Unfamiliar form of の particle

Discussion in '日本語 (Japanese)' started by Firewall, Jul 29, 2013.

  1. Firewall New Member

    Hello, I just joined the forums a second ago. I had a question about the の particle.
    I sometimes see the 'no' particle used like this:
    [property noun] の [adj/verb]
    Here's an example, a dictionary definition for 神童 from the goo.jp online dictionary:

    Here, it's being used in one of those noun-modifying clause things, where the noun being modified is 子供.
    It seems to me that の in this case is just like a more formal version of が.
    Simpler example:
    背の高い人 vs 背が高い人

    However, it kind of confuses me, because outside of the noun-modifying context, が and this version of の are clearly not just formal/informal pairs:
    Sounds fine: 田仲は背が高い。
    Sounds weird: 田仲は背の高い。

    I guess my problem is I don't know enough about this usage of の. Does it have to be used in a noun-modifying clause? Does anyone have any good documentation on how it is used in this situation? When I used the Google I could only find websites that talked about the normal usage of の.

  2. animelover Senior Member

    Eastern Germany
    One way to think about this is that の is nothing more than the noun-linking particles.

    才知 is a noun
    子供 is also a noun
    才知の子供 is not strange to you?
    極めてすぐれている子供 is also a noun, which is modified (noun phrase)

    "The child's highly excelling talent". "Highly excelling talent" is also a noun, which is modified, otherwise you couldn't use the genitive 's with child.

    Etymologically, originally が had pretty much the same meaning as の. It became used to mark the subject around the time the 終止形 fell out of use and was usually replaced by the 連用形.

    石落(お)つ means "Stone(s) fall"
    石が落ちる literally meant "the falling of stones"

    Of course, over time it was grammaticalized and 石が落ちる means "A stone falls" to speakers today as well.

    As a general rule, の can be used when the explanation above is applicable, ie when you can think of it as connecting two nouns. So you can't say 石の落ちる, but you can say 石の落ちる崖.

    By the same token, you can't say 田中は背の高い, but you can say 田中は背の高い男.
  3. Firewall New Member

    ahh okay thanks a lot, it makes more sense now.
  4. Firewall New Member

    wait, hold on.
    For your example: 石の落ちる崖
    splitting that into two nouns would get me 石 and 落ちる崖
    what does 落ちる崖 mean? to me it is strange; it seems to be a verb modified noun, so in English: a cliff that falls, which seems weird. If you suddenly heard 落ちる崖、what would you think of the thing I just mentioned or would you think of something else?
  5. animelover Senior Member

    Eastern Germany
    First of all, the rule of thumb still stands; you can only use の like this when it formally links to nouns. (*)

    But you're right, we should take a closer look at how to interpret these kind of sentences. However, in order to do so, we will have to take a look at the development of Japanese, which can get a little bit technical - the above rule of thumb should be enough for practical purposes, read on if you're interested.

    To gain some historical insight, there are some relevant bits in the "Historical Grammar of Japanese":
    ( http://archive.org/stream/historicalgramma00sansuoft#page/334/mode/2up )

    Next, we need to understand how relative sentences are formed in Japanese. In its earlier stages, the Japanese language could be quite vague at times. It has developed to suit the needs of a complex society and culture, but this vagueness can still be found in etymology. With this in mind,
    ( http://archive.org/stream/historicalgramma00sansuoft#page/132/mode/2up )

    連 体形+noun can still be seen in some words: 鳴る神[=雷(かみなり)], 行方(へ{辺} seems to have been a noun once meaning 'place'), 吊る甕(つるべ, well bucket {for drawing water})

    I don't think anybody would use 落ちる崖 on its own without any context to make the relation clear, but the above should illustrate that these relative clauses such as 石の落ちる崖 are not so strange at all, at least not stranger than "normal" sentences without の such as 彼がこれを主張する理由 (which does not mean 'a reason which asserts this', the subject is 彼, not 理由).

    Read the next page which explains how がcame into use. /historicalgramma00sansuoft#page/136

    Classical Japanese allowed for constructions like 「来る人無しの宿(a house where no man comes)」「行かんの心無し(I have no mind to go)」「都に住まばやの観念(the idea that he would like to live in the capital)」, as well as 「石の落つるを聞く(hear the falling of stones; おつる is the classical conjugation)」「石の硬きを知る(know the hardness of stones)」, where the 連体形 is used as a noun. This should give a better idea of how が established its current usage.
    Today, の can also be found with te-forms, especially in fixed constructions such as 「…にたいしての…」「…についての…」「に於いての」「を以ての」, but also with general verbs such as 「広島戦を見ての感想」.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2013
  6. Firewall New Member

    ah great thanks, that really helped me understand

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