The Case Particle の I

第37課: The Case Particle の I: The Attribute Marker

The case particle の is essential to marking phrases as attributes. Although it possesses various functions, we will be focusing only on how it is used as the attribute marker. 

The Case Particle の: The Japanese “Of”

The most essential role that the case particle の has is establishing Noun A as an attribute of Noun B. 

Terminology Note: The case particle の is also known in Japanese grammar as a 連体助詞 (attributive particle). Noun A (the modifier noun) = 修飾名詞, and Noun B (the modified noun) = 被修飾名詞.

Grammar Pattern: Noun A + の + Noun B
 i. 本のページ  page(s) of a book    or    book(‘s) page(s)
ii. 雲の形         shape of a cloud      or    cloud(‘s) shape
iii. 家の外    exterior of a house or house(‘s) exterior

The attribute marking function of の is often translated as “of” or even as “‘s” in English, but how do these grammatically different translations relate to の?

The definition of “of” in English is defined as “expressing the relationship between a part and a whole.” Because “of” is a preposition, it is actually marking the “whole” as the attribute of the part. It’s just that the word order is the opposite than ‘s, which has the same function. 

The particle の doesn’t follow a different logic, but Japanese word order prevents the flipping of the modifier noun and the modified noun. In Japanese, Noun A is always the modifier, and it is の’s job as the attribute marker to label it as the bigger picture. Since its word order is fixed, it may be easier to view it as the Japanese ‘s instead.

What happens, then, in Japanese when the “bigger picture” (modifier noun) and the “smaller picture” (modified noun) are flipped? The pictures swap roles entirely.

iv. 外の家    House outside (a certain bounds)

In iv., the “outside” is a place far removed and is far larger in scale than talking about the exterior “part” of a house. We can also see that what the sentence is about also shifts focus. The subject is always Noun B, not Noun A. 

The bigger picture adds context to what the speaker wants to talk about. As one can imagine, then, the sort of contexts that can be viewed as attributes can all be categorized to better help understand how の functions.

Let’s take a look at one more example. The difference between v. and vii. is a complete 180 as the relationships being described are from opposite standpoints. As for the particle の itself, its role does not change. 

v. 秘書の上司
The secretary’s boss

Who is the boss affiliated with in the big picture? The secretary. 

vi. 上司の秘書
The boss’ secretary.  

Who is the secretary affiliated with in the big picture? The boss.

There are occasionally situations in which flipping Noun A and Noun B doesn’t result in much of a change of meaning. This occurs when one of them is a verbal noun. 

vii. 狩猟の名人 
Expert in hunting

viii. 名人の狩猟

Expert hunting

※It must be noted that there is no limit to how many attributes can be linked together with の. Meaning, Noun A may be the attribute of Noun B, Noun B may be the attribute of Noun C, etc. The longer the chain, the narrower the following noun will be, capturing more “smaller pictures.” 

■When Noun B is Affiliated with Noun A

The most important kind of relation that の marks is best described with the Japanese word 所属先. 所属 means “affiliation/belonging to” and 先 indicates where that belonging is had. Since we know Noun A is the “big picture” modifier, it would make sense that の serves to show where Noun B belongs. In turn, Noun A may be the owner of possession, the “whole” of a part, affiliation (often a place), as well as the place where Noun B belongs. 

1. 私の意見を伝えました。
I shared my opinion.

2. アメリカの人口は何人ですか。
What is the population of the US?

3. その言葉の意味を辞書で調べました。
I looked up the meaning of that word in a dictionary.

Grammar Note: The particle の is embedded in この (this), その (that), etc.

4. 猫の耳は冷たい。
Cat ears are cold.

5. 高校の先生に会いました。
I met my high school teacher.

6. アリゾナ州のフェニックスに行ったことがありますか。
Have you been to Phoenix, Arizona?

