Feminine の

We've now seen how の can be used to mark possessions and, when it appears at the end of a sentence, change the nuance of a question.

If you spend some time around Japanese people, you'll notice that a lot of people also use の at the end of casual declarative sentences.

As such, you may find yourself wanting to do the same... which leads to embarrassing mistakes for a lot of male students out there.

Here's why: *Only females end declarative sentences with の.

*In most cases. There are a few exceptions, which we'll get to eventually.

If you're not sure what I mean by a declarative sentence, then we can rephrase it this way: If you're a guy, the only types of sentences you should end with the particle の are questions.

Note #1: The language in this lesson is being labeled "feminine speech." However, we are not necessarily recommending that female students use the "feminine の" as it appears in this lesson, as it has a tendency to sound excessively feminine. Many female speakers of Japanese would choose to use んだ instead of の for these example sentences, which we'll be exploring in the following lesson.

Note #2: You may find yourself getting a bit overwhelmed by the more complicated explanations of の (or later んだ).

This is completely normal, as we're talking about imparting unique nuances to sentences that, quite simply, cannot be translated into English.

I'm including these in this course, however, since developing a sense for these nuances early on in our studies is vital to reaching high-level fluency.

Our goal in these introductory lessons on の is not to completely master its usage. Rather, we're simply trying to become aware of the many possible usages of の. Then, throughout our studies, when we come across の in its various forms, we can ask ourselves: How is being used in this sentence? What is its function?

Simply asking yourself questions like this as you get exposure to the language is the key to mastering the elusive concepts.

Most books and teachers will wait a very long time to introduce these things to you---not because the language is difficult; simply because it's difficult to explain.

You might not immediately find yourself grasping the differences in nuances that can arise from adding a simple particle like の to the end of a sentence. But just by knowing that such nuances exist, you will be in a far better position than most other beginner students.

First, a bit of review from our last lesson:

Let's say that you want to ask your friend to help you carry a table into the other room. She's looking at something on her phone, and she seems to be concentrating, so you're not sure if now is a good time to bother her. You ask:

いま いそがしい?
Are you busy now?
Literally: "now + busy?"

You're not sure whether she is busy or not, so there is no need to put a の onto the end of your question.

Compare that with the following situation.

Your friend is scribbling meaningless drawings on a piece of paper and staring off into space. You ask her if she can help you carry a table into the other room. She says something along the lines of, "Sorry, I'm busy right now." You ask:

いそがしい の?
You're busy?
Literally: "busy + の?"

This is a somewhat sarcastic usage of our "genuine question marker" の. I imagine the English sentence would be pronounced as a declarative sentence: "You're busy."

Remember that we can often add の to the end of questions that we suspect to know the answer to or want further explanation about. We might also see it in a situation like this:

You ask your friend how she's been doing lately. She says that she hasn't been getting much sleep because of work. You ask:

しごと いそがしい の?
Is work busy?
Literally: "work + busy + の?"

While showing a genuine interest, you ask for further details — confirmation, if you will — that your friend's work is busy. Thus, you add の to the end of your question.

OK. So that (above) is how we use の at the end of casual questions.

Now let's look at how it can be used in explanatory declarative sentences (i.e. not questions).

You wanna hang out with your beautiful Japanese girlfriend, so you text her asking her to come to your apartment. Sadly, her response is:

ごめん。 いま いそがしい の。
Sorry. I'm busy right now.
Literally: "sorry. + now + busy + の."

Agh! Feminine の!

It's quite difficult to explain the nuance of this の in terms of English. Generally speaking, she says の because she is explaining to you why she cannot hang out with you. So how about we label it the "の of explanation."

The girlfriend in the above example adds の because she is saying "I'm busy right now" in order to explain that she can't come over.

Let's look at some other uses of the feminine "の of explanation."

Your female friend is buying a pair of men's gloves. You ask her why, and she says:

わたし、 て が おおきい の。
I have big hands.
Literally: "I, + hand + が + big + の."

Our English sentence is not explicitly translating the の in the Japanese sentence. If we wanted to, maybe we would have written "Because I have big hands." The Japanese sentence falls somewhere between the nuances of "I have big hands" and "Because I have big hands."

That is, the の is marking the sentence as an explanation for something without explicitly stating "Because..."

You're friends with a tiny Japanese girl, and you two go to ramen together. She's on her fourth bowl of noodles and shows no signs of stopping. Surprised, you ask, "How can you eat that much?" She smiles and says:

これ おいしい の。
This is really good.
Literally: "this + delicious + の."

The "の of explanation" is explaining that she's eating so much because it tastes good.

Your friend is reading a travel guide for Korea. You ask her why, and she says:

らいしゅう、 かんこく に いく の。
I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "next week, + Korea + に + go + の."

Although she's not explicitly saying "Because I'm going to Korea next week," we understand that she's explaining by her usage of the "の of explanation."

(By the way, we haven't looked at verb conjugations in this course yet, but you'll be happy to know that the verb above [行く // いく // to go] is in its dictionary form. In other words, it does not need to be conjugated. ^_^)

You may also occasionally hear girls start conversations with sentences ending in の.

Here's an example:

あのね、 らいしゅう かんこく に いく の。
Hey guess what, I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "hey, so, + next week + Korea + に + go + の."

I already said this earlier in the lesson, but please don't worry too much about being able to use の just yet.

As it's one of those difficult-to-translate grammar points, it's something that you're best off just picking up gradually over time.

Well, what about masculine speech?!

Yeah, yeah. Chill, yo.

We'll look at it in the next lesson.

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