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I already know the main usages of の as said here, but I was wondering: If I want to use the possessive indicator in a row, is it correct?

For example, if I wanted to say "My family's car is blue.", could I write something like this example?

私の家族の車は水色です。

And are there restrictions or alternatives to this I'm not aware of?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Your example is perfectly correct and natural. Using ~の twice in a row is usual. (I am not so sure about particles other than の, but in this answer, I will focus on repetition of の.)

How about more repetitions? I agree with Dave M G that, as far as correctness is concerned, you can use as many ~の as you like. However, if a sentence uses ~の many times in a row, it starts to look strange. In general, using the same construct again and again is usually considered as a poor practice.

For example, if a hypothetical report is titled 敬語の用法の習得の困難さの原因の考察, it is understandable (“Consideration of Reasons for the Difficulty of Learning the Usage of Honorifics”) and probably most people agree that it is correct. (This example is partly based on rdb’s comment on Dave’s answer.) This example does not have an issue with ambiguity which Axioplase (rightly) raised. Nevertheless, this title is awkward because of the repeated uses of の. 敬語の用法の習得困難である原因の考察 sounds better.

Some people even say that you should not use ~の three times in a row for good writing. Here is an example. However, funny part of that text is in its correction: one of the “good examples” in an older version of the text contained ~の three times in a row! I think that the lesson is that there is no firm rule about the number of times you can use ~の in a row in good writing, although unfortunately it does not seem that the author learned this lesson.

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+1 for answering the question both from a linguistic perspective and a style perspective. –  Amanda S Sep 1 '11 at 21:28
    
Thanks Ito. I have no real intention of repeating the ~の endlessly :D but thanks for your answer. I appreciated your examples even if at the moment I can't understand them completely due to my poor Japanese knowledge. But your answer seems the most complete. :) –  Alenanno Sep 3 '11 at 7:22
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@Alenanno: In case it helps, I added an English translation of the example. Each noun in the example means the following: 敬語 = honorifics, 用法 = usage, 習得 = learning/acquisition, 困難さ = difficulty, 原因 = reason, 考察 = consideration. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 3 '11 at 12:19
    
Thanks a bunch! +1 :D –  Alenanno Sep 3 '11 at 12:23

There is no restriction on the number of s you can string together.

It might get a little silly looking after a point, but there is no grammatical rule that prevents it.

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Can you make an example about the "point"? :D –  Alenanno Sep 1 '11 at 17:55
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This is a ridiculous sentence and probably riddled with errors, but I was bored enough to give it a go: 日本の政府の最上の政治家の総理大臣の役割の人の変わりの頻繁さのことの理由の原因の問題を考える。 –  rdb Sep 1 '11 at 18:46
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@rdb: Your example has several problems other than using too many の, and therefore it is not the best example if you want to show that using too many の is bad. Namely, each of 政治家の総理大臣, 人の変わりの頻繁さ, 頻繁さのこと, 理由の原因, and 原因の問題 is either incorrect or unnatural independently of other parts. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 1 '11 at 20:49
    
Yes, I figured as much. It's just an exercise in the ridiculous. As I said, I was bored. 「ばかだ」と言われる覚悟ちゃんとしておきました。しかし、一応退屈を緩和しました。 –  rdb Sep 1 '11 at 23:54
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Perhaps you could say the "point" is similar to in English, using too many possessives, or perhaps too many parentheses? Like "my family's car is blue" does not sound excessive. "my uncle's son's sister's cousin's family's car is blue" might sound a tad odd, though. And if you use too many parentheses(is that even possible? (of course not, but it can be funny/difficult to read, sometimes (well, unless you're a LISP programmer (get the point? ;) ))))). –  Uronym Sep 2 '11 at 21:16

A simple problem is that you don't know the span of what comes around の.

私の姉にプロポーズした友達

Is it (私の姉)にプロポーズした友達, the friend who asked my sister to marry him?
Is it 私の(姉にプロポーズした)友達, My friend who asked to marry some girl/sister?

Just in that simple case, you have an ambiguity. Even with your example, in fact:

私の家族の車は水色です。

Is it 私の(家族の車) or (私の家族)の車?
In the first case, I talk about the car of my family but not about the car of your family. In the second case, I talk about the car of my family, but not about the house of my family. This too is ambiguous.

The more の you stack up, the more ambiguities you get, maybe exponentially. This can make comprehension very hard.

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~をプロポーズした should be ~にプロポーズした. The latter interpretation might be technically possible, but I would not think about it because 私の and 友達 are too far apart. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 2 '11 at 2:10
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I'd interpret it as "the friend who asked my sister to marry him", because 友達 is so far off. If I needed to convey the second meaning, I'd think it more natural to include the "someone's sister", because alone, it indeed looks as though you're talking about your own sister, but I think the addressee would ultimately just use contextual clues to guess at which you mean, the first meaning being the default interpretation. –  Uronym Sep 2 '11 at 21:08
    
Actual Japanese is full of these potential ambiguities, and they are almost always resolvable from context. As such, I don't think the possibility of creating such an ambiguity within a single is a good a reason to avoid a construction. Still, I suppose it is something to be aware of. –  Wlerin Nov 9 at 17:24

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