7. 現地の人たちが、留学生と交流しながら、日本の文化を体験しました。

The locals experienced Japanese culture while interacting with exchange students.

8. ニューヨークの冬はとても寒いですね。 
New York winters are really cold, isn’t it?

9. ハワイの海岸は綺麗です。
The Hawaiian coast is pretty.

10. 私宛てのメッセージはありますか。
Are there any messages for me? 

11. その赤ちゃんの顔は日焼けしている。
The baby’s face is sunburned.  

12. 彼の時計の時刻を直しました。
I fixed the time on his watch.

There are also modifier nouns which express some sort of situation in which the modified noun is an element, focus, or byproduct of said modifier, and this logic is line with what is affiliated with what. If Noun B rests within Noun A, の is there to mark that.

13. 訪問の目的は何ですか。
What is the purpose of visiting?

14. ルールの変更の理由を教えてください。
Please tell the reason for the rule change.

15. 警察は事故の原因を詳しく調べています。
The police are closely investigating the cause of the accident.

16. 失敗の可能性はゼロではありません。
The possibility of failure is not zero.

17. 試験の結果が発表された。
The exam results were announced.

18. この写真は、起きた悲劇の悲しみを象徴しています。
This picture represents the sadness of the tragedy that occurred. 

19. 日本語の勉強はうまくいっていますか。
Are your Japanese studies going well?

■When Noun A Marks the Nature of Noun B

When の indicates that Noun A describes the nature of Noun B, many relationships can be established. It could mark anything regarding disposition or nature such as appearance, substance, location, kind, position, purpose, occupation, age, gender, quantity, quality, material, style, etc. 

20. 高台の建物に住んでいます。
I live in a building on high ground. 

21. 5歳の男の子が一人います。
There is one 5-year-old boy. 

22. 社長の満塩さんと相談しました。
I consulted with Company President Mitsushio. 

23. 友達のテイラー君を紹介しました。
I introduced my friend Taylor. 

24. 旅行中は、フェレットのパンケーキ君を友達に預けました。
I entrusted my ferret Pancake to a friend while traveling. 

25. ガラスのコップが割れました。
The glass cup cracked.

26. 途中で小さな木の橋を渡りました。
I crossed a small, wooden bridge along the way.

27. 桜の木を植えました。
I planted a cherry blossom tree.

28. あのスーツの女性はお知り合いですか。
Is that women in the suit an acquaintance of yours?

29. 安全の問題を解決しましょう。

Let’s solve the safety issues.

30. 季節の移り変りは面白い。
The changing of the seasons is interesting.

31. 帰り(のための)切符を買いました。
I bought a ticket for getting home.

32. 彼女のことが気になっている。
I’m concerned about her.

Grammar Note: ~のこと is often seen after Noun A. The こと, being Noun B, encompasses everything about Noun A in the broadest sense possible. In this example, there is something about “her” that is concerning or bothering the speaker.

33. 東京の町に活気が戻ってきています。
Liveliness is returning to the town of Tokyo.

Grammar Note: The use of の is equivalent to という, meaning the sentence should not be interpreted as “a town in Tokyo,” although such an interpretation is possible given the proper context. Here, 町 is being used in a figurative fashion, preventing の from being interpreted as にある. 

34. モンスターが親の僕は一体何者?
What exactly am I with my parents being monsters?

Grammar Note: In this sentence, although we see の after the noun 親 (parent), it is actually taking the place of である by connecting [モンスターが親] to 僕. It is fairly common to see の replace である in such contexts. 

35. ゼレンスキー大統領はロシア軍から奪還した黒海の拠点の島、ズミイヌイ島を訪れた。
President Zelensky visited Zmiinyi Island, (which is) an island base in the Black Sea which (they) recaptured from the Russian Army. 

Grammar Note: The comma in between [ロシア軍から奪還した黒海の拠点の島] and [ ズミイヌイ島] grammatically stands for の・である and this omission is equivalent to how “which is” is unnecessary in English. 

