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I have two examples here where the particle の is used where I would've used が so I was hoping someone could explain if there's a difference in these instances, or if either is acceptable.

主人のいない侍

顔のない男

Is there a reason の is used in place of が/is the meaning the same if one is used over the other?

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In short, relative (adjectival) clauses (that is, short phrases modifying a noun), の can replace が. There's really not much to say about it, other than that it is only used in very short clauses (usually subject の verb-or-adjective, and that's it), and if it's ambiguous with a "possessive" の than you either can't use it, or it has to "work either way".

You also wouldn't use it if there's any emphasis on the thing before が - the construction kind of makes the whole sub-phrase sound like a single adjective (I mean, that's what it is already, regardless of の vs が - but it sounds more flat with the の, I think)

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Both of の and が is OK to understand above two sentence. The reason is because 侍 have 主人, and 男 have 顔(usually).

But sometimes の and が can't be used. 〇 Aさんが私に書いた地図 ✕ Aさんの私に書いた地図 →because 地図 doesn't belong to Aさん

〇 Bさんが私にくれた時計 ✕ Bさんの私にくれた時計 →because 時計 doesn't belong to B さん

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  • I don't think the "have" explanation really works for this case. Sure, in this case the verbs being used are いる/ある which are like "to have", but there are plenty of cases where you can use の like this and it has nothing to do with "having". 子犬の食った宿題, for instance. It's not the dog's homework. Or 背の高い人 - are you going to say the shoulders/back "has" the tallness? This is not the possessive の, but the が-replacing の for sub-clauses. – Micah Cowan May 28 at 20:04

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