why is it that some 形容動詞 accepts の after it while some only accepts な after it?


の only: 普通、大勢

な or の: 初心、特別、特殊

Is there a way for us to tell if a 形容動詞 needs a の or な particle after it.. or is it just by brute force memory?

Btw my second question is that if a 形容動詞 accepts both の and な after it, is it true that usually we will use the な, even though の is grammatically correct too?

  • 3
    which 形容動詞 accepts の after it?
    – Lukman
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 3:46
  • see my edited question and tsuyoshi's comment on the answer at japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/892/…
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 6:38
  • 1
    Just in case, I said 特別の can be used, but I did not say anything about 特殊の. Off the top of my head, 特殊の sounds strange to me, but I will not rule out the possibility that it is used in some contexts. Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 15:06

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure if there's a real answer to that. At least not something that will help you learn which is which. Some 形容動詞 take な, some take の, and some take both. How did that happen? That's quite simple.

All 形容動詞 are in fact a special class of nouns. In academic English material, they are often called "adjectival nouns" or even "descriptive nouns", to emphasize the fact that they're nouns. So how do you use a noun to describe another noun? Since Classical Japanese we had two main methods of doing that:

  1. Using the the copula (ADJであるNOUN)
  2. Using the genitive relation particle (ADJのNOUN)

In Classical Japanese, the copula was なり, and for genitive relation we also had が besides の, but it probably worked more or less the same. In the modern language, the copula なり went out of use and was replaced by だ in all forms except for the positive present form, where な (which comes from なり) remains in use.

The inconsistency is mainly there, in the positive present form, since in other forms (past or negative), the copula is used always. That's because you just cannot use の in other forms, since it's not copula and therefore does not conjugate, so you have to replace it with forms of the modern copula だ. な, on the other hand, can be said to be a copula, but it conjugates like だ in all other forms, so in these forms all adjectival nouns behave the same.

But still, why is the choice of の, な or both in the present-positive form so inconsistent? That's just how languages tend to work, chaotically. When you have two possible ways of forming an adjective (with a copula and with a genitive particle), people use both, and both forms come into what linguists call 'a competition'. There are several possible resolutions to a competition, such as one of the forms dying in favor of the other, or each form grabbing a different meaning. In this case, we have a complementary distribution, where some adjectival nouns settled take な, some settled for の, and for a good measure of irregularity some settled for both.

  • 3
    So な comes from an obsolete copula? Fascinating!
    – Amanda S
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 7:24
  • 3
    wow! who put this answer onto wikipedia? : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 14:20
  • 2
    @AmandaS -- note that な comes from なり, which itself is from に + あり, where に is the particle and あり is modern ある. This なり is a separate word from なり that is modern なる "to become". Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 7:45
  • Regarding statement 「you just cannot use の in other forms, since it's not copula and therefore does not conjugate」, this の is a copula, but a highly defective one, it has only 3 forms: Attributive/連体形 「の」, Continuative/連用形 「に」, te-form 「にて」 -> modern 「で」. Since other forms are missing, combinations of previously に and later にて -> で with あり/ある (or other verbs), were/are used (e.g. にあり, である). Some useful article about copulae: Bjarke Frellesvig (2001, "A Common Korean and Japanese Copula") academia.edu/83805128/A_Common_Korean_and_Japanese_Copula
    – Arfrever
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 10:48
  • Bjarke Frellesvig (2010, "A History of the Japanese Language") and Alexander Vovin (2020, "A Descriptive and Comparative Grammar of Western Old Japanese", pages 458-503) present more updated version of this analysis. The latter describes 4 defective verbs in Old Japanese: n- "to be" [n-ǝ, n-i, n-i-te], "to be" [t-u, ], "to be" [], "to say" [, tǝ-te]. "to be" and "to be" were supposedly borrowings from Old Korean, from the same word: *ito (MK ilwo). was borrowed after lenition *-t- > -l- [-r-] in Korean and was short-lived loan.
    – Arfrever
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 11:16

There is no such thing as a 形容動詞 which 'takes の' as opposed to な. The dōshi component of the name reflects the fact that na inflects like a verb, albeit in a very limited fashion---we only find -na, when used attributively, and -ni when used adverbially, e.g., 華やかな装い, 華やかに装っている. As has been pointed out in posts elswhere this na is the remains of the literary naru.

Normally, keiyōdōshi cannot be used as subjects or objects as they are not nouns, e.g, *benri ga/wo, and the normal (abstract) noun formation would be to add -sa, e.g, from benri na, 'convenient', benrisa 'convenience', but there are examples of keiyōdōshi that fuction as abstract nouns as well, e.g., teinei na taido, teinei ga daiichi ('Politeness is first', a slogan).

The examples of 普通, 大勢 are nouns. If they occur in a construction with の, such 普通の態度 or 大勢の人 they should be construed as the predicate of a sentence with the copula as verb, hence, ‘ōzei no hito’ is to be construed as 'ōzei de aru tokoro no hito' 'people such that they are a great number', 'futsū no taido' as 'futsū de aru tokoro no taido', 'an attitude such that it is normal'. (This construction, Verb + tokoro no, appears to have come from the translation of the English relative pronouns, but it is sometimes used in scholarly texts, or the like, to make an attributive relationship explicit, which is why I have used it here.)

Words like 特別 and 特殊 form another class in that they can take な when used attributively, like keiyōdōshi, e.g., 特殊な技能, but may also take の, 特殊の技能.

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