According to https://www.japanesewithanime.com/2017/08/definite-indefinite-articles.html 猫の耳 can be translated as any of the following.

Cat's ear.
A cat's ear.
The cat's ear.
Cats' ear.
The cats' ear.
Cat's ears.
A cat's ears.
The cat's ears.
Cats' ears.
The cats' ears.

From my time using and learning Japanese, context will take care of the ambiguity. However, what strategies of handling definiteness and plurality does Japanese have assuming we had zero context, and wanted to express each one of these translations while ruling out the others? Is it possible?

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    With zero context, there is zero means of knowing which specific variant of the English to translate into. As Japanese, however, there is also zero relevance to knowing which specific variant of the English is most fitting. Jul 5, 2022 at 20:52
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    Some of them you can reliably give less weight to in considering options... "The cats' ear" is what... an ear that belongs to several cats but isn't attached to any particular cat? I have a feeling if such an odd situation occurs, you'll have some idea of it from other content.
    – Leebo
    Jul 6, 2022 at 2:03
  • Let's say it was a RPG Text Game and you have an inventory with no pictures. There are each one of these items in the game. How can I, as a Japanese Game Developer, adequately name each item to best communicate the difference?
    – Catdog
    Jul 6, 2022 at 2:24
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    Aha! And now we have some context. :) Jul 6, 2022 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


This question is closely related: What is the difference in usage between a plural using (a) the kanji repetition character 々, (b) a plural using -たち, and (c) the singular?

In an RPG, 猫の耳 should almost always be sufficient. Whether it's one ear or a pair of ears does not matter in most cases. But in a very rare situation where "cat's ear" and "cat's ears" must be distinguished as two different types of item in an inventry, you can use 猫の片耳 and 猫の両耳. These are the words you have to remember and use when you want to specify whether something (e.g., a medical trouble) is only about one ear or about both ears. If this is about "a rose" vs "roses", these can be distinsuished like 一輪のバラ and バラの花束. As the linked article points out, there is no one strategy to specify plurarity in Japanese, so you have to get used to several patterns.

Definiteness of the subject of a sentence is specified using が/は (see: What's the difference between wa (は) and ga (が)?). Definiteness of an object can be explicitly specified if you really need to, too. For example, you can say ある猫 ("a certain cat"), その猫 ("the cat"), 例の猫 ("that cat (you know)"), etc.

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