In one exercise I'm doing, it has the following sentence:


In this case, the position of the adjective 古い looks odd to me. I normally find it appear before noun or noun phrase, so I think it should be:


Is there a mistake with printing or something I should know about here?

Based on the content of that exercise, the sentence has the English translation as follows:

The oldest wooden building in the world.

  • 1
    On second thought, it might have a chance to be a valid sentence in some limited situation, so could you provide a context? Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 9:20
  • That's weird. The word 木の popped out of nothing (nor 法隆寺). Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 7:12

2 Answers 2


The two phrases are not identical. The difference is as follows:

  1. 世界で一番木の古い建物 = the building whose wood is oldest in the world
  2. 世界で一番古い木の建物 = the oldest wooden building in the world

The latter simply refers to the oldest building made of wood, which is 法隆寺. The former refers to a building which uses very old tree. Strictly speaking, the building itself does not necessarily have to be old. Yes, if you have 10000-year-old trees, you can use them and start building a 世界で一番木の古い建物 today. (Well, this is a nit-picky discussion; practically speaking, they refer to almost the same thing...)

木の古い建物 is the same as 木が古い建物, which has a relative clause that modifies 建物. If you know how to parse 鼻の長いゾウ, 心が綺麗な人, 背の高い男 and so on, you can parse 木の古い建物 the same way. (See this if you are unsure.)

  • 1
    Just to clarify, are you saying that 世界で一番木の古い建物 should not be translated as "the oldest wooden building in the world"?
    – kandyman
    Commented Aug 8, 2020 at 17:26
  • @kandyman 世界で一番木の古い建物 is a bit puzzling, so I would see the context or ask the original writer for clarification. It may be "the oldest wooden building" or "the building made of the oldest wood".
    – naruto
    Commented Aug 9, 2020 at 1:18
  • @kandyman I added the context: Based on the content of that exercise, the sentence has the English translation as follows: The oldest building in the world.
    – Khanh Tran
    Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 6:19
  • 1
    @petwho do you mean “the oldest wooden building”?
    – kandyman
    Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 7:18
  • 1
    @petwho If you want to simply say "the oldest wooden building", it's way more natural to say 一番古い木の建物, as you pointed out. Your exercise is not wrong, but it's a little odd...
    – naruto
    Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 1:49

This appears to be the が to の conversion which happens in relative clauses and attributive clauses. The usual 木古い gets converted to 木古い because it is embedded in the clause and is modifying a noun. See below for a similar discussion on this topic:

As for using 木が古い instead 古い木, this is not uncommon when describing some kind of attribute or a personality trait. The format is NounがAdjective where the adjective describes one particular attribute of the noun (but implies there are others).

  • Is 木 an noun here? I read it as tree at first but it should be translated as the adjective “wooden”, right?
    – Ragaroni
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 9:09
  • Ah, I hadn't considered that. In that case, disregard my answer. I'll delete it.
    – kandyman
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 9:52
  • When 木 is translated as "wooden", isn't that just to produce more idiomatic English? In Japanese, it should still be a noun. In this case, the sentence literally talks about the building where the wood (used to build it) is the oldest in the world. So I think kandyman's answer that this is an issue with が/の conversion still stands.
    – Kaskade
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 10:32
  • I'm still not sure about this I do think 一番木の古い建物 can be translated as 'oldest wooden building' since the literal translation can be 'building with the oldest wood', using the attributive phrasing I reference in my answer.
    – kandyman
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 14:22

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