I've seen a couple times examples of using this format of [noun] の [adjective] and I mostly see it in the form ~の高い

Some specifics I'm referring to are: 人気の高い 柔軟性の高い

I can't think of any more off the top of my head; I encounter it most frequently with 人気の高い

Why isn't が used there? Or I've even heard 人気のある[noun]

Any insight into this would really help out. Thanks!


2 Answers 2


In these phrases, の and が are indeed 100% interchangeable as far as grammatical correctness is concerned.

Native speakers, however, often prefer using の because to us, の simply sounds softer and nicer than が. In "properly spoken Japanese", the 「が」 in phrases such as [人気]{にんき}が[高]{たか}い and [柔軟性]{じゅうなんせい}がある、should be pronounced using the velar nasal G instead of the accute G used for the 「が」 in 「[学校]{がっこう}」 and「[外国]{がいこく}」. In other words, using 「の」 saves us the trouble of producing the velar nasal or producing the accute G by mistake.


My first-grade teacher was particularly strict about the two G sounds in Japanese, so I could "discuss" this even after so many years, but when I tell Japanese-learners about this, 95% of them usually have no idea whatsoever what I am talking about.


Historically が and の had a much closer relationship. This relationship can still be observed in some modern words like 我が国, "our country". In this word が is a genitive marker and basically has the same function as modern Japanese の. In modern Japanese が and の can't be used interchangeably, but の can still replace が in modifying clauses. Because languages don't like redundancy, there's still a difference between が and の as the subject marker of a modifying clause.

[...] It is because が emphasizes the word before it that this subject marker is frequently softened in modifying clauses by replacing it with の, a modifying particle that throws your attentions ahead. [...] (From: Jay Rubin (1998) Making sense of Japanese, Kodansha International)


By marking the subject of the modifying clause with の, you are saying "the wallet Mr Shimizu picked up is here" and its being here is more important than its being picked up from Mr Shimizu.

の implies that the information in the main clause is more important than the information in the modifying clause. が doesn't imply the opposite though, it's more neutral.

The closest thing you can do in English is using a rising intonation.

清水さん拾った財布はここにあります  The wallet that (rise intonation) Mr Shimizu! (lower) picked up is here. - The implication being the wallet that is here is the one Mr Shimizu picked up.

清水さん拾った財布はここにあります  The wallet that Mr Shimizu picked up is here.

  • I probably have no business arguing with Jay Rubin, but my feeling is that が can have the function of emphasizing the thing before it, but it can also just be neutral. (Of course の is always neutral.) I think the phonetic argument that Tokyo Nagoya gave definitely comes into play as well, as opposed to a purely semantic one. Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 2:32
  • I kind of agree with on that one bit, that's what I said after the quotation, when I said ga it's more neutral. This is a syntactic problem; syntax is usually semantically and pragmatically motivated. Phonology and sociolinguistics don't affect it. Attempts to conform to avoid certain sounds to better conform to the phonology of the standard language come at a much later stage, when syntax has already been acquired by children.
    – Muffin
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 4:11

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