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The following sentence means "seeing all the different foreign people was interesting."

This, according to my Japanese friends is incorrect:

色々な外国人を見ているは面白かった。

... and this is correct:

色々な外国人を見ているのは面白かった。

To me, the difference is so subtle that I can't really get a feel for how the presence of の really changes it.

Can someone provide an explanation that clarifies what makes の important in this situation?

Update: I'm actually still confused by this. Couldn't the first example mean "Looking at the various foreigners was interesting", and the second example mean "That I was looking at the various foreigners was interesting"?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In this case, 「の」 changes the verb "to [be] see" into the gerund form "[be] seeing", which is what you found interesting. After that, 「は」 is just 「は」.

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1  
Ah, I misunderstood the gerund, nevermind. –  Louis Jun 19 '11 at 7:10
2  
I think that the notation “[be] seeing” is confusing because it suggests that it is a progressive form instead of a gerund. It is probably better to just write “seeing.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 19 '11 at 15:17
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A "gerund" is a verb that has been changed it into a noun that identifies the action the verb represents. "swim" -> "swimming", "look" -> "looking", etc. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 20 '11 at 5:14
1  
English lacks the granularity to translate the 「~ている」 conjugation properly; translating it as "to be Xing" is the closest equivalent in English, but it is not actually the gerund. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 20 '11 at 7:29
1  
in response to the 7th comment, i think 見ている is more of "am looking" instead of "looking" –  Pacerier Aug 29 '11 at 10:35

Actually both forms are correct. の is a recent development in Japanese, before it appeared, you'd use the 連体形(行く/熱い/綺麗な[る]/食べた[る]) directly before particles. An example can be seen here:

今宵は夜毎にこゝに集ひ來る骨牌(かるた)仲間も「ホテル」に宿りて、舟に殘れる**余一人のみなれば。

森鴎外 「舞姫」

You should still use の, though.

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2  
Nowadays, the omission of の is rather for verse i.e. writing stories, poems, etc. –  syockit Jul 15 '11 at 15:02
    
@syockit, that's true, but I've noticed some contemporary people clearly omitting の when speaking(no ん no nothing). What I don't know is whether that's because of pedantry or because of their dialect. I'd say it's the former. –  jbcreix Sep 1 '11 at 2:32
1  
I don't know if it's called pedantry, but in speech, it's usually used in dramatic/empathic(emotional) sentences, like when complaining someone's behavior, or feeling sorry for a sad incident, etc. –  syockit Sep 2 '11 at 6:46
1  
(In modern Japanese) zero-nominalization is common in some particular constructs (see japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4489/…), but not in others. Omitting の in the example sentence will definitely mark you as a non-native speaker. –  dainichi Feb 28 '12 at 1:29

we use の when we are talking about the verb. It is like "to" or "-ing" in English.

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By putting "の", your are making a nominal group from the proposition that precedes it, and you put the focus on the action (there is a nuance with "こと", which takes practice to feel). Then, since you made a nominal group, you need your usual particles after, such as は、 に、 or whatever is required.

Examples:
ケーキを食べるのが好きです。
I like to be eating a cake. (The fun is in the eating.)

ケーキを食べることが好きです。
I like to eat cakes. (Generality. I like cakes.)

外で子供が遊んでいるのにじゃまされました。
I have been disturbed by children playing outside. (The playing is the reason of the disturbance)

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There is another のは form I've seen a lot, but here I think of it as changing everything before の into a noun, almost as if there is an invisible こと after it.

色々な外国人を見ているの[こと]は面白かった。

So it might be easier to digest if you see it as:

[名詞] は面白かった。 [noun] was amusing/interesting.

where [noun] is the act of looking at foreigners and [名詞] is 色々な外国人を見ているのこと.

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There's probably something wrong with this (it got downvoted). –  Louis Jun 19 '11 at 15:07
    
I don't think it's fundamentally wrong, but it's essentially a duplicate of what @ignacio said: as you both point out, 'の' nominalises a phrase. (PS: I'm not the one who downvoted your answer) –  Dave Jun 19 '11 at 15:39
    
I thought の and こと did the same thing, but one normalizer is more formal/polite than the other. I don't think I've seen のこと (but I'm hardly an authoritative source). –  Troyen Jun 19 '11 at 21:22
    
Yeah, I'm not sure if you can do that either. I thought it was just a clear way to show that all of that stuff before の is a noun. –  Louis Jun 20 '11 at 0:35
    
I believe that using verb+「こと」 makes it into a situation where the action is happening, whereas verb+「の」 means the act itself. Verb+「のこと」 is a grammatical error since 「の」 in this case is not used to bind the preceding to the following. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 20 '11 at 1:27

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