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When linking 半分 and a noun with the の particle, I'm trying to understand the difference, if any, between putting the noun first and putting 半分 first. See these two examples I found online:

りんごの半分が腐っている。 Half of the apples are rotten. (source: Tatoeba)

半分のサンドイッチを食べる。 I eat half of a sandwich. (source: Professor Kamonohashi)

The first example seems to imply one half of a collection of things (e.g. five out of ten apples), while the second example seems to imply one half of a single thing (one half of one sandwich).

However, since Japanese doesn't usually directly express whether a noun is singular or plural, I'm unsure if this is a rule of how 半分 is used, or if other usages are possible and this is just a coincidence. That is to say, would "The apple is half rotten" and "I eat half of the sandwiches" also be valid translations, if you had no further context?

Does changing the word order change the meaning of the sentence, or are they interchangeable? If both are valid, is one order preferred over the other?

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2 Answers 2

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I'd say it is mostly interchangeable. It depends on contexts whether 半分 refers to a half of one thing or of a collection.

In particular, 半分のサンドイッチ can mean 6 sandwiches out of a dozen and 半分のリンゴ can be used to mean A half of a single apple are rotten (just realistically unlikely).


Regarding "half rotten" (meaning something that is not completely rotten but requires some courage to eat) would be そのリンゴは半分腐っている, where 半分 adverbially modifies 腐っている.

And even when you talk about a half of a single something or of a collection of something, using 半分 adverbially sounds more natural (to me).

  • サンドイッチを半分食べた

can mean you ate a half of the multiple sandwiches or one half of a single sandwich. (Here 半分 modifying 食べた does not make much sense, so it refers to a half of sandwich(es).)

  • リンゴが半分腐っている

can mean, technically,

  1. A half of a single apple is rotten
  2. A half of multiple apples are rotten
  3. One apple is half rotten
  4. Several apples are half rotten.

Just as a matter of reality, 1 is simply unlikely. As for 3 and 4, it is Japanese non-distinguishability of plurality. And 2 and 4 are not that different.

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半分のサンドイッチ, which is a noun phrase in itself, sounds to me like a sandwich prepared in half from the beginning, like a half-size sandwich. If you want to say you eat half a sandwich, the most natural way would be to say:

サンドイッチを半分食べる。

半分 takes the same position as other quantities.

サンドイッチを二個食べる。

It doesn’t really matter if it’s a half of one thing or a collection.

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