Of the many things that Noun A can be with の, there is such thing as no-adjectival nouns (ノ形容詞) which utilize の instead of the 連体形 of the copula だ – な. This grammar is possible for several reasons. Firstly, we have seen how の can replace the copula in predicate clauses used as a participle (Exs. 34-35). Secondly, the naming of の as a 連体助詞 indicates how it and the 連体形 of adjectives and verbs serve the same function.  

36. 本当の自分がわからないと感じることはありませんか?
Do you ever feel that you don’t know your true self? 

37. 最高の味を味わいたい!
I want to taste the finest flavor! 

38. あの移民たちは、心を抉る、底なしの恐怖を体験した。
Those immigrants have expressed heart-wrenching, endlessly deep horror. 

39. 寝不足の彼氏とデートに行きますわ(笑)!
I’m going on a date with my sleep-deprived boyfriend (lol)! 

40. 大型のクラゲが出現した。

A large-sized jellyfish appeared.

Significant overlap exists between の and な, and when to choose which is often a matter of nuancing. As such, this specific topic will be revisited in this lesson.

The particle の may also follow adverbial nouns in an adjectival sense, which in turn is a subset of ノ形容詞 which encompass words relating to degree. Also note that some adverbial particles may also be used as nominal phrases when の follows.

41. しばらくの間、活動を休止させていただきます。
(We) are taking the liberty of pausing our activities for the time being.

42. 普段、降水量の少ない地域では少しの雨でも土砂災害や川の氾濫などの危険度が急激に高まるおそれがあります。
There is the risk of the severity of landslides, river deluges, etc. rapidly rising even with little rain in areas which usually have low precipitation. 

43. 日本の来たばかりの頃の経験について話したいと思います。
I’d like to talk about an experience I had when I had just come to Japan.

■Noun A as the Point of Reference of Noun B

Relative nouns (相対名詞) such as 上 (top), 下 (bottom/below), 左 (left), 右 (right), 前 (in front/before), 後 (after), etc. may be paired with modifier nouns in the following ways. 

1. When Noun B describes a location, Noun A serves as the thing which exists in said space. 

2. When Noun B describes a time, Noun A serves as the event which occurs in that point of reference, and so Noun A is the timeline itself. 

Spatial  Temporal
~の上 (top of/above…)~の時 (time when…)
 ~の下 (below/under/beneath of…)~の頃 (around when…)
~の前 (before/in front of…)~の前 (before…)
~の後ろ (behind of…)~の後 (after…)
 ~の横 ((be)side of…)~の直前 (right before)
~の隣 (next (door) to…)~の直後 (right after)
~の左(側) (left of…)~の始め (start of…)
~の右(側) (right of…)~の終わり (end of…)
~の中 (inside of/through…)~の中 (midst of…)
 ~の間 (in between…)~の間 (while)

Phrase Note: 側 translates to “side” and can be used in the literal sense as the “side of something” or figuratively like in a “side of an argument.” 

44. 吹雪の中を捜索する。

To search through the blizzard.

45. 橇は氷の上を滑った。
The sleigh slid atop the ice.

46. クリックしたセルの左に列を挿入してください。
Please insert a row to the left of the cell that you clicked.

47. エスカレーターは階段の右側に設置されています。
The escalator is installed to the right of the staircase.

48. 停車している車の横を、速度を落として通り過ぎました。
I passed by the side of a parked car, slowing my speed. 

49. 会議の前にその旨を伝えておきました。
I relayed that message ahead of time before the meeting.

50. 子供の頃は病弱でした。
I was sickly when I was a kid.

51.  余震とは、最初の大きな地震の直後に、震源地から近い地域で多発する、本震より小さな揺れのことです。
An aftershock is a smaller tremor than the main shock, which frequently occurs in the area close to where the epicenter was right after the first, large quake. 

