Why do the counting words use a possesive particle?

1 Answer 1


I don't think の is strictly a possessive particle when addressing quantities, much like the functionally overloaded に and で.

In Japanese, you can use counting words as prefix: 500グラムのバター or suffix: バター500グラム, so it acts more like a connective than a possessive particle anyway. If you look at 「全てのバター」 ("the butter of all" = all the (blocks of) butter) vs. 「バターの全て」 ("all of the butter") you might even /feel/ that there is a difference, though I think that difference is too obscure to make use of it.

Possessive particles are well-defined on (a subset of) the domain of (NP,NP), e.g. 「家族の友達」 and have their syntax reused for other domains, e.g. 緑の花 (the flower of green), 一個のパン (the bread of one).

It is possible to think of の as a substitute topic marker (は). Such is the reasoning for these phrases:

相手の日本人 or 日本人の相手?

What is the role of の in 「お父さんのバカ!」

  • I'm afraid I don't follow- even in the NP NP case の can mean possesion or something like は、 but I've never been taught that other meaning and it isn't は、can you explain in a different way?
    – user3457
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 23:26
  • Saying 家族の友達 can mean the family's friend, or the family that is a friend right?
    – user3457
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 23:27
  • Or 医者の友達、 can't it mean the doctor's friend or my friend that is a doctor right?
    – user3457
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 23:37
  • @Tony: 1. which example? 2. yes and yes 3. yes and yes. Let me point out that the interpretation as possessive is one of many that の can have. Look at 「子供の本」: "the book of the child(ren)", "a book for children", "a book by children", "a book made out of children...", these are all valid interpretations of the connective. The same interpretation you arrive at if you simply read "children-book" in English (because juxtaposition is heavily overloaded). Commented May 25, 2013 at 23:59
  • So is the only way to know via context?
    – user3457
    Commented May 26, 2013 at 0:17

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