Say “yes” to a better understanding of the Japanese particle “no” (の)

By | December 30, 2013

Just like the particle は, it can take some time to get the hang of understanding and using the Japanese particle の。I’ll use what I’ve learned from textbooks, from experience, and from to illustrate the many uses of this important element of the language.

1)  Possessive or descriptive

This is by far the easiest to understand and start using yourself almost immediately. You’ve likely read about this use elsewhere so I’ll just give a quick example to summarize:

  • 僕の本をなくしました。
  • I lost my book.
  •  僕のをください。
  • Please give me mine.

2) Convert a verb or verb phrase into a noun

This use is also quite simple. Here の is added to the end of a verb to turn it into noun, which can then be used by another verb.

  • この映画を見るのを止めよう。
  • Let’s stop watching this movie.

3) Replacement for が

In an embedded clause, の can replace が. I feel that it de-emphasizes the subject before it compared to using が。

  • 彼の食べたバナナは腐ってた。
  • The banana he ate was rotting.

4) Assertion / Emphasis (のだ)

If のだ is added after a verb (or なのだ after a noun), it has the effect of emphasizing or asserting the statement. In spoken language these are often abbreviated as んだ and なんだ.

  • やってみせるんだ!
  • I’ll (do it and) show you!

Comment: Here the の (abbreviated as ん)is being used to show the speaker is insisting he/she will do something.

  • 負けたんだ。
  • I see they lost.

Comment: This usage is common when the speaker learns of new factual information. Here you can imagine he/she was watching TV and discovers their favorite football team lost. Depending on the tone used, it can imply resignation. A common expression with this is “そうなんだ” which is when you learn something new and acknowledge it, like saying “is that a fact?” as a rhetorical question.

5) For a question

の can be put after a verb in order to ask a question. In the first two examples below I feel that the sentence is more natural with の, but in the last one it can be omitted without any problem.

  • どうして行かないの?
  • Why aren’t you going?
  • 本当にいいの?
  • Are you sure its OK (with you)?
  • 彼女を信用していいんですか?
  • Is it (really) OK to trust her?

If you want to use this pattern with a noun or Na-adjective, you need to put a な before the の。

  • どうして犬なの?
  • Why a dog?

6) To explain a factual reason

When used with (だ)から, の can be used to explain a factual reason.

  • 赤ちゃんじゃないんだから。。。
  • Because (the fact is that) you are not a baby….

Comment: This phrase can be used to scold someone who is old enough to understand or do something properly.

7) To aggressively explain a fact to someone.

The form(な)んだよ can be used to forcefully explain that something is a fact to someone else. Use it with caution.

  • 僕だって頑張ってるんだよ!
  • (The fact is that) I’m also trying (my best) !

Comment: だって here is being used as an emphatic version of も.

  • これは一体なんなんだよ!
  • What the h*** is this!?

Comment: The first なん is from 何 (“what”), whereas the second is the short form of なの. This is a very emphatic phrase to be used when you are not happy about something.


There are a few other less common uses but I think the above covers most of the frequent uses.

The way I understand and remember usages #4, #5, #6, and #7  is that adding の/ん is like saying “it’s a fact”. Try thinking to yourself “Its a fact that….” or (for a question) “Is it a fact that….?” in order to get a better feeling for what の is trying to convey.

For advanced learners, I highly recommend reading the links in the references section below which show dictionary definitions and sample sentences of many of these uses, in Japanese.

I hope this article helped to demystify some of the uses of の。


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5 thoughts on “Say “yes” to a better understanding of the Japanese particle “no” (の)

  1. Leonard

    I cant imagine how daunting this would be for Westerners to digest this information! But very well explained i would say. I definitely learned a lot from this post. Now perhaps the most tricky part is… explaining the difference between が and は. The difference in usage for those two were so obvious that i couldnt believe when i heard someone wrote a thesis on it!!!

  2. locksleyu Post author

    Leonard, Thanks very much for the comment, its great to know you got some use out of my post. Regarding が and は, I made a post about that a little while back, but it’s not complete and very hard to explain, and honestly I’m still learning it myself.

    Hopefully I can post some more articles that are useful to others, if you have any suggestions for topics let me know anytime.


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