The following sentence means "seeing all the different foreign people was interesting."

This, according to my Japanese friends is incorrect:


... and this is correct:


To me, the difference is so subtle that I can't really get a feel for how the presence of の really changes it.

Can someone provide an explanation that clarifies what makes の important in this situation?

Update: I'm actually still confused by this. Couldn't the first example mean "Looking at the various foreigners was interesting", and the second example mean "That I was looking at the various foreigners was interesting"?

4 Answers 4


In this case, 「の」 changes the verb "to [be] see" into the gerund form "[be] seeing", which is what you found interesting. After that, 「は」 is just 「は」.

  • 1
    Isn't it already in the gerund just by having ている? Jun 19, 2011 at 6:51
  • 1
    Ah, I misunderstood the gerund, nevermind. Jun 19, 2011 at 7:10
  • 2
    I think that the notation “[be] seeing” is confusing because it suggests that it is a progressive form instead of a gerund. It is probably better to just write “seeing.” Jun 19, 2011 at 15:17
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    A "gerund" is a verb that has been changed it into a noun that identifies the action the verb represents. "swim" -> "swimming", "look" -> "looking", etc. Jun 20, 2011 at 5:14
  • 1
    English lacks the granularity to translate the 「~ている」 conjugation properly; translating it as "to be Xing" is the closest equivalent in English, but it is not actually the gerund. Jun 20, 2011 at 7:29

By putting "の", your are making a nominal group from the proposition that precedes it, and you put the focus on the action (there is a nuance with "こと", which takes practice to feel). Then, since you made a nominal group, you need your usual particles after, such as は、 に、 or whatever is required.

I like to be eating a cake. (The fun is in the eating.)

I like to eat cakes. (Generality. I like cakes.)

I have been disturbed by children playing outside. (The playing is the reason of the disturbance)

  • One sounds like what you want to do now and the other like a description of your tastes. Is that right or that's just pure coincidence?
    – Pablo
    Sep 20, 2018 at 21:47

we use の when we are talking about the verb. It is like "to" or "-ing" in English.


Actually both forms are correct. の is a recent development in Japanese, before it appeared, you'd use the 連体形(行く/熱い/綺麗な[る]/食べた[る]) directly before particles. An example can be seen here:


森鴎外 「舞姫」

You should still use の, though.

  • 2
    Nowadays, the omission of の is rather for verse i.e. writing stories, poems, etc.
    – syockit
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:02
  • @syockit, that's true, but I've noticed some contemporary people clearly omitting の when speaking(no ん no nothing). What I don't know is whether that's because of pedantry or because of their dialect. I'd say it's the former.
    – user145
    Sep 1, 2011 at 2:32
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    I don't know if it's called pedantry, but in speech, it's usually used in dramatic/empathic(emotional) sentences, like when complaining someone's behavior, or feeling sorry for a sad incident, etc.
    – syockit
    Sep 2, 2011 at 6:46
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    (In modern Japanese) zero-nominalization is common in some particular constructs (see japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4489/…), but not in others. Omitting の in the example sentence will definitely mark you as a non-native speaker.
    – dainichi
    Feb 28, 2012 at 1:29

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