A while back I was trying to break down 〜なの, and this is what I decided on (with the help of some of Bart Mathias's posts on mailing lists).

My hypothesis is that the nominalizer 〜の requires everything before it to be in adnominal form (usually meaning, 連体形{れんたいけい} for inflectable words).

In the cases of 形容詞{けいようし} (-i adjectives) and 動詞{どうし} (verbs), the 連体形{れんたいけい} is of course just the 終止形{しゅうしけい}:

  • 形容詞{けいようし} (-i adj): 熱{あつ}いの
  • 動詞{どうし} (verb): 切{き}るの

In the case of 形容動詞{けいようどうし} (-na adjectives), the 連体形{れんたいけい} is simply adding 〜な, which works out great:

  • 形容動詞{けいようどうし} (-na adj): 変{へん}なの

And finally, in the case of 名詞{めいし} (nouns), although they are not inflectable, we can consider both 〜の (possessive) and 〜な as ways to make them "adnominal" (I guess 連体詞{れんたいし} is the right translation into Japanese):

  • 名詞{めいし} (noun): 車{くるま}なの

To confirm this theory is actually true, I think the only avenue would be to look in historical texts to see if things like 大{おお}ききの, 死{し}ぬるの, or しずかなるの show up or not. Unfortunately, I am far from being able to do this myself, so I haven't been able to go confirm.

If it does happen to be true, I wonder why the nominalizer 〜の would require things before it to be adnominal. Is の really acting so much like a noun? It seems to be doing so syntactically, but really not so much semantically (from my beginner perspective). The only time it seems to semantically act like a noun is with 形容詞{けいようし} (-i adj) where you can kind of translate it as "thing" into English.

This is my theory, but I'd be happy to hear about a 国文法 explanation if there is one, or an analysis which looks at historical texts.

  • Syntax can be quite distinct from semantics sometimes...
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 8:54
  • 1
    @Sindry, little children? Where do you get that idea from?
    – dainichi
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 0:49
  • @Sindry Though if we consider the shortened form like in 熱いんだ, I think that doesn't have any childish connotation. Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 4:39
  • 1
    @Darius Jahandarie Cetainly not all shorted forms sound childish. In the case of "の", it does only when it's combined with adjectives as in the famous phrase "痛いの痛いの飛んでいけ", in my opinion. To be back on topic, the key word to look up is 準体助詞 if you want to know more about the nominalizerの, though you may already know judging from your knowledge that makes you not seem like a beginner.
    – Sindry
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 16:00
  • @Sindry Actually, I was not aware of that term, thank you. It seems that the pages online which discuss 準体助詞 confirm that they want the 連体形 before them in the case of 用言. I can't see much regarding 名詞 but I guess that it is probably what I thought. I still am curious how this semantically happened. Did の perform some different but related function historically? Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 17:23

1 Answer 1


Try this paper by Janick Wrona:

The early history of no as a nominaliser

Basically Wrona argues that it was an evolutionary change, and that at some point in time 'no' in a certain construction was newly interpreted as a general nominaliser.

  • Awesome paper, exactly what I was looking for, thanks! Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:41

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