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(Italics are used to indicate revisions to the orginal question made in response to feedback so far)

According to "A students' guide to Japanese grammar", by Naomi McGloin, の is used as a pronoun meaning "one" for tangible or intangible objects such as 車 or 意見 but not highly abstract ones such as 力 . The following three sentences are given:


田中さんの意見は面白いが山田さんのはちょっと問題がある。 correct


Could somebody explain/define a little bit more clearly the difference between an intangible object and "a highly abstract" object illustrated by these sentences?

(Or in other words both are intangible but only 力 is "highly abstract": possibly highly abstract means "subjective" (?) but if this interpretation of "highly abstract" is correct, could anyone give a few more examples to help me nail this down?)

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The grammar book seems misguided. In 山田さんのは, の is the genitive の, and doesn't mean "one". It corresponds to the "'s" in "Yamada's". 意見 is left out by ellipsis. –  dainichi Nov 9 '12 at 4:00
I agree, these example sentences do nothing to illustrate the stated grammar. Usually の is contrasted with こと to illustrate the usage difference for this topic. –  Mr. Wizard Nov 9 '12 at 6:06
Thank you both - I have amended the question to make it clearer. I can see more clearly where jlptn1 was coming from. (The section of book does contrast the use of koto, mono and no. That is why I mistakenly said no is used as noun meaning "thing". However my question was on the detailed application of no.) –  Tim Nov 9 '12 at 23:48
To get a better idea of the difference between の meaning "one" and genitive の, see p.317 of A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. –  snailboat Nov 16 '12 at 19:57
@Tim: there's no way to "re-award" the bounty. If you want to do so, your only option is to open a bounty again and award it to your actual choice. –  Dave Dec 3 '12 at 3:25
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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

My grammar book (日本語文型辞典) says that (when used to mean "one"):

  • noun+ = noun+のもの
  • na-adjective+なの = na-adjective+なもの
  • (i-adjective/verb)+ = (i-adjective/verb)+もの


  • 大きい車は高いが、小さい(の・もの)は安い。
    A big car is expensive, but a small one is cheap.

  • 田中さんの意見は面白いが山田さんのものはちょっと問題がある。
    Tanaka's opinion is interesting, but Yamada's one has a bit of a problem.

    Though I'm not experienced enough to be sure about about this , this sentence sounds like it might be incorrect/unnatural to me in both Japanese and English, so I think it may well be a different usage indicating a possessive, i.e:

    Tanaka's opinion is interesting, but Yamada's has a bit of a problem.

  • 日本の町人は経済的な力を持っていたが、政治的な(の・もの)は持っていなかった。
    Japanese merchants had economic power, but didn't have an economic one.

    I think this sentence wouldn't work in either English or Japanese.

For reference, here are some of the examples it gives:

  • この電話は壊れてますので、隣の部屋をお使い下さい。
    This telephone is broken, so please use the one in the next room.

  • ラーメンなら、駅前のそば屋が安くておいしいよ。
    If it's Ramen you're after, you can get [some/it] at the soba noodle shop in front of the station where it's cheap and tasty.

  • ...もっと小さくて便利なを探さなくてはならない。
    ...(I) need to search for a smaller and more convenient one.

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I don't think「ラーメンなら駅前のそば屋"のもの"が安くておいしいよ。」is grammatically wrong, but we normally say「ラーメンなら駅前のそば屋"の"が安くておいしいよ。」or just「ラーメンなら駅前のそば屋が安くておいしいよ。」. I think this is because the の is colloquial/less formal, because「ご贈答品なら、京都駅の伊勢丹百貨店"のもの"をお勧めいたします。」sounds fine but「ご贈答品なら、京都駅の伊勢丹百貨店"の"をお勧めいたします。」sounds a bit weird, especially in the written style. –  Chocolate Nov 14 '12 at 10:35
Thanks that's interesting. I would have though that the following English sentences did work and reflect the original Japanese(?): "Japanese merchants had economic but not political power." "If it's Ramen you're after, the "stuff" at the soba noodle shop in front of the station is cheap and tasty." –  Tim Nov 14 '12 at 13:42
@Tim The problem I was having with that sentence was more a problem with English than Japanese I think. I think you can say "If it's Apples you're after, the ones you can get..." but you can't say "If it's Ramen you're after, the ones you can get" but can say "you can get some" as you count an apple as "one" whereas with Ramen the serving size is an unspecified amount (or something along those lines). I don't think that 日本の町人は経済的な力を持っていたが、政治的なのは持っていなかった。 could work in Japanese or English as もの generally refers to physical things (as does the English "one", though there are some exceptions). –  cypher Nov 14 '12 at 23:51
@Chocolate thanks for the comment - It's interesting about the formality difference, I didn't realize that. I certainly don't think you can replace with もの in many of the examples above and it be as natural, it was just whether it could be done with more-or-less the same meaning, I probably should have said something about that in my answer. –  cypher Nov 14 '12 at 23:57
@cypher: On the assumption the reference book is correct (it is by a reputable scholar) I am coming round to your comment likening the Japanese "one" to the English "one". Do you have anymore abstract objects that don't work? (To test this in English I have just come up with force, propulsion, velocity which probably [don't] work in Japanese too.) –  Tim Nov 17 '12 at 4:41
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Are you sure it was 意見 and 力 are the examples used as highly abstract objects?

