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I've noticed that sometimes the hiragana の can be shortened to ん.

For example,

  1. 部屋のなか → 部屋んなか (inside of the room)

  2. 俺のうち → 俺んち (my house)

  3. 俺のところ → 俺んとこ (my place)

(More examples can be found in Derek's post.)

Is there some explanation or rules that we have to observe when substituting の to ん?

Or can we arbitrarily substitute any の with ん as such:

  • 「俺ん母さん」?
  • 「俺んいえ」?
  • 「俺んせんせい」?
  • 「俺ん犬」?
  • 「俺んテーブル」?
  • 「NんN」?
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There is also Kansai dialect cases: ...なの (standard) →... なん (Kansai). These are deletion of a vowel after [n] rather than replacement of the whole mora. In fact, it happens with the vowel [u] as well. ... せぬ →... せん –  sawa Jun 9 '12 at 5:35
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As a Phenomena of Fast/Casual Speech

As Tsujimura(2007) describes, this a non-mandatory phonological process (not a syntactical one) called nasal syllabification. Consider these examples and a non-example as they might be written in native orthography:

  1. 来るのなら → 来るんなら
  2. 君のうち → 君んち
  3. しらない → しんない
  4. かえらない → かえんない
  5. おくらない → おくんない
  6. 学者になる → 学者んなる
  7. 僕のうち → 僕んち
  8. 君の名前 *→ * 君ん名前

Now compare IPA phonemic transcriptions:

  1. /kuɾunonaɾa/ → /kuɾunnaɾa/
  2. /kiminoutci/ → /kimintci/
  3. /ɕiɾanai/ → /ɕinnai/
  4. /kaeɾanai/ → /kaennai/
  5. /okuɾanai/ → /okunnai/
  6. /ɡakuɕaninaɾu/ → /ɡakuɕannaɾu/
  7. /bokunoutɕi/ → /bokuntɕi/
  8. /kiminonamae/ *→ * /kiminnamae/

Tsujimaru says this:

Certain functional words containing /n/ often lose their accompanying vowel, and as a result become a moraic nasal. In addition to the vowel loss, if there is an another second word-initial vowel immediately following then it too gets deleted.

And so isn't clear about the following:

  • Which words are eligible for this phonological alternation
  • Why the last example is unacceptable

Although Tsujimura didn't explicitly say so, I believe the nasal syllabification targets only mora.

As Vance(2008) observes about /n/:

When /n/ is word-medial the following phoneme can be any vowel or any syllable-initial consonant.

which means the alternations /nV/ → /n/ and /ɾa/ → /n/ will not produce an inadmissible phoneme sequence. Together with the fact that /n/ can be a word-final syllable, we see that all three relevant processes in nasal syllabification (defined below) will never result in an inadmissible sequence of phonemes. This fact has a crucial implication in that nasal syllabifications are phonological (alternational) processes not phonetic (derivational) processes. Meaning that once /n/ emerges, nasal syllabification has nothing more to do with it. Namely, rules such as the following have nothing to do with nasal syllabification, and are covered by other independent processes that happen afterwords:

ん becomes [n] before /t/, /d/, /n/ and /r/

That's as far as I've read on the topic so far. I've never seen any formal rules but I might propose three myself (the last rule describes the actual alternations):

  • Comparing the last non-example to the first and second, either the eligibility criteria must discriminate on a semantic basis or that we should just dismiss this exception.
  • The eligibility criteria does discriminate on a morphological basis, specifically that particles of the form /nV/ and the mora /ɾa/ when belonging to non-past negative vowel roots ending in /ɾ/ are eligible (these statements pertain to morphemes).
  • If /nV/ is eligible, and a second V follows on the right (ignoring morpheme boundaries), then /nVV/ is eligible, and /nVV/ → /n/ (see examples 2 and 7). Otherwise /nV/ → /n/. The second vowel deletion process ignores morpheme boundaries. Lastly, if /ɾa/ is eligible then /ɾa/ → /n/.

