In a comment, I've read 「目が見えないのは誰ですか」.

I remember that, some 10 years ago, I was told that "の" could not replace human beings. But here, since we use 誰, it's clearly a person that の refers to.

Is my memory failing, or is the above sentence casual but not correct, so to speak?

1 Answer 1


の can be a placeholder for many different things, including people and abstract concepts. In your sample sentence ("Who can't see?" or "Who is blind?") it refers to a person, but in other contexts it would refer to something else.

Note that の is often used to serve a similar function as こと, although you cannot use こと as a placeholder for a person. In other words, 「目が見えないことは誰ですか」 would be grammatically incorrect. However, you could say both 「目が見えないのは難しいですか」 and 「目が見えないことは難しいですか」 ("Is it hard to be blind?"), with the difference being that the former emphasizes personal experience and the latter emphasizes the abstract concept of being unable to see.

Anyway, to answer your question directly, 「目が見えないのは誰ですか」 is grammatically correct and sounds perfectly fine to me if you're trying to pick someone out of a crowd. I'm not aware of any particular rule against using の as a placeholder for a person. You could always use 「目が見えない方は誰ですか」 if you want to be more polite, though.

  • Well, I'm not asking about こと nor about の as a "nominalizer"… What bugs me is that I would avoid の and say "人", "方" or, maybe, "者" instead, but still, it's not what I'm asking for. I'm interested in evidences of correctness.
    – Axioplase
    Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 7:03
  • @Axioplase Hm, I'm not aware of any particular rule against using の as a placeholder for a person, though... Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 7:10
  • I see no reason の couldn't replace a person either. I'd translate your sentence as "Who's the one who can't see?".
    – alexandrec
    Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 13:38
  • @alexandrec For the same reasons "thing" doesn't usually replace a being in English, maybe? Even though, grammatically, it's plausible, it may be incorrect.
    – Axioplase
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 2:59
  • "thing" is a noun that refers to inanimate objects, not human beings, sure, but の is just a particle and as such carries no information about animacy.
    – alexandrec
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 20:12

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