In these examples it is the possessive and adjectives that determine the use of の vs な, and the possibility of using の by itself.

for example


is also correct, but


is wrong. Although to me it seems that this is only because 政治的 can be an adjective or a adverb, but not a noun, and not because of a 'one' meaning as dainichi pointed out.

The cases where の is used as one might look more like this

どっちのがいい?(which one)

赤いのがいい(the red one)

In that case it seems informal and more likely to be used with physical objects. I don't know if you can use it with 'highly abstract objects' or not but it seems possible for some. Maybe someone can comment.

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Only 力 is considered to be "highly abstract". In response to your answer I have updated the question (in italics) to make this clear. You appear to have answered a different question: "what is the difference between 政治的のN and 政治的なN. (Thanks, please do take another look.) –  Tim Nov 8 '12 at 15:20
jlptn1:I have given you an upvote because your response helped me to think about the question: "highly tangible" possibly means something subjective and opinion can be objective. (Still not convinced tho', an opinion could be unclear and strength can be measured...need to at least find a few more examples...) – –  Tim Nov 8 '12 at 22:43
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I think the key here is that the noun to which の is referring in the second example is a "fuzzy concept" noun (a term that I've coined myself after contemplating this answer.)

In your comment to jlptn1's answer, you mention that because "strength can be measured," it's not definitively a "subjective" concept. Firstly, I think translating 力 as "strength" is a mistranslation. There isn't a single word in English that accurately encompasses what it really means; 力 is best defined using a range of terms, and only one of those is "strength." Others include ability, power, fortitude, etc. As a result of this range of definitions, 力 as a noun takes on a sort of protean character, in that its definition varies depending on the context.

I think that this context dependency, coupled with its "fuzzy" meaning, prevents 力 from being used in the construction you've shown above. The semantic crux of the above construction is that in both halves of the sentence, the noun being referred to remains essentially identical. Let's take this example:

私は青い猫は好きですが、赤いのは嫌いです。// "I like blue cats, but I hate red ones."

In both halves of the sentence, "cat" is just that: "cat." Whether it is blue or red, a cat is still semantically a cat, and therefore we can eschew referring to it explicitly in the second half and use the pronoun の. This criterion—that the noun in question remains identical in both the pronoun and antecedent cases—is not met in the last example you gave. The "力" in 経済的な力 and 政治的な力 most likely cannot be equated in Japanese grammar. Why? Well, economic 力 and political 力 might be fundamentally different concepts. The former may refer to more of a fortitude, while the latter is more of a power or ability. I cannot definitively say what the difference between both sorts of 力 is, but I do recognize that this difference exists. The 力 being used in the first half of the sentence is not replaceable with the 力 being used in the second half; therefore, one cannot replace one with a pronoun that refers to the other.

That's probably why it's grammatically incorrect to use の to refer to "highly abstract nouns": they've got multiple definitions, and their meaning in a particular context is highly influenced by that context, so they're not as interchangeable as everyday nouns. A few nouns which I am willing to bet fall under this "highly abstract" umbrella are 幸せ (happiness, elation, etc.), 苦しみ (suffering, pain, hardship), and 快楽 (pleasure). There's surely many more.

I hope this explanation made some sort of sense to you; it's mostly just speculation on my part, but I think it at least sort of gets at what the real answer may be.