Particle Note: Though not an issue regarding how の is used in this sentence, you may have noticed that ~から近い is used instead of ~に近い. Both are valid, but the former is more likely to be present when the starting point of a situation is of particular importance, and the latter is more likely when the location marked is being viewed as a destination. 

■When Noun A Supplements Situation Described by Noun B

When Noun B is a verbal noun, 動作名詞, meaning a noun with a verbal form, Noun A marked by の is supplementary context to the situation described by Noun B. In the following three examples, pay attention to how grammatical case works.

52a. カビゴンが登場しました。

Snorlax has arrived.

→52b. カビゴンの登場
Snorlax’s arrival.

53a. 株を売買する。
To buy and sell stock.
→53b. 株の売買
The buying and selling of stock

54a. ピッツバーグで開催します。
It will be hosted in Pittsburgh.
→54b. ピッツバーグでの開催
Hosting in Pittsburgh

In Ex. 52b, we see that the subject in Ex. 52a is marked with の. In Ex. 53b, the object in Ex. 53a is marked with の, but in Ex. 54, the location marker で occurs along with の. We see that in all three examples, の functions as a nominalizing agent to allow a modifier noun with important supplementary information in the form of a particle to be expressed as an attribute. In the case of the subject marker が and the object marker を, they cannot be used in tangent with の, and so their role is absorbed into の. 

In fact, a lot of insight can be had into how all case particles work based on whether they can or cannot appear in a modifying noun expression with の.

Particle Meaning + の  Examples
 Subject Object ✕✕ カビゴン{がの X・の 〇}登場 英語{がの X・の X}得意
を  Object Transit ✕✕ 株{をの X・の 〇}売買 空港{をの X・の X}出発
からStarting PointCauseSubject (from)〇〇〇空港{からの 〇・の X}出発誤解{からの 〇・の X}恋愛私{からの 〇・の △}連絡
までEnd Point東京{までの 〇・の X}郵送
PlaceMeansCauseExtentSubject (among)〇〇〇〇〇ピッツバーグ{での 〇・の X}開催包丁{での 〇・の X}殺害コロナ{での 〇・の X}死亡月末{での 〇・の 〇}閉店私たち{での 〇・の △}調査 
友達{との 〇・の X}相談蛙{との X・の X}変身プロ{との 〇・の X}自称
より Starting Point 〇 10時{よりの 〇・の 〇*}開始
Place DestinationPartnerChangeRoleTime✕✕✕✕✕✕米国{にの X・の X}居住東京{にの X・の X}フライト友達{にの X・の X}相談蛙{にの X・の X}変身目的{にの・の}利用10時{にの X・の 〇}開始
日本{への 〇・の X}旅蛙{への 〇・の X}変身目的{への 〇・の X}利用

From this chart, we can see that が, を, and に cannot be used with の under any circumstance. Most other case particles and their individual functions can fit with の, but for the instances that cannot, there tends to be another particle which plays a similar role that can be used with の. This can be said for the meanings of に.

*: It must be noted that for all the X in the chart that this assignment is based on whether the case function expressed by the particle in question can coexist with の or be supplemented by の. In the case of からの・よりの with time expressions, it isn’t the case that “time phrase + の” is ungrammatical because の can supplement に, but the sense of “starting point” as opposed to when something simply occurs cannot be supplemented by の. 

55. 神への道は全く異なります。
The way to the gods/Gods is completely different.

56. これは母からの手紙です。
This is letter from my mother.

57. ウクライナのゼレンスキー大統領は更なる領土奪還への決意を示しています。

Ukrainian President Zelensky is expressing his resolution to retake even more territory.

58. 2025年には火星への人間の初上陸がなされるかもしれない。
Man’s first landing on Mars may be had in 2025. 

59. 東京までの郵送料金はいくらくらいですか。
About how much is the cost for mailing all the way to Tokyo?

