Making Nouns with の, Part I

Although this series of lessons is meant to be an introduction to the peculiarities of Japanese grammar, I must admit that we look at some pretty confusing concepts.

Or rather, we look at some pretty complex sentences. But the reason that we are able to look at such complex sentences is that mastering the building blocks of Japanese sentences gives us the ability to express long, complicated ideas.

↑ That's my excuse for showing you this lesson so early.

What we're looking at in this lesson might seem very difficult and/or confusing, but I cannot fully express how much I wish someone had given me the following lesson when I was still a beginner of Japanese.

In fact, I have no memory of ever being taught the content in this lesson in isolation. Maybe I was sleeping that day of class... or maybe those pages of my grammar books were missing.

Here we're looking at...


How to Make Nouns Using の

We have already looked at a few different uses of the particle の. But in this lesson we're looking at my favorite use of の. (Yes, I know that I'm a nerd for having a favorite use of a Japanese particle.)

の enables us to turn ADJECTIVES and VERBS into NOUNS.

Take the following sentence, for example:

やすい パソコン かった。
I bought a cheap computer.
Literally: “cheap / affordable + PC + bought.”
Note: This is a casual sentence, which is why we don't have the object-marking particle を after the object (パソコン) of the verb (買った).

(If you don't know that 買った is the plain past tense of the verb 買う [かう // to buy], then you need to go back and review our conjugation lessons!)

In the sentence above, 安い (やすい // cheap; affordable) is an ADJECTIVE (specifically, an i-adjective).


Are you with me? OK. Next, let's look at a question:

どんな パソコン かった の?
What kind of computer did you buy?
Literally: “what kind of + PC + bought + の?”

(Remember that, as we saw in an earlier lesson, adding の to the end of a question can change its nuance. This is not the の we're studying in this lesson.)

If I want to answer this question, one option is to use the exact same sentence that we had earlier:

やすい パソコン かった。
I bought a cheap computer.
Literally: “cheap / affordable + PC + bought.”

...but that seems like a lot to say as a response, especially in Japanese, yeah?

For example, in English, we might just respond as Person B does here, using the word "one":

A: What kind of computer did you buy?
B: A cheap one. // I bought a cheap one.

We can do the same thing in Japanese. There is no need to repeat the word パソコン in our response to A's question.

どんな パソコン かった の?
What kind of computer did you buy?
Literally: “what kind of + PC + bought + の?”

やすい の かった。
I bought a cheap one.
Literally: “cheap / affordable + の + bought.”

Did you catch what we did there?

Instead of saying 安いパソコン, we just said 安いの.

And instead of translating that as "a cheap computer," we translated it as "a cheap one."

Like with the English, we don't need to include the verb if we don't want to, either:

どんな パソコン かった の?
What kind of computer did you buy?
Literally: “what kind of + PC + bought + の?”

やすい の。
A cheap one.
Literally: “cheap / affordable + の.”

安いパソコン → 安い
やすい パソコン → やすい の
a cheap computer → a cheap one

This is "Nominalizing の" (=の the Noun-Maker) in action.


Here's the gist of it:

We can form NOUNS by placing の after ADJECTIVES and VERBS.

安い =やすい cheap; affordable

安いの = やすいの a cheap one; an affordable one

Placing の after an adjective or a verb will not always turn it into a noun. You'll find that the "Feminine の" and the "Question-Ending の" discussed in our earlier lessons often follow both adjectives and verbs without turning them into nouns.

Instead, we'll just have to use our brain's natural understanding of sentences to know when の is forming nouns out of adjectives and verbs. (It will feel effortless in time.)


Let's look at an example where の is turning a VERB into a NOUN.

Imagine that you want to say "I love running" or "I love to run."

The verb for "to run" is 走る (はしる).

To say that we really like or love something, we can use the word 大好き (だいすき // really liked; loved), saying: "[something] (が) 大好き."

Sadly, we cannot say this:

✖ 走る大好き。
✖ はしる だいすき。
✖ I love run.
Literally: "run + loved / really liked."

Why can't we say that?

It's, well... complicated.

For starters, let's get the issue of the particle が out of the way. If you are taking a formal Japanese class or studying with a Japanese textbook, I can almost guarantee you that they will teach you that to say "I like something," you should say "something + が + 好き" (好き=すき = liked). Maybe they'll teach you a sentence like this:

わたし は おすし が すき です。
I like sushi.
Literally: "I + は + sushi + が + liked + です."

I doubt they'd write お寿司 (おすし) in kanji, though. I also doubt you'll ever meet a Japanese adult that cannot read the word お寿司 in kanji, so we should probably learn it, too!

Once you get a little further into your grammar book or formal class, they'll start talking about how we can drop information out of Japanese sentences any time there is proper context to understand the meaning without certain words. Then they'll show you a sentence like this:

おすし が すき です。
I like sushi.
Literally: "sushi + が + liked + です."

