For example, plugging these into Google, I can find stuff like, 自信のない人 and 自信がない人. Or, 愛のない生活 and 愛がない生活. I found a movie called 顔のないスパイ. How is this any different from 顔がないスパイ?

I've asked Japanese people this, and the only answer I've ever gotten is that that's a hard one to explain, and that there really isn't much difference worth noting. I'd like to know the gritty details though, what little nuance each holds.

I feel like I see this difference with "ない" more than anything, but that could just be me. I can't really recall ever hearing the opposite, like 自信のある人. Is this significant? Am I wrong?


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    I think that using が is a little colloquial, but this is just my personal impression and I have not thought over it. Jan 20, 2012 at 0:43
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    I think in all cases, both の and が can be used as a subject marker in relative clauses, i.e. 彼が食べた → 彼の食べたりんご/彼が食べたりんご 自信がある → 自信のある人/自信がある人 but whether there is a different in nuance, or whether one or the other tends to be used more under certain conditions, I don't know. I'd be interested to see somebody coming up with an in-depth analysis.
    – dainichi
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:09
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    I've always just heard that the が would throw some emphasis on the marked word and that the の would throw emphasis forward, over to the word the clause is modifying. I don't know if I explained that correctly but that is what I have always heard, although I'm not sure if it's correct.
    – Lucas
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:18
  • @Above users. All those should belong in the answers section even though they may not be exhaustive.
    – Flaw
    Jan 20, 2012 at 3:46

2 Answers 2


The difference between this kind of case alternation mostly appears in the possibility of the logical scope.

'(three possibly different) book(s) that three students bought'

'a single book that three students bought'

And indeed, negation is one environment where logical scope becomes relevant, so yes, there should be difference when you have negation.

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    Thank you for your answer. I'd still specifically like to know the difference in the case of ない. For example, the movie title I found: 「顔のないスパイ」 ("Spy without a face"). What would the difference be, if any, between that, and 「顔がないスパイ」? If the movie were titled that, instead of 顔のないスパイ, on a scale of "flat out wrong" to "perfectly correct", where would it fall? How, in concrete detail, would it change the meaning? Jan 20, 2012 at 1:32
  • @sawa. Since you indicated that negation is one environment where logical scope is relevant, it would make for a complete answer if you were to illustrate how it is in at least one case.
    – Flaw
    Jan 20, 2012 at 3:44
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    I'm a bit confused on the "logical scope" part to be honest, keeping in mind the movie title example (顔のないスパイ). Particularly because the example is so short (there are only two nouns and no numbers). I tried another similar example via Google Search. In quotes, in Google, 顔がない男 = 22 million results. 顔のない男 = 114,000 results. の, while far less used, seems to get more legitimate results (i.e. a book on Amazon titled 顔のない男). But the が version has plenty of people using it in forums and blogs. So both are clearly legal in terms of grammar, but something must be different. Jan 20, 2012 at 4:22
  • @CptSupermrkt I don't know the Google you are using, but in Google that I know, "顔がない男" hits less than 46 matches, whereas it says that "顔がない男" hits 114000 matches.
    – user458
    Jan 20, 2012 at 4:54
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    Strange, I just did it again, "顔がない男" gives me "About 43,700,000 results (0.10 seconds)" and "顔のない男" gives me "About 114,000 results (0.12 seconds)", both searches in quotes.  Top result I get for が is a photograph: [顔がない男] (matome.naver.jp/odai/2126630425930832201/2126637041231295603) Is the title of that photograph as 顔がない男 incorrect? How is it different than this book:  [顔のない男] (amazon.co.jp/…) Jan 20, 2012 at 5:01

顔がない男,,as the name suggest a spy who doesn't have a fixed look. Because of being into the spy profession, he has to change his look frequently according to the his safety and requirements of his profession.and the title indicating about that thing and it in the intransitive form. So in the bcoz of Intransitive form Ga particle is more appropriately used in the title instead of No particle.(I thinks)

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    I don't quite understand the second half of your post. It may be something lost in translation (and the title indicating about that thing and it in the intransitive form). Could you reread and rewrite what you want to say?
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 19, 2016 at 19:20

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