As for @sawa's examples:

  • こんなの → こんなん Phonemically we have /konnano/ → /konnan/ which is not problematic because the /n/ emerges after the syllabification has occurred. The resulting word-final (moraic) /n/ is admissible in Japanese (and is in fact realized as [ɴː] in this case).
  • "sentence-final particles/nominalizers as in 食べたの → 食べたん" Basically the same thing as above; The /no/ in /tabetano/ is eligible and the resultant /n/ will be followed by either a vowel, a consonant, or a morpheme/word/phrase boundary. But all such resultant sequences are admissible.
  • 食べぬ → 食べん Same thing as こんなの → こんなん because in either case we have /nV/->/n/ (the vowel V is not discriminated).
  • にて → んて → で Only the first alternation is relevant to nasal syllabification, but to attribute the alternation to NS, that に must be eligible. I only stipulated that particles (postpositions) of the form /nV/ are eligible, so for NS to work here there would have to be a morpheme boundary between the に and て.
  • それで → そんで The source word is /soɾede/ but all I know for sure is that /ɾa/ is eligible. Considering that in /nV/ → /n/ the vowel wasn't discriminated, we could potentially have the rule /ɾV/ → /n/.

And for @Pacerier question:

Btw when you say "does happen in speech", do you mean that the speaker knowingly (with intention) does a 「おれん…」 instead of a 「おれの…」?

Nasal syllabification is not mandatory; given the the appropriate context (fast/casual speech) an eligible mora undergoing syllabification is entirely optional. Whether or not a speaker is aware or will remember I don't know.

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$4 @sawa にて → んて → で Is this a real etymology? As I said above, the first NS alternation is predicated on a morpheme boundary (β) existing as: にβて. Which implies that the alternation んて → で would be transgressing morpheme boundaries. I'm curious to know what environments にて → んて → で occurs in. Or, in other words, could you draw all the relevant morpheme boundaries? For example , assuming に is a morpheme, and て is a morpheme (perhaps a particle), and で is the modern day particle, we would have as morpheme boundaries: βにβてβ → βんβてβ → βでβ. (If X is a particle then it has morpheme boundaries βXβ) –  taylor Jun 22 '12 at 1:20
I don't understand your comment thoroughly, but that is the concensus in traditional Japanese linguistics (国語学) confirmed by historical facts. Each particle is a morpheme, clearly, but maybe their status as a word may matter? Lexical phonology may be at work here? –  sawa Jun 22 '12 at 1:40
@sawa The problem is that にて → んて → で is very ambiguous in technical respects. For example, I don't know if に is part of the word かに (crab) so that にて → んて → で is actually かにて → かんて → かで. Nor can I tell if にて → んて → で is actually にてよ → んてよ → でよ because the environment is not clarified. If a textbook only states that "にて → んて → で" then either they are assuming the reader implicitly understands the environment or they are not specifying to a sufficient level of detail for phonological analysis. If you can find the explicit environment, then comment here again. ありあり –  taylor Jun 22 '12 at 3:36
@taylor As sawa says, にて→で (evolution of the particle で) is a historical change; it is very well attested, but it is fully lexicalized by now -- I don't believe that にて is an "underlying phonetic form" of で in any meaningful sense in contemporary Japanese. So the environment is "everywhere that で is/was used", but the place to look is not contemporary Japanese phonology -- you have to go way back. "A History of the Japanese Language" (Frellesvig 2010) covers this issue and several related ones very well. –  Matt Jun 22 '12 at 8:06
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I'm going to assume that you specifically mean the "genitive" の, since all your examples are of this kind (i.e. not substantivizing の, or just random のs).

