Japanese literary expression: 〜ものの (~mono no)

By | December 18, 2019

In this post I’d like to go over the connecting expression “〜ものの” (~mono no), which is especially useful for those of you interested in Japanese literature.

The meaning of this relatively simple: 〜ものの is used after a phrase in order to express a contrast with what comes after. In English we express this with words like “but” or “although”, and in Japanese “けれど”, “けれども” etc.

Meaning

“〜ものの” can be added after the dictionary or past tense of a verb, or an i-adjective. For example:

  • テストの勉強をしたものの、落ちました (tesuto no benkyou wo shita mono no, ochimashita)
  • Despite studying for the test, I failed.

You can also use the longer phrase “〜とはいうものの” (~to wa iu mono no) for essentially the same meaning:

  • 車があるとはいうものの、行くところがありません。 (kuruma ga aru to wa iu mono no, iku tokoro ga arimasen)
  • Even though I have a car, there is no place for me to go.

One difference is that “とはいうものの” can be used at the beginning of a sentence:

  • とはいうものの、行くところがありません。 (to wa iu mono no, iku tokoro ga arimasen)
  • And yet, there is no place for me to go.

In this case it contrasts against the previous sentence (or paragraph).

A second difference is that “とはいうものの” can be used after “だ” when what you are contrasting involves a noun or na-adjective:

  • アメリカ人だとはいうものの、英語話せない (amerikajin da to wa iu mono no, eigo hanasenai)
  • Despite being an American, he/she cannot speak English.

Nuance

I feel the nuance of ものの and とはいうものの is actually more important than the meaning itself (or at least more interesting). Both of these phrases are common used in written text, especially literature, thus have a certain “literary” nuance to them, similar to the word “thus” that I just used for demonstration of this point. However, I have heard people use them in spoken language on occasion.

For Japanese learners, I would recommend using more neutral contrast expressions (けれど、のに,(です)が, etc.), unless you are trying to write an essay or piece of literature.

Grammar Explanation

Grammatically, ものの is made up of もの (used as a 形式名詞, sometimes translated as “dummy noun”) and の (used as a 格助詞, case particle). However, it is not clear why putting these together ends up with a contrast since neither of them have a nuance of contrast in their common usages. I was not able to find any good explanation of this in Japanese either, leading me to believe that it doesn’t cleanly follow any rules of modern Japanese. So I would just recommend memorizing it as a unit instead of trying to think of what purpose the もの and the の serve.

The とはいう part literally means “to say” (と言う) with the topic particle “wa” added in. However, the expression という is used very commonly in Japanese to help connect words and loses the meaning of “to say”. For example, “そういうこと” (“That thing”) is correct grammar, whereas そうこと is incorrect. One of the main nuances of the “wa” particle is for contrast, so this nicely fits with the meaning of the phrase “とはいうものの”.

Related Expressions

The expression “〜とは言え” (~to wa ie) serves a similar contrastive meaning without relying on “ものの”.

Another place you can see という used is in combination with のに (noni), a particle combination that can indicate stronger contrast. (ex: “今日は土曜日だというのに忙しい”). You may notice that the “wa” particle isn’t used immediately before the いう, and this makes sense because the “ni” at the end hints at a contrast. But, as with the earlier example of ものの, saying “今日は土曜日なのに忙しい” has basically the same meaning.

I’ve read that ものの can be abbreviated もんの (mon’no) in colloquial language, but I’ve never actually heard that. But there are many cases where you can see もん used as an abbreviation of もの (ex: かわいいもんね).

Disambiguation

The phrase ものの can be used in other patterns, but it has a completely different meaning. For example:

  • そういうものの価値はない (sou iu mono no kachi wa nai)
  • There is no value to that kind of thing.

Here, もの simply means “thing” and の is used as a particle to connect nouns, so that one describes the other (like in 大学の先生).

You may have heard the word もののけ (mononoke) from a certain popular anime movie. This means “evil spirit” and can be written as 物の怪. While this word should be considered a set phrase, it seems likely that originally the もの was serving to mean “thing” and the の as a connective particle, similar to the “no value” example above. The dictionary lists “怪” (ke) as a word meaning “an unusual occurrence” or “monster”, although I haven’t seen it used on its own in modern Japanese.

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