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A dictionary (三省堂の『例解小学国語辞典第5版』) definition of 棒:

持てるくらいの長さ、細長い木や竹や金属
???? long and thin wood, bamboo or metal.

I'm stumped on the first part of this definition. I have 持てるくらいの長さ = "Length to the extent that it can possess". Possess what?

And what is the following の? My guess is that it marks possession, i.e. each of wood, bamboo and metal have the property which is 持てるくらいの長さ. When I try and put all this together I can't get anything that makes sense.

If I had to guess the meaning I'd have said it means "Wood that possesses length" but I'd have written that as 長さを持っている木. Besides which, that's a terrible definition. The key characteristic is that it is longer than it is wide, but I can't see any way that it could mean that.

  • According to the Apple-provided Dictionary app, a definition of 棒 is「 手に持てるくらいの細長い木金属竹など。」which makes more sense, hopefully... – user27479 Dec 30 '18 at 17:26
  • Yep. That one I can understand just fine, thanks. – user3856370 Dec 30 '18 at 17:35
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I wonder if the comma after の is throwing you off. Let's start with the second part of the definition:

細長い木や竹や金属

I trust this is straightforward: Long and thin wood, bamboo, or metal.

When a noun is modified with の, as in XのY, it's often helpful to think of it as "an X kind of Y." For example: 日本人の学生 is a student. What kind of student? A Japanese student.

In this case, the modifier is:

持てるくらいの長さ

A length that you can hold. くらい here can be thought of as "to the extent that" or "enough that", so you could also say in English, "long enough that one can hold".

So to put it together:

持てるくらいの長さの、細長い木や竹や金属

Long-enough-that-one-can-hold long-and-thin wood, bamboo, or metal.

I'll leave the gloss into natural English up to you.

  • Thanks. I think my problem was that I'd convinced myself that 持てる was describing a property of the stick rather than simply meaning hold in your hand. So I never got round to thinking of the much more obvious meaning. – user3856370 Dec 31 '18 at 9:48

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