60. 包丁での殺害シーンが生々しかった。
The murder scene with the kitchen knife was vivid. 

61. グリーンカードは、米国での居住と就労を許可するものである。
A green card is what allows for residence and employment in the US.

62. プロとの自称はしていません。
I am not self-proclaiming as a pro. 

63.  後継者不足などを理由に今月末での閉店を決めました。
We have decided on closing the store at the end of the month due to having not enough successors and such. 

64. 誤解からの恋愛なんて認めない。
I wouldn’t accept romance from a misunderstanding.

65. 国内で初めて新型コロナでの死亡となった。
It became the first death from COVID-19 in the country. 

66. 営利目的への利用は許可されていません。
Usage with the intent of profit is not authorized.

67. ニューヨークから東京へのフライトは、どの航空会社が運行していますか?
Which airline companies run flights to Tokyo from New York?

68. TOEICは英語の{得意さ ・能力}を測る試験ではありません。
The TOIEC is not an exam to measure your [adeptness/ability] at English. 

Grammar Note: The use of ~さ, which nominalizes adjectives, can aid in the grammaticality of の supplementing the object marking function of が, but because the adjective predicate in question would no longer be such, the resultant phrase would be a typical example of の marking the nature of Noun B.

The Omission of の

There are several situations in which the case particle の may be omitted. In any case, its function ought to be understood whether it is present or not. 

・In native vocabulary, the omission of の is permissible so long as Noun A wouldn’t otherwise function as an object. With two or more Sino-Japanese words, the longer the chain, the more likely の is dropped, but omission is not likely when words of mixed etymology are put together. 

69. 指(の)先を火傷する。
To burn the tip of one’s fingers.

70. 私は学級(の)委員を務めました。 
I served on the class committee.

71. 世界(の)平和を齎す。  
To bring about world peace.

72. 大日本帝国陸軍兵器一覧
List of Imperial Japanese Army Equipment

73. 気候変動(への)対応
Handling Climate Change

Grammar Note: There are some contexts in which への may be omitted, but such situations rely on its unnecessity in Chinese grammar proper which would influence Sino-Japanese word use in high-frequency contexts such as this. 

Overlap with Other Attributive Parts of Speech

As alluded to earlier, there is natural overlap between the particle の and other grammatical items which share the ability of marking an attribute. 

For instance, there are several adjectival nouns which may take either な, の, or both, but nuancing is often affected by one’s choice. 

vii. バカな人 VS バカの人

Whereas vii. simply describes people being stupid, the latter authoritatively labels ‘stupid person’ as such. 

74. 平等の権利を与える。
To give equal rights.

75. 平等な{扱い・世界・社会・問題・ルール}
Fair {treatment/world/society/problem/rule} 

Verbs can be used as attributes as well. However, when compounds are made with verbal elements, they tend to lose the ability to conjugate and require more morphology to be treated as verbal expressions again. Nowadays, however, many such phrases exhibit the final verbal element being reactivated, but this often conflicts with the ‘proper’ attributive form which will inevitably utilize の.

76a. 土砂降りの雨
76b. 土砂降る雨

Pouring rain

77a. 痛みを裏返してはごり押しをする。
77b. 痛みを裏返してはごり押す。
To turn pain inside out and bulldoze through (each time).

There are also rare expressions with の after verbs to mark an attribute. These can be viewed as remnants of a more common phenomenon seen in early modern literature in which の could follow the 連体形 of verbs to emphasize important attributes. 

78. 殴る蹴るの暴力を受ける。
To receive violence of punches and kicks. 

79. 民を苦しめるの暴国あらば赴いて平定せよと、不才謙信に身にあまる御諚であった。
It was an (imperial) command far too great for me, Kenshin, who lacked the talent, “to go to rampaging regions tormenting the people to restore law and order.” 
From 『上杉謙信』by 吉川英治.

Spelling Note: The particle の is seldom written in Kanji as 之 or 乃.