Japanese particles are small words packed full with meaning and often don’t have direct parallels to English. In a few past articles I’ve talked about a few particle combinations (での, への, では、and ならではの). In this post I’d like to go over the combination のに (“no ni” or “noni”) which is pretty commonly used.
There are two main meanings for のに, but before going into those it’s good to understand that grammatically の here serves the purpose to nominalize a verb that comes before it. For example する is a verb, but するの is effectively a noun.
Expressing a contrast, often with discontent or surprise
The first meaning of のに is to contrast what comes before it with something else, somewhat like the English words “although” or “even though”. This frequently has a nuance of regret, discontent, disappointment, or surprise.
- 雪が降ってるのに出かけるの？ (yuki ga futteru no ni dekakeru no?)
- You are going to go out even though it’s snowing?
The のに can also be used after the past tense of a verb, as in this example:
- 頑張ったのに負けたよ (ganbatta no ni maketa yo).
- Although we tried hard, we lost.
In the above cases there is something immediately following the のに. However, frequently the thing being contrasted stands on its own, leading to a sense of “if only…”
- もう少し一緒にいられたらいいのに (mou sukoshi issho ni iraretara ii no ni)
- If only we could stay together a little longer…
The nuance here is that is probably is going to be difficult to stay together much longer.
- 日本に来てくれたらあたしに会えたのに (nihon ni kite kuretara atashi ni aeta no ni)
- If you had come to Japan we would have been able to meet.
This usage has a feeling of regret. Notice that the verb 会えた (aeta) is actually in the past tense, as if someone was able to meet someone, but based on the context (especially the のに) you can there was no actual meeting. There is no tense in Japanese to literally express “would have been able to met”, but from context it is clear that is what is being expressed. (Japanese is famous for its omission of words and indirect statements)
Here is another example:
- 僕忙しいのに。。。 (boku isogashii no ni)
- Even though I am busy…
Here the literal translation doesn’t make too much sense, and understanding this phrase requires more context. If you went up to ask someone to help you with something and they told you this, they would basically be saying “You’re bothering me even though I am busy?”.
Depending on the word type, you may need to add something before the のに. Here is a quick reference to the patterns to use:
- Noun + なのに (ex: アメリカ人なのに)
- Verb (past, non-past tense, or te-iru form) + のに (ex: 負けたのに)
- i-adjective + のに (ex: かわいいのに)
- na-adjective + なのに (ex: 元気なのに)
Instead of using の to normalize, the phrase というのに (to iu no ni) can also be used:
- 時間がないというのに。。。 (jikan ga nai to iu no ni)
(Note: the いう here doesn’t necessarily mean anything was actually being “said”)
The expression くせに (kuse ni) can be used in place of のに for a similiar meaning, though beware it has a strong negative meaning:
- 自分で何もできないくせに。。。 (jibun de nani mo dekinai kuse ni…)
- Even though you can’t do anything yourself… (Note: this could be translated more naturally depending on the context, possibly with phrases like “How dare you!”)
Talking about an action
The second use of のに is completely different than the first and involves talking about an action (usually that did not occur yet). For example, you can use it to express how long something takes:
- 日本に行くのにどれくらい時間がかかりますか？（nihon ni iku no ni dore kurai jikan ga kakarimasu ka?)
- How long does it take to go to Japan?
Here is another example which talks about conditions required for a certain action:
- 返品するのに条件が２つあります。 (henpin suru no ni jouken ga futatsu arimasu).
- There are two conditions required to return a product.
This example talks about feelings related to an action:
- 彼女はリアルで会うのに抵抗があるみたい。 (kanojo ha riaru de au no ni teikou ga aru mitai)
- It seems like she is unwilling (or has resistance) to meet in the real world.
Note that for this second use (talking about an action), sometimes には (ni wa) can be used in place of のに.
Expressing a choice
Though less common, there is a third meaning for のに. It comes about because of the expression にする (ni suru), which can be used to express choosing one between several options.
- 赤いのにします。 (akai no ni shimasu)
- I’ll have the red one.