5

To say for instance 'a 30-year-old female Japanese doctor', is there a rule as to the order of complements?

日本(人?)の30歳の女の医者

医者の30歳の女の日本人

Are all orders created equal? Are some allowed and some not? Does changing the order change the meaning (a little, a lot)?

7

の is a very flexible particle, but there is one strict rule: the last noun is the main noun. Others serve as modifiers.

  • 日本人の医者 a Japanese doctor / a doctor who is Japanese
  • 医者の日本人 a Japanese person who is a doctor

If you want to say "a 30-year-old female Japanese doctor", doctor is the main word, so your translation should not end with 女 or 日本人. Besides this rule, the order of modifies is flexible as long as changing the order does not introduce ambiguity. In your case, the following phrases are all grammatical and at least understandable.

  • 30歳の女の日本人の医者
  • 女の30歳の日本人の医者
  • 30歳の日本人の女の医者
  • 日本人の30歳の女の医者
  • 女の日本人の30歳の医者
  • 日本人の女の30歳の医者

But native speakers don't usually say something like this in reality. Using three or more の's in succession tends to be seen as unsophisticated. You can reduce at least one の by using 女医 ("female doctor") instead of 女の医者:

  • 30歳の日本人の女医

In this case の after 日本人 can be omitted, too, because ~人 is often used like a prefix:

  • 30歳の日本人女医

Lastly, please keep in mind that changing the word order may result in a change in meaning.

  • 30歳の女の話 a story of a 30-year-old woman
  • 女の30歳の話 (incorrect)
  • 太郎の友達の本 a book of Taro's friend
  • 友達の太郎の本 a book of my friend Taro
  • 'prematurely' means 'too early'. Is this what you mean? – Mathieu Bouville Mar 29 at 6:43
  • To sum up: fairly free order provided that (i) the last word is the main one, (ii) there is no ambiguity and (iii) the list is kept rather short. – Mathieu Bouville Mar 29 at 7:12
  • @MathieuBouville Yes. And "prematurely" was not the right word, thank you for pointing it out. – naruto Mar 29 at 7:36
  • Interesting that there's a word 女医 but not 男医. – kandyman Mar 29 at 12:37

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