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I've seen it used on many places, and sometimes it feels like a connection between words.

For example "鳥の詩" (tori no uta), it looks as if the の is connecting 鳥 (tori) and 詩 (uta), and I would like to know what it represents, on this case at least

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3  
+1 for a beginner yet fundamental question. It's good to have some beginner-like questions or otherwise new learners would be frightened by all the expert-looking questions. –  Lukman Jun 1 '11 at 9:54
    
@lukman yea, afterall many people may come here to learn the language, so some basics will be also important ;) –  Madcowe Jun 1 '11 at 9:57
    
Readers of this question might like to see some of the other vagaries of の in the discussion at japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/514/what-exactly-is-nano –  hippietrail Jun 4 '11 at 0:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The particle の "no" is mainly used to indicate possession, it's also called the possession indicator. An example could be:

先生/私/和子の車。[sensei/watashi/Kazuko no kuruma.] (Teacher's/my/Kazuko's car.)

Or linking nouns like:

車のトヨタ [kuruma no Toyota] (Toyota the car [company])

For other usages as well, see here.

I'll directly paste them from this site here:

  1. It can sometimes replace ga, and is used especially in clauses that modify a noun:
    Hontou ni mondai no nai tabi deshita. (It really was a trouble-free trip.)
    Watashi no oshieru gakusei wa, eigo no dekinai ko bakari desu. (None of the kids that I teach can speak English.)

  2. It comes after some adjectives: Kyoto no matsuri ni takusan no hito ga ita. (Many people were at the festival in Kyoto.) Kumi wa midori no fuusen ga hoshii. (Kumi wants a green balloon.)

  3. It makes informal questions: Yuushoku wa tabenai no? (Aren't you going to eat dinner?)
    Nanji ni kuru no? (What time will you come?)

  4. And it is also used between prepositions and nouns to make the noun the object of the preposition.

    • Compare the following sentences: Kono tegami wa Yuuko kara kita. (This letter came from Yuuko.)
      Kore wa Yuuko kara no tegami desu. (This is a letter from Yuuko.)
    • And these:
      Kono tegami o Yuuko ni okuru. (I'm going to send this letter to Yuuko.)
      Kore wa Yuuko e no tegami desu. (This is a letter to Yuuko.)

Note: Ni is not used with no in this way.

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"の" (no) can be thought of as a "general connective" in many ways just like "of" in English, "de" in the Romance languages, "von" and "van" in German and Dutch respectively, and "的" (de) in Mandarin Chinese.

Unlike English "of" however the items on the left and right of "の" (no) must be switched. This makes it even more like the English possessive apostrope:

Andrew の kuruma -> car of Andrew or Andrew's car.

Joining several nouns together differs between English and Japanese so often Japanese will have to add の between two nouns that English would just put next to each other. (And sometimes the opposite may be the case).

Even in English when you think about it there are lots of places we use "of" which don't really indicate possession but rather just part of our idiom for connecting nouns. The same happens with の in Japanese only it may seem more apparent not being your native language.

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good answer, and yea, many languages have that, my native language actually is a lot like that compared to english as well (Portuguese) –  Madcowe Jun 1 '11 at 10:01
    
@Madcowe: Yes exactly like "de" in Spanish, my second language (-: –  hippietrail Jun 1 '11 at 10:02
    
in that case, portuguese as well ;) –  Madcowe Jun 1 '11 at 10:03

In addition to what the other says, it can also be used as an informal question signifier.

そうなの? Sou na no? "Really?" [Fem.]

なんでだめなの? Nande dame no "Why not?" or "What's wrong with it?"

何言ってんだけ分かってんの? Nani itten-dake wakatten no? "Do you know what you're saying?"

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Sounds a little too otaku to me ;) I would avoid teaching anime speech to early beginners or anyone who would be tempted to use it because it sounds fun. (nothing wrong with the first 2 sentences though) –  repecmps Jun 1 '11 at 16:46
    
Are you saying "の" as a sentence-final particle is not used outside of anime-speech? or are you just talking about the last example? –  Mechanical snail May 21 '12 at 7:41

My Japanese teacher taught me to think of の to mean "of" and translate the {X no Y} as "Y of X". Her favorite example:

watashi no tomodachi no amerika no chizu
the map of America of a friend of mine

So {tori no uta} would mean "the song of birds".

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"watashi" means something related to "I" right? like mine? –  Madcowe Jun 1 '11 at 9:36
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@Madcowe yes, "watashi" can be used for anything related to "I", "my", "me" etc. –  Lukman Jun 1 '11 at 9:40
    
Another way to read that is similar to what Lukman wrote is use it like "Bird's Song" as in "mark no hon" Mark's book. –  Mark Hosang Jun 1 '11 at 9:43
    
@Mark I prefer "of" than "X's" because it can also explain "midori no hon" as "the book of green in color". But I guess it's personal preference. Either way is fine as long as you can grasp the meaning. –  Lukman Jun 1 '11 at 9:46
    
@Lukman i threw in the other way for the rare cases where "of" sounds silly. Can't think of any now though :D –  Mark Hosang Jun 1 '11 at 9:49

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