I'm guessing here, but I think it's likely that the substitution can only happen when the substituted ん would thereby be pronounced as a phonetic [n] (sorry, I can't write IPA, but feel free to edit my post as necessary). In the examples you have given, where the substitution is possible, the pronunciation will be


To recap, ん becomes [n] before /t/, /d/, /n/ and /r/ (I'm not sure if this varies slightly depending on speaker. I'm open to comments or edits if this is not precise).

Also, it doesn't seem to happen when it would case two んs in a row, something that normally doesn't happen in Japanese.

In most of the examples in the second batch you've given, the substitution is unlikely to happen, since the pronunciation of ん would not be [n]:

ore(uvular N)kaasan
ore(nasal e)ie
ore(uvular N)sensee
enu(nasal u)enu

As for


I think this one does happen in speech, although it wouldn't appear in writing. It's probably a phrase not occuring often enough to have become a fixed phrase like the first batch of examples you gave.

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1) I think you better describe it as vowel deletion rather than substitution. 2) What about the cases where the /n/ in question appears at a boundary, such as in こんなのこんなん, or for sentence-final particles/nominalizers as in my comment to the question 食べたの → 食べたん, or the negative 食べぬ食べん? Would they fit your explanation or not? –  sawa Jun 12 '12 at 3:06
Also, there is a historical change にてんて. Do you think this is related? And, less likely related, which does not start from an underlying /n/ but has a liquid /r/, there is それでそんで. What about that? –  sawa Jun 12 '12 at 3:21
@sawa I assumed the asker was only asking about the "genitive" の. Edited to clarify my assumption. It's obvious from your examples that different rules apply for substantivizing のs. –  dainichi Jun 12 '12 at 10:47
I think you are right about the intention of the question. Since it is phonology, grammatical roles do not always matter (although sometimes they may). I was suggesting to see if you can extend the rules, but there is no problem if you do not want to. –  sawa Jun 12 '12 at 11:10
@dainichi Btw when you say "does happen in speech", do you mean that the speaker knowingly (with intention) does a 「おれん…」 instead of a 「おれの…」? –  Pacerier Jun 12 '12 at 22:46
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I was going to leave a comment since maybe I'm way out on a limb here, but it got long so I'll just make it an answer..

In these cases I think it's important to remember that languages evolve. They aren't really built from rules, that's just how we analyze them. Contractions like these happens naturally when this happens, and there may not be any specific rules to cover it. It's simply people being lazy.

This is also why it's discouraged to write ん in place of の, because written words are supposed to adhere to the rules we've made for them, and this is strictly speaking "wrong". What this really means of course is that it just hasn't been widely accepted as proper yet. (and maybe never really will)

So tl;dr; Substitute の with ん in speech or "casual writing" when it simply rolls easier of your tongue that way. (or copy natives, of course) It's fine as long as there's no ambiguity. (and you don't sound rude for being too sloppy)

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I totally disagree. What you have here is the idea that most people believed before modern linguistics. You cannot randomly replace the characters. There certainly is a rule. –  sawa Jun 9 '12 at 11:36
To avoid a long, possibly meaningless discussion about it, I think we should just agree to disagree. :) Though I'd be interested if you could provide a source for your statement about modern linguistics, because in my answer I essentially paraphrased a person whom I think would know about that. –  gibbon Jun 9 '12 at 17:46
Hmm I think that there may have been some phonological rules in play here, basing from the observance that the first N couldn't have ended with ん. –  Pacerier Jun 10 '12 at 16:08
I agree with sawa that “languages evolve” and “it’s simply people being lazy” do not imply that there are no specific rules. Often linguistic phenomena have rules behind them, even before anyone is aware of the rules. Seeking for these hidden rules is one of linguists’ jobs. (gibbon: Just in case, I am not writing this to convince you. I just thought that some more explanation of sawa’s point would help readers.) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 12 '12 at 0:46
@TsuyoshiIto "I am not writing this to convince you" - well you're doing a pretty good job of it. :) I agree that there are probably patterns we follow even when being lazy in this manner. –  gibbon Jun 12 '12 at 5:41
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