What Is The Japanese Particle No (の)?

The Japanese language is kind of unique due to its use of grammatical particles in practically every single sentence. Today I wanted to go over some basic explanations for one of the most common. What is the Japanese particle no (の)?

There are four answers below which I felt were the most important for beginners to learn, but since there can be additional uses for it that I won’t be able to cover, at the end of the post I will recommend a fantastic resource that goes into much more depth on various particles.

Used For Possessive

The first way that の can be understood is also probably the easiest. It is as a possessive indicator, which in English writing is equivalent to our apostrophe+s combination (‘s) that we attached after someone’s name when they own something.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • ジョンさんの車 (John’s car)
  • サラのペン (Sara’s pen)

As you can see from these, the の particle follows immediately after the person’s name just like the apostrophe+s does in English. It also comes right before the noun or item that is owned.

Of course this isn’t limited to just physical things. It can also be used when a person is talking about their feeling, thoughts, or opinions.

  • 私の意見です。
  • watashi no iken desu.
  • That’s my opinion.

This last example highlights something that I haven’t mentioned yet. When you attach the の particle to the first person singular pronoun, the word for I in Japanese, it changes the word to “my” which doesn’t involve the apostrophe+s but is still a type of possessive.

It will change others like “he” to “his” and “them” to “theirs” and so on.

Used As A Descriptive

Another really common way to see this particle used is as a sort of connector between two words when one is describing the other. A really good English word that can be used to help understand it when it’s being used like this is “of” like in the following examples.

  • オズの魔法使い (The Wizard of Oz)
  • 英語の先生 (A teacher of English)

In that last example, it would probably sound more natural to just say “An English teacher” when speaking in English. There are many times when it will sound more natural if we don’t try to understand の as “of” like in 料理の学校 which means a cooking school.

In cases like these, I’ve found that it’s helpful to ask yourself a question. Let’s use school as our example from the last Japanese word, but remember that you can replace school with whatever you encounter.

  • 料理の学校
  • “What kind of school is it?”
  • “It’s a cooking school.”

The noun that comes before the の is describing the noun that comes after it.

At first, it might be a little hard to tell when の is being used to describe a noun or when it’s being used as a possessive. Two things that will help is that the possessive use usually follows a person’s name or a pronoun.

The other thing is that you begin to get an intuitive feel for it which lots of practice.

Used For Questions

So far we have been talking about the の particle when it appears somewhere in the middle of a sentence. However, it’s also pretty common to see it used at the end.

The use of の in this section, and the next, are when it appears right at the end of a sentence and what it means in that case.

The first way is that it functions as a question mark (?) turning the entire sentence into a question.

  • 知らないの?
  • shiranai no?
  • You don’t know?

For those of you who are familiar with the ending particle か (ka) you might be wondering what the difference is since that particle is also used to turn statements into questions.

The main difference is that の is a more casual way to ask a question than か is. A lot of times, the か particle can come off as a little strong, so people will opt for the の alternative when they are speaking with friends, family, or anyone else they can speak informally with.

The key part is to have a rising intonation on the の particle when it is used as a question. This ought to be pretty easy since we do a similar thing in English when asking a question.

It’s also a little different from the next usage of today’s particle which we will go over next.

Used As A Softener

The other way that の at the end of a sentence can be used is as a way to soften what was said. This is something that is typically done by Japanese woman.

  • コンビニに行くの。
  • konbini ni iku no.
  • I’m going to the convenience store.

When it’s used like this, it doesn’t really translate as a word in English. Instead, it just gives the overall sentence a certain feeling that would be omitted without it.

When girls are talking among their friends, it is very common to hear them use this particle like this, so for an English speaker’s perspective you can understand the meaning of the sentences as basically the same if you were to leave the final の out of it.

Again, the way to distinguish this ending の from the question one is that this time the intonation remains flat or even goes down.

More On Particles

Any good beginner book or course will teach you the basics on Japanese particles (as well as other things), but if you want to get a really in-depth look at this aspect of Japanese grammar, then I’ve got a specific recommendation for you.

It is the book All About Particles which goes over dozes of different ones, including more information on の, and also provides a lot of sentence examples to help understand their usage.

Other than that, if you have any questions about the information we talked about today then be sure to let me know what they are by leaving a comment in the section down below.

Thanks!

8 thoughts on “What Is The Japanese Particle No (の)?”

  1. I actually learned a lot of the third variation of ‘no’ from watching Japanese drama, especially in the scenes where two women are debating/arguing or small children talking to one another.

    Of course my Japanese teacher back then disapproved of me speaking like that because it sounded ‘too childish’, but it’s this kind of nuance that stayed with me until now and it’s how I continue to bond with my Japanese friends that way.

    Reply
    • Yeah, I see it a lot in TV shows too. Especially when they are talking to each other informally. I think it’s a great way to talk to your friends to let them know you feel close to them ^_^

      Reply
  2. Interesting how every language is unique in it’s grammar. I speak Romanian fluently and it is definitely interesting to see different aspects of different languages. I also took a Japanese anime class online recently and it gave me some insight to the Japanese culture. It would be exciting to learn how to read Japanese for sure! Good job on breaking it all down!

    Reply
    • Hey thanks man, I really appreciate that. That is very cool that you are multilingual with Romanian. I sure it’s the same for you, but when I study another language it helps me appreciate my native one that much more!

      Reply
  3. Hello Nick,
    I love your site! I’m so excited to find it because my mum absolutely loves learning Japanese and your site is so inspiring i’m going to send her a link…. I’m interested in languages too so I’m going to browse through and digest the rest of your pages! But it’s very interesting to read about the Japanese ‘no’ in the sentence. Maybe I will start to study Japanese after I get fluent in Dutch.
    I find languages, and how they work absolutely intriguing.
    Thank you!
    Soraya

    Reply
    • Hey Soraya, thank you so much! I am glad that you like it and want to share it with your mom 🙂 . I think that learning any new language is a really cool thing (Dutch sounds very neat!). My dad for instance likes Spanish a lot. I do my best to help. Thanks!

      Reply
  4. Yep i definitely disregarded the particle の (no) in a few Japanese texts while learning early on, but your explaining of the fact that it simply means your possession of something, or just more detailed info about a noun.

    Thanks to your article, nobody will have to avoid the meaning of the particle の (no) in Japanese writings like i did lol.

    Really invaluable work here as always – keep up the great work, your website is an inspiration for anyone wanting to learn Japanese, thanks Nick!

    Reply
    • Hey thanks! I really appreciate the encouragement. It makes me feel like I’m working on something worthwhile and I’m glad I could help with の!

      Reply

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