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Well, this is not something easy and I had to take some of my grammar books back from shelf. Actually I also asked some Japanese teachers of mine in order to better understand this, and the answer is something I expected.

Just some grammar check

In order to provide some theory, here is grammar explanation for particle の usages (the two most important one):

  1. To specify something more about an object.
  2. To specify ownership.
  3. To take up some topic in the sentence without any need to repeat it.

1) Detailing and providing more info

In the first case the pattern is quite simple:

(Noun-1)の(Noun-2) => (Noun-1) is a characteristic of (Noun-2)

Examples are:

1.1) この雑誌は車の雑誌ですよ。 => This magazine is a magazine about cars.

1.2) この気温のセンサーは本当に大切な物なので、気をつけて下さい。 => This temperature sensor (sensor of temperature) is very important, please be careful.

1.3) コンビニの人は優しいです。 => Workers in convenience stores are really nice.

2) Ownership

In the second case, we have the following:

(Person|Company|Group|Abstract-Concept)の(Noun) => (Noun)'s(Person|Company|Group|Abstract-Concept)

In this context, almost all times, it is possible to intend this usage as possession and translate it using Saxon Genitive. Examples are:

2.1) それはバットマンの車ですよ。 => That's Batman's car!

2.2) このペンはあなたの物じゃないよ!すぐ返せ! => That pen is not your stuff! Return it immediately!

3) Avoiding redundancy

This usage is the most complicated. For this reason I going to be very clear. Furthermore I want everyone to be sure that this information is reliable; for this reason I am going to copy the exact words from my Japanese grammar book: Minna no Nihongo II - Translation and Grammatical Notes (みんあの日本語 - 初級II翻訳・文法解説英語版). Following is the exact definition that you can find in the book I mentioned at page 81.

Following my copy of the pattern shown in the book (I edited it to make it similar to my pattern style).





The explanation is:

This pattern is used when a noun representing a thing, a person, a place, etc., is replaced with の and then taken up as the topic of the sentence. In examples 3.1 and 3.2, "The place where my daughter was born" and "The busiest month of the year" are taken up as topics, and the speaker gives related information in the latter half of the sentence.

Following are both the examples in the book:

3.1) 娘{むすめ}が生{う}まれたのは北{ほっ}海{かい}道{どう}の小{ちい}さな町{まち}です。 => My daughter's birthplace is a small town in Hokkaido.

3.2) 1年{ねん}でいちばん忙{いそが}しいのは12月{がつ}です。 => The busiest month of the year is December.

I also tried to find something more in other books (for example the official Nihongo Somatome for learning N3), but could not find any specific detail about your issue.

The answer to your question

Sorry to keep you waiting. As you can see from my grammar book, it is not really true that highly abstract objects cannot be used in such patterns.

Questioning to some Japanese folks I know, they say that the highly abstract stuff was some sort of old grammar rule which no longer applies in written and spoken language. There are contexts where these grammars are considered, but they do not apply to informal documents (not even formal ones). Let us say that if you are about to write a Japanese poem in ancient style, probably it will work.

In one year that I have been living in Japan I heard Japanese people using this grammar and using abstract, real and more than touchable entities... So do not really worry about this.

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I am still waiting for some answers from my teachers... they will research a bit more about this... gonna edit the answer after I receive reply! –  Andry Nov 13 '12 at 23:24
Thanks - can I confirm, you think my sentence 3 (力)is correct afterall? –  Tim Nov 14 '12 at 13:30
@Tim: I am not sure, but I think that you can just drop everything... I mean, instead of 経済的な力, it is possible (imo) to have; 経済的力. The problem, in my case, is that I have never encountered な used as a replace of の; this means that I do not have full knowledge about this matter. However, I think that dropping な as I suggested is not wrong. Hope it helps. What do you think about this? –  Andry Nov 15 '12 at 7:00
Thanks. Do note that we are not replacing な in my examples but the noun. (I think you are referring to the sentence first answer which written before I amended by question.) –  Tim Nov 17 '12 at 4:38
@Andry: It may well be possible to drop the な, I am not a native speaker but it does not feel too unnatural. However I have taken these sentences and theory from a fairly reputable reference book so I don't expect them to be wrong or that out dated although,as your advisors say, there may be other ways write the sentence. –  Tim Nov 19 '12 at 15:33
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