Japanese particle combination: ”no ni” (のに)

By | February 22, 2018

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.

 

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8 thoughts on “Japanese particle combination: ”no ni” (のに)

  1. Angel

    How would you translate this: “時間がないというのに。。。 (jikan ga nai to iu no ni)”? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      “時間がない” is literally “there is no time”. The というのに part doesn’t really have a strong meaning here as compared to “時間がないのに”. The “のに” part is not easy to translate to English but it gives a sense of regret (or urgency) in this case.

      The expression というのに is actually in the dictionary, though the example there is a simple one that translates to “even though”:

      https://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/52680/meaning/m0u/というのに/

      Reply
  2. trong tran

    Dear sensei
    I have learnt that noni also means “for the purpose of”.
    I think Noni in the first case (although) is a conjunction.
    And in other cases, No is a nominalizer, Ni is a particle.
    Is that right ?
    Thank you very much

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      When you said “noni” is used as “for the purpose of”, do you mean like “日本に行くのに飛行機がオススメ”?

      Yes to your other questions.

      Reply
      1. Trong tran

        Thank you very much, sensei.
        May I ask another question about ふつうけ.
        I have known that ふつうけ can be used as a modifier.
        I saw a sentence like this one:
        北海道が冬の時しろい恋人をたべたいです.
        I understand what it means. But my question is :
        Because GA appeared after 北海道 so 北海道が冬 was a ふつうけ that played a role of a modifier to 時. But if that is true, why NO was used ? Shoud it be NI Naru ?
        I think it should be : 北海道が冬になる時しろい恋人をたべたいです.

        However that sentence was written by a native speaker. Please explain why NO was used ?
        Thanks a lot.

        Reply
        1. locksleyu Post author

          Hello,

          I’d be glad to help, but can you clarify what ふつうけ means? I have never heard the word, it isn’t in my dictionary, and net searches seem to come up with unrelated things. Maybe it is misspelled?

          I’ll still try to answer your question about the の phrase, though.

          Saying “XがBの時” is a normal phrase and can be used to preface a sentence: “彼が高校の時、成績が良かった”. You can think of this pattern as meaning “when…” or “during the time of…” In some cases “なる” might fit, but not always. For example, in the example I gave earlier in this paragraph, なる wouldn’t fit.

          Normally you would want to add a comment when writing in a more formal manner (and when spoken, use a pause), but in informal writing sometimes people don’t use a comma.

          By the way, I am having trouble understanding your example sentence since “しろい恋人をたべたい” means “(I) want to eat a white girlfriend/boyfriend”. Though I guess depending on certain context that might somehow make sense.

          Reply
          1. Trong tran

            Dear Sensei
            i probably made mistake, it should be 普通形, not ふつうけ.
            And しろい恋人 is the name of a chocolate cookie in Hokkaido.

            My question is “XがB” is a clause. How can we connect a clause with a Noun using NO ?
            For example we have :
            日本語が話せる人は…..
            In which X がB + Noun. X がB is a clause.
            What I don’t understand is why NO was used, because we should not consider XがB a noun, but a clause.

            Thanks Sensei

          2. locksleyu Post author

            Hello Trong,

            Strictly speaking, “北海道が冬” does not contain a subject so I am not sure if it would normally be called a “clause”. However, in a sense it means “A = B” (though not literally), so the verb “is” can be implied.

            Regardless of whether or not we call “北海道が冬” a clause, I think that the form AがBの時 can be seen as an abbreviation for AがBという時, essentially “the time when A is B”.

            You can see a similar abbreviation in the pattern ~のこと which can mean ~ということ (there is also とのこと which is similar).

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