Sentences with more than one の always cause me some difficulty. For instance,


has two の particles. If I analyse it from an English perspective, I'd respect the order, and so the first の connects 盾 and 勇者 whilst the second connects 盾の勇者 and 成り上がり. However, Japanese uses the particle system and, as far as I know, the order is non-important. In that sense, the previous conclusion doesn't apply.

Another way I could think of interpreting the sentence is to judge both connections and see which one makes more sense. In this case, possible connections are:

1st の: 盾 and 勇者
2nd の: 盾の勇者 and 成り上がり

2nd の:勇者 and 成り上がり
1st の:盾 and 勇者の成り上がり

I think case B doesn't make much sense here, and so I would group things as A.

This is essentially a practical example, but the sentence follows a more general structure,


What I'd like to know is the following:

  1. I'm almost certain but I'd like to check that order is in fact irrelevant.

  2. Is splitting the sentence into cases A and B, and then determining the most logical one, the correct way to analyse these kind of sentences?

  3. If 2. applies, can there be a case in which both cases are equally possible? If so, how would one distinguish between the two?

1 Answer 1


Let me take these one at a time.

  1. I am not entirely sure what you are getting at here with order being irrelevant.盾の勇者の成り上がり is definitely not the same thing as 勇者の盾の成り上がり; the latter is talking about the rising of the hero's shield. If you are asking about whether the order includes some kind of concrete hint as to how to disambiguate these things: not explicitly, but see #3 below.
  2. Yes, although realistically most of these should be obvious enough (or the two interpretations should be similar enough) that it shouldn't take that much conscious effort.

I'm going to spend the rest of the answer on #3. First, I want to address this:

If I analyse it from an English perspective, I'd respect the order, and so the first の connects 盾 and 勇者 whilst the second connects 盾の勇者 and 成り上がり.

It seems to me that because you don't have to consciously disambiguate in English, you have assumed English is not ambiguous. This is simply not true; this kind of ambiguity in association is present in a wide range of languages, including English. For example:

  • baby oil maker looks to me like baby oil + maker, or something that makes baby oil. The above interpretation is more reasonable because baby oil is a common collocation, but this could conceivably be referring to an oil maker who was a baby.

  • old car mechanic could easily either be a mechanic who specializes in old cars or a car mechanic who is old.

  • rising of the shield hero is unambiguous in English because of the of in the middle, but if we change this to rising shield hero it now suffers from the same problem of multiple possible interpretations.

Realistically, speakers disambiguate phrases like this based on context and common sense. This is what you do in English, and it's the same thing you have to do in Japanese. In cases with multiple plausible interpretations, you simply have to choose the most plausible, or ask for clarification. A few final examples:

  • ジョンの猫のおもちゃ is probably (ジョンの猫)のおもちゃ for John's cat's toy if John owns a cat, but if John works at a cat cafe and doesn't own a cat, it could conceivably be ジョンの(猫のおもちゃ) for John's cat toy.
  • As in English, this ambiguity includes adjectives as well. 可愛い子供の帽子 could either be a child's cute hat or the hat of a cute child.
  • I really like your answer, but there are some points I'd like to further discuss. What I meant by the order being irrelevant is well explained here. Next, in English, I feel you have ways to mark these things. For instance, old-car mechanic would be a mechanic of old cars, while old car mechanic would a car mechanic that is old. Lastly, from what I got from your answer, the order does matter in this case, but the meaning is ultimately left to common sense. Is this summary correct?
    – Jak
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 20:37
  • 2
    @Jak the link you posted is discussing the flexibility afforded to Japanese in regard to its sentence ordering (which as the post explains, is supposedly SOV). The genitive particle の and adjectives help build subject or object noun phrases, and cannot be scrambled in the same way. English hyphenation can force disambiguation but is not mandatory, nor is it available in speech. As for summary, yes, order usually matters inside noun phrases and the meaning is up to the listener/reader to disambiguate based on context and common sense.
    – Mindful
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 21:38

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