In most cases, it would be obvious that you're talking about your own personal liking of sushi, so you don't need to say "I" and you don't need to use は to clarify that "I" is the topic of this sentence.

Then, way too late in your studies, maybe you'll be introduced to what I like to call "Textbook Casual" Japanese. You may have noticed this, but I'm kind of bitter about being told that I was learning casual Japanese, only to find out that people did not talk the way I was being taught to use Japanese in books.

For example, I was told that something like this would be the casual variant of the sentence we just saw:

おすし が すき だ。
I like sushi.
Literally: "sushi + が + liked + だ."

So, we change です into the more casual だ. It is also possible to remove the honorific prefix お- from お寿司 (おすし), giving us just 寿司 (すし), but it's quite common to keep it, regardless of the formality of the sentence overall. This is similar to how it is common to say お金 (おかね // money) instead of 金 (かね), regardless of formality.

I said sentences like that around my friends in Japan for longer than I'd like to admit. If I'd been a better listener, I would have realized that the people around me weren't talking that way. One of my Japanese friends would be much more likely to say:

おすし すき。
I like sushi.
Literally: "sushi + liked."

I never dropped だ off of the end of my sentences for two reasons: (1) my teachers had told me that だ is required after a noun or na-adjective (好き is a na-adjective, by the way), and (2) I had been under the impression that dropping だ off of casual sentences sounded feminine.

That second reason is true in some cases, but it took me a long time to figure out the details of that (we'll cover it in other lessons). But the notion that だ must follow nouns and na-adjectives at the end of casual sentences ending in nouns or na-adjectives is pretty much completely false. Grammatically, maybe that's true, but people leave out だ all the time.

In particular, don't ever worry about putting it after 好き in a casual sentence. All we need to say is:

おすし すき。
I like sushi.
Literally: "sushi + liked."


...back to why we cannot say this:

✖ 走る大好き。
✖ はしる だいすき。
✖ I love run.
Literally: "run + loved / really liked."

First, let's imagine we did have が in this sentence:

✖ 走るが大好き。
✖ はしる が だいすき。
✖ I love run.
Literally: "run + が + loved / really liked."

A verb (e.g. 走る) will never come directly before が, so that doesn't work.

There are some complicated noun phrases we could make in which a verb (e.g. 走る) could come directly before a na-adjective, but it's not really something that we need to worry about just yet.

Instead, we can just acknowledge that there is a very fundamental reason we cannot say 走る大好き, which is that a verb (=走る) cannot be the subject of a sentence.

Only nouns can be the subjects of sentences. So we need to turn 走る (=VERB) into a NOUN.

We do this by putting の after it:

はしる の だいすき。
I love running.
Literally: “run + の + loved / really liked.”

It's also grammatically correct to say:

はしる の が だいすき。
I love running.
Literally: “run + の + が + loved / really liked.”

...but expressly including が in this sentence would put extra emphasis on what is coming before it, 走るの, so it sounds like there is some reason for the speaker to be emphasizing "running." That's why I put "running" in italics in the English translation. We'll work on the nuance of particles like が gradually over time, so maybe don't worry too much about this stuff just yet.


You may recall from earlier lessons that is used to mark the topic of a conversation (or of a sentence).

When we want an ADJECTIVE or a VERB to be the topic of our sentence, we need to make it into a NOUN first.

Accordingly, we say "ADJECTIVE + の + " or "VERB + の + ," as in the following sentence:

いちばん やすい の は どれ です か?
Which one is the cheapest?
Literally: “the most + cheap + の + は + which + です + か?”

Note that it is even possible to do this with lengthy noun phrases. I say "lengthy" because technically something like 走るの or 安いの does qualify as a noun phrase.

Here's an example of a somewhat longer noun phrase being formed with の:

あたし が ほしかった の は これ じゃない。
This isn’t the one I wanted.
Literally: “I + が + wanted + の + は + this + is not.”
Note: Don't forget that あたし is a feminine word for "I."

If we say something like "The one I wanted was sold out" in English, "the one I wanted" is a noun phrase. It is acting as the subject of the sentence, as only a noun can do.

When we form noun phrases like this in Japanese, they will always end in a NOUN or の. In the example above, our noun phrase ended in の, but we could put a NOUN there instead:

あたし が ほしかった ドレス は これ じゃない。
This isn’t the dress I wanted.
Literally: “I + が + wanted + dress + は + this + is not.”


Just as we can put は after "Nominalizing の," we can also say のが.

This is typically the first usage of "Nominalizing の" that is introduced in Japanese classes and textbooks. I think I learned a sentence like this back in the day:

わたし は おすし を たべる の が すき です。
I like to eat sushi.
Literally: "I + は + sushi + を + eat + の + が + liked + です."

The noun phrase in that sentence is "to eat sushi," お寿司を食べるの.

Looking back, I can see why I used to think Japanese grammar was so scary. I was still terrible at Japanese, but my teachers were making me worry about topic-marking particles (=は), object-marking particles (=を), and subject-marking particles (=が) all in a single sentence!

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