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I am having a bit of trouble separating の and もの when they serve the purpose of turning a verb phrase into a noun.

The の noun seems to satisfy a few purposes... It seems to be like "one"... like when you say "the red one is mine" "赤いのは私のです" And it also seems to be work like "~ing" "It is hard to swim" "泳ぐのが難しい”

At least in the first example, I can give "one" meaning and explain it... The second one is kind of like the "to" in "to swim" isn't it?

I want to know if you can give の a meaning, or have some way to visualize it in order to distinguish it from もの?

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Do you have A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Makino et al.? It describes these uses of の on pages 315 through 322. I think you might find it helpful (although it doesn't answer your question as written). –  snailboat Nov 10 '13 at 8:44
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up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are two separate things to pick apart here.

In your two examples, as you suspect の is really performing two different functions in your two examples. It's only in 「泳ぐのが難しい」that it's really turning the verb phrase into a noun; in 「赤いの」it's acting as a placeholder noun, which is modified by the adjective.

You can't use もの to nominalise a verb phrase - 「泳ぐもの」will always mean "swimmer" or "the one that swims", not "swimming". (as an aside, you can also use 「泳ぐ事」to mean "swimming")

Now, as to your question about the difference between の and もの when used as a placeholder noun, there is a difference in nuance.

先週買ったもの - the thing I bought last week 先週かったの - the one that I bought last week

「先週かったの」implies that there are many things under consideration, but the one I'm interested in is the one I bought last week. With もの you're just talking about a singular object, but the implication with の is that it's a specific object out of many.

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That's... epic.. thankyou!!! I'll try and sort it out a bit more in my head –  Nathan Nov 10 '13 at 11:39
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