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I'm guessing this is a pretty straightforward question. Examples would be helpful too, thank you!

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4 Answers

Please consider my answer to This question.

Both the question and my answer (and other answers as well) will redirect you to very interesting content and useful grammar aspects regarding your question.

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の as a particle has the very simple function of noun modification. You might find some comparisons between の and the English 's or "of", however these can be a bit confusing once you start running into less directly translatable uses.

For example:

  • 私の車 - My car
  • 昨日の宿題 - Yesterday's homework
  • アメリカの出身 - To be from America
  • なんのため(?) - For what purpose(?)

It can also act similarly to the particle が in some sentences:

  • 人気{ひとけ}のないところ
  • 人気{にんき}のあるもの - Popular item (can put anything here)

の as a pronoun, on the other hand, is very simple in its most basic uses, being the basic equivalent to the English "one." The question that Andry links to addresses the nuances, but most of the time you'll be fine associating it with "one" in English, or something similar to a possessive pronoun like "mine." For example:

  • 赤いの欲しい - I want a red one
  • 暖かいの飲みたい - I want to drink a hot one
  • 私のは小さい車だよ - My car is the small one

There are some grammatical rules to it, like not ending the sentence with the pronoun の. Grammar dictionaries are great for the nuances.

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Well, "A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar" has a special paragraph about it. It gives:

私はトムの(ペン)がほしい。 - I want Tom's (pen).

In this example トムの is the omitted form of トムのペン. Therefore it's just a particle and not a pronoun.

On the other hand, a noun can't be added after の used as a pronoun. i.e.

私は黒いのが欲しい - I want a black one.

In this case, の is not an omitted form.

Saying:

私は黒いのペンが欲しい - I want a black pen (Grammatically wrong!)

Would be grammatically incorrect (The right way would be 私は黒いペンが欲しい).

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「トーム」 is "Tom"? –  Chocolate Nov 17 '12 at 14:01
    
Yeah, it is. Will edit with translations (forgot them actually ><) –  Nescio Nov 17 '12 at 14:08
    
Thank you guys for the great edits. I'm still learning this system so stuff tend to look ugly ><. –  Nescio Nov 19 '12 at 9:38
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To be precise, の is a particle that can fulfill different roles (mainly: attribution, concomitancy, substitution). So の as a "pronoun" is just の particle substitutive use and not a pronoun.

So from your question, the main difference will be the role in the sentence.

Atribution ([連体]{れんたい})

父の車。
Dad's car.

Concomitancy ([並立]{へいりつ})

行くの行かないの、迷っています。
I am hesitating to go or not.

Substitution ([代用]{だいよう})

走るのが好き。 (same as 走ることが好き。)
I like running.

That said, there are of course more nuanced uses of の but if you can clearly understand and use these 3 roles, you made the hardest part.

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