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When using の, I'm well aware that "X の Y" means "Y of X", and the modification expands leftward, per se. However, I've come across some select examples where I'm confused at the order of the words, and feel like what is A の B should be B の A.

The one I'm struggling with is: 雪の冬. I wanted to know how to say "winter snow," and I'm not sure why [雪の冬] is correct. It seems like it should mean "winter of snow", or "snow's winter" -- while more intuitively I feel like 冬の雪 should mean "winter snow," as it seems to convey "snow of winter," or "winter's snow."

I asked a friend who said something about apposition, but I still feel like that would translate winter snow as 冬の雪, and not 雪の冬. What am I missing?

Any help would be appreciated! I'd love some light shed on this mystery of の.

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Winter snow, snowy winter? –  snailboat Jul 6 '13 at 0:38
    
A related question: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/2943/78. In my answer there, we actually had a good discussion about this, but it appears most of the comments were deleted at some point. :( –  istrasci Jul 11 '13 at 18:09
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3 Answers

I'm not sure why you're confused. You seem to be understanding の just fine. 雪の冬 means a "winter of snow" and 冬の雪 "winter snow" (or snow of the winter).

Similarly, 春の雪, which even has an disambiguation entry on Japanese Wikipedia.

冬の雪 has less hits, but I'd guess that's just because it's not nearly as poetic as 春の雪.

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"Winter of snow" makes sense to me. We don't use the expression as often as a "summer of rain" in the UK which could be just because it rains in the UK more often than it snows but, based on the following two kotowaza in Space ALC the construction seems to work in Japanese too:

大雪の冬のあとは豊作の年になる。 A snow year, a rich year.〔ことわざ〕

雨ばかり降る冬は飢餓をもたらし、大雪の冬は豊作をもたらす。

Under water, famine; under snow, bread.〔ことわざ〕

However, these were the only two examples Space ALC came up with so perhaps it is not so common in Japanese afterall.

(Translating winter snow as 冬の雪 also makes sense but as I think you know, this expression is referring to the type of snow that fall in winter, and I am struggling to think of another type, unless it is made by a machine.)

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Interesting. I guess I'm trying to say "winter snow" as in, "the winter snow fell upon the roof." I guess I'm trying to describe the snow and not the winter. This is why I feel like it should have been 冬の雪, as snow is the main idea, with winter modifying it. –  Mac Jul 6 '13 at 0:21
    
Maybe、most of the time "winter snow" just translates as 雪: the expression is used in English but winter is redundant. –  Tim Jul 6 '13 at 0:30
    
Regarding your last parenthetical bit, I totally agree and understand -- I guess I'm thinking more poetically, as we use seasons to describe things. Like, "summer heat," or "the winter snow," or "the autumn leaves." –  Mac Jul 6 '13 at 0:31
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雪の冬 could be translated as "(a) winter(s) (full) of snow" or "(a) winter(s) having snow". It could easily be 雪のある冬, and would contrast with 雪のない冬 ("(a) winter(s) with no / not having snow"). The focus is on winter and is complemented with a description.

冬の雪 would be "the snow of winter" or "winter's snow". The focus is on the snow.

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