

There are many cases in which the author and the possessor of a work are different. の can express who the author is. The important point here is that since there is no difference between the forms of the functions; possessor and author, you need to judge which function の works as based on the context.

ピカソ(だ / です)。

This sentence can be interpreted as both “It’s the picture that Picasso painted” and “It’s Picasso’s picture.”

Explanation: Noun A Modifies Noun B

わたしとうさん(だ / です)。
[He] is my father.
しろ(だ / です)。
[It] is a picture of a castle.
くるまほん(だ / です)。
[It] is a book about cars.
椅子いす(だ / です)。
[It] is a chair [made] of wood.
ちゅう国人ごくじん学生がくせい(だ / です)。
[He/She] is a Chinese student (*ちゅう国人ごくじん is a noun in Japanese).

This is a little difficult in comparison with others. With this phrase: “my father,” you are not a possessor or a creator of your father, but you would like to EXPLAIN that we’re related. In such situations, you can use の to explain something.

Position: Noun A (Basis) and Noun B (Direction)

えきとなり: next to the station
学校がっこうまえ: front of the school
わたしうしろ: behind me
つくえうえ: on the table

You can express positions by using two nouns with の. The first noun works as a basis and the second one works to show a direction. Here are relevant key words.

うえ: on, over, above
した: under, below
みぎ: right
ひだり: left
まえ: front
うしろ: behind
おく: inner part, back part, depths
となり: next
ひがし: east
西にし: west
みなみ: south
きた: north

Apposition: Noun A Equals Noun B

わたし社長しゃちょうなか(だ / です)。
I’m Tanaka, managing director.
友達ともだちばやし(だ / です)。
[He/She] is my friend Kobayashi.
The capital Tokyo is great.

In English, you can express apposition like this, “I’ll meet my teacher Mr. Kuroda.” In Japanese, you cannot place two nouns in a row. You have to place the particle の in between them. This is the last function of the particle の.

Advanced Topic


You have learned several functions so far. Don’t be confused because some of them can appear in a single sentence together. Here are examples.

わたし くるま ほん (だ / です)
Possessor Explanation Modified Noun State-of-being
[It] is my book about cars.
ピカソの むかし (だ / です)
Author Explanation Modified Noun State-of-being
[It] is an old picture that Picasso painted.
えきの(となり となり レストラン (だ / です)
Position Explanation Modified Noun State-of-being
[It] is the restaurant next to the station.
しゃちょう なか 写真しゃしん (だ / です)
Apposition Explanation Modified Noun State-of-being
[It] is the picture of the managing director Tanaka.
わたし ペットの ハチ (だ / です)。
Possessor Apposition Modified Noun State-of-being
[It] is my pet, Hachi.


As you know, Japanese allows you to omit various elements. The sentence pattern: Noun の Noun is not an exception. You can omit the second noun if the context clearly tells what or whom you’re referring to.

ピカソのは、なかさんの (だ / です)。
As for the picture that Picasso painted, [it] is Tanaka-san’s picture.

This can be

ピカソのは、なかさん(だ / です)。
As for the picture that Picasso painted, [it] is Tanaka-san’s.


あかリンゴは、わたしリンゴ (だ / です)。
As for the red apple, [it] is my apple.

This can be

あかリンゴは、わたし(だ / です)。
As for the red apple, [it] is mine.


In English, you can use the expression: “The red apple is sweet. The green one is not sweet.” Since it’s clear that you’re talking about apples, the second apple is replaced with “one.” Japanese also has a similar concept. When the context clearly tells what or whom you are referring to, の can replace the noun.

あかリンゴあまい(です)。あおあまく(ない / ありません)。
The red apple is sweet. The blue one is not sweet.
Sweet foods are the ones that I like. Spicy ones are the ones that I dislike.

Be careful. These are only applicable for things or materials. If you use this to people, you will look very rude. Also, you cannot use this for something physically unavailable. Please check the following.

Wrong Example
わたしおくさんはきれい(だ / です)。なかさんのはかわいい(です)
My wife is beautiful. Tanaka-san’s one is pretty.
ほんあつさはき(だ / です)。インドのはきじゃ(ない / ありません)
Japan’s heat is the one that I like. India’s one is the one that I don’t like.

The reason is that “おくさん: wife” is a person and “あつさ: heat” is not a physical thing.


Explanation for Position

Let’s dig into how to show positions. How can we describe where the bank is? When you use the particle の with the function: Position, it will be like this:

銀行ぎんこうはホテルのとなり(だ / です)。
As for the bank, [it] is next to the hotel.

Then, what happens if the context clearly tells that we’re discussing the position while treating the hotel as a basis? Here is an exception. We cannot omit or replace base nouns.

Wrong Examples
銀行ぎんこうは、のとなり(だ / です)
銀行ぎんこうは、ののとなり(だ / です)


  1. The particle can express:
    • Possessor
    • Author (Creator)
    • Explanation
    • Position
    • Apposition
  2. The particle  の can be omitted or replaced with a few exceptions.

Now, you have a clearer picture about the particle の, which means you have completed the major Japanese particles. Great job! One thing that you still need to learn about particle is that there are combinations of particle called “Combined Particles.” You may have seen this kind expression: とうきょうでは and とうきょうでも. That’s what you will learn next.

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