I'm sure something similar to this has been asked already, but I'm hoping this is a little different. I imagine the nominalizing usage of の is related to its noun modifying usage, like:




but in the first case the usage of こと is permitted, while in the latter it is not. Assuming these are these are the same の, why can't we use こと in both cases? Is it something like the の usage came about first, and later the こと usage was added?

  • 2
    It looks like your second example is from a paper on Internally Headed Relative Clauses (which not everyone accepts as perfectly grammatical―see Kikuta 2001 p.208-209 for discussion). Not everyone agrees on the theoretical status of の in IHRCs.
    – user1478
    Nov 5, 2014 at 22:11
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    The linked answer says nothing about the grammatical structure Anthony is asking about (or at least, it's claiming that こと would work, which it doesn't). This should be reopened. Nov 6, 2014 at 0:07
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    "テーブルの上にあったのを食べた" would look fine to me, but "テーブルの上にリンゴがあったのを食べた" looks like an ungrammatical sentence to me. I mean, what is that second の supposed to refer to, given that the subject りんごが is already mentioned?
    – Will
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:21
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    @Will You don't have to be a linguist to read about internally headed relatives. The paper I linked above has an introduction, along with some commentary on whether they're really grammatical or not (p.208-209). It isn't too difficult to read. Another description is in Iwasaki's 2013 Japanese: Revised Edition, pages 229-234. In Anthony's example, the direct object is the entire phrase [ テーブルの上にリンゴがあった ]-の, and there's no indication of which part of this phrase acts semantically like the head. The only thing that makes sense is eating apples, though, so we can figure it out from context.
    – user1478
    Nov 6, 2014 at 23:15

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia (Sorry, I couldn't find more reliable source) the の you've described is the の of 準体言助詞 .

It seems that this usage of の would magically work as if it were 「こと」「もの」「ところ」, or whatever the appropriate.

To answer your question of "Why can't こと be used instead of の?" the answer is "Because の has special gramatical usage that can substitute 「こと」「もの」「ところ」 or whatever".


You could certainly claim more easily that


is grammatical as opposed to the こと version. This sounds a bit strange to me either way. However,

I ate the one on the table with apples.

also is a bit confusing to me. It's sort of a garden-pathy sentence. Did you eat the apple dish sitting on the table or did you eat the dish sitting on a table also containing apples? For that matter, were you siting on the table full of apples eating something?

More to the point is that の often abbreviates もの as well as こと.

  • Does that help at all?
    – Ncat
    Nov 7, 2014 at 6:42

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