Why is the particle の used instead of が in phrases like 身寄りない人 or the sentence 琵琶湖の向こう岸に虹立つのを、麻子は見た。?

While I understand the meanings of these examples, I would have expected to find the nominative particle が. I've mostly seen this kind of pattern in dependent clauses and noun phrases. Does that have anything to do with it?

Does が have to be replaced with の in all cases like this, or would が be acceptable too? If so, is there any difference in nuance or style?

  • In the first case, の is preferred in "adjective-like" structures, such as 〜のある 〜のない 〜のいく 〜のいい 〜の悪い, etc. が is also acceptable. In the second case, it seems a little literary, but I'm not sure. が is of course correct.
    – Yang Muye
    May 12, 2014 at 9:56
  • 3
    I think we have several questions on が-の conversion (also called nominative-genitive conversion): japanese.stackexchange.com/q/12825/1478
    – user1478
    May 12, 2014 at 9:59
  • 1
    In a relative clause the subject particle が can be replaced by の. (I was very puzzled the first time I saw this construction. I did not think the sentence made any sense at all.)
    – user763305
    May 12, 2014 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


As an adjectival phrase modifying a noun, の tends to be used more often in the modern language, as mentioned by Yang Muye. Sometimes its use is more of a matter of emphasis or style, as in your second example.

  • 琵琶湖の向こう岸に虹立つのを、麻子は見た。

Here, the bold の is used to subtly alter the meaning. Translating this is subjective, but might be useful to demonstrate:

  • 琵琶湖の向こう岸に虹立つのを、麻子は見た。
    Asako saw the rising of the rainbow on the opposite shore of Lake Biwa.
  • 琵琶湖の向こう岸に虹立つのを、麻子は見た。
    Asako saw the rainbow rising on the opposite shore of Lake Biwa.

In the latter example using が, the rainbow becomes the subject of the embedded clause, が立つ, with the emphasis on the subject. Meanwhile, in the former example using の, the emphasis is on the verb itself, 虹の立つ, with the emphasis on that verb.

Hope that helps explain things. :)

  • (1) "Asako saw the rising of the rainbow on the opposite shore of Lake Biwa" feels a bit off from what it is. …虹の立つのを…見た is more like (2) "Asako saw the rainbow rising on the opposite shore of Lake Biwa". If I mean (1), I'd say …虹の出を見た.
    – user4092
    May 13, 2014 at 3:17
  • user4092, it's not really clear to me what you're saying. Do you mean that you think the emphasis is the other way around? Please address the two constructions in the question, 虹が立つ vs. 虹の立つ. May 13, 2014 at 8:03
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    Concerning emphasis, it's, as you say, 虹が that makes 虹 stand out. But 虹の立つ doesn't particularly put emphasis on the verb, and 虹の as in 虹の立つの is still the subject of the clause. Though you may already know it, genitive の・が had been used as a subject marker besides nominative (unmarked case) and that of の survives today in modifying clauses. The basic translation for 虹の/が立つのを見た is "I saw that the rainbow rose"
    – user4092
    May 14, 2014 at 4:10
  • Yes, both の and が can be used in embedded clauses like this, and yes, the basic translation works for both cases. However, the two constructions are not identical in terms of stylistic emphasis. One way of parsing this difference in grammatical terms is that, in 虹が立つの, the final の nominalizes the whole phrase 虹が立つ, wherein the 虹 is explicitly the subject of the verb 立つ. Meanwhile in 虹の立つの, the final の nominalizes the verb 立つ, which is modified by the 虹. Using parentheses as one would in mathematics, this might be expressed as (虹が立つ)の vs. (虹の(立つ))の. May 14, 2014 at 7:31
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    Now that you mention it, 虹の[立つの] "[that it rises](=rising) of the rainbow" is looking possible!
    – user4092
    May 15, 2014 at 9:04

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