Confusion regarding の in Word Use Examples

I’m having some trouble understanding when it’s OK to leave out the の particle based on some of the sample sentences provided. Here are some examples, so you’ll see what I mean.

In all of those examples, there is a の connecting the two words to create the greater meaning. Now look at these other examples for comparison.

In those sentences, the words are linked without the の particle.
Simply put, I don’t understand why it’s fine to leave out の in some of these sentences, but not all of them. Why is it not 黒人のアーティスト, for instance?

Similarly, I’ve noticed that a few な-adjectives have sample sentences that link them with nouns using の instead of な, and I can’t figure out why that is. “Yellow Flower” is written as 黄色の花, but I would normally assume that it should be written as 黄色な花, just like how “Important Person” is written as 大切な人. Evidently, that’s not the case, but I don’t understand why not.
Would someone please be kind enough to shed some light on this for me?


の is possessive. Or in simpler terms, you can often think of it like it literally means: 's

黒人のアーティスト = Black person’s artist

Of course の has other uses but in this case, this is what it does.

The の adds some extra information. A yellow flower, that is, it is a flower, and it is just yellow.
With な, the relationship is much more essential (actually な is a form of だ(です) when in front of a noun) : it is not just a flower, it is the yellow flower, the one that is deeply characterised by being yellow.

That is why an important person is 大切な人.

As for compound words where の (nor な) is used, well just like in English that implies a more specific meaning, a new concept somewhat.
黒人の文化 = culture of the black people.
黒人文化 = Black culture.

The first means something as the culture a black person has, or even a generalisation, the culture associated with black people
The second is, among all Cultures, a very specific one.


Well, it’s primarily a way to use one noun to modify another - a posessive is not the only meaning. If you’re going to argue that 黒人のアーティスト means “a black person’s artist”, you’d also have to argue that 黒人の少年 means “a black person’s boy”, but it just means “a boy who is a black person” - the 黒人 is describing 少年.

As for why the の isn’t used in 黒人アーティスト… I got nothing.


So in that case, 黄色な花 wouldn’t be incorrect, per say, it would just be giving the sentence a different nuance?
EG: “この黄色な花は綺麗” and “この黄色の花は綺麗” would both mean “This yellow flower is pretty,” but the former would be emphasizing the yellow part as being more important, whereas the latter would just be using it as a regular descriptor? Or you could use な when talking about a flower that is distinctly yellow, like a sunflower, maybe (ひまわりは黄色な花です)?

I think I follow you here, at least with that particular example. Going with that logic, something like 黒人少女 would sound a little off, because it would seem like you’re referring to a very specific black girl, almost like a representative, whereas 黒人の少女 is just a girl who is black, yeah? And something like 黒人のアーティスト wouldn’t be incorrect, it just wouldn’t emphasize that the artist is black as much as 黒人アーティスト does, where it’s a more core part of the word?

Tangential, but the usual adjective form for ‘yellow’ is 黄色い (so 黄色い花), i.e. this is one of the six colours that is an i-adjective (the others being 赤い, 青い, 白い, 黒い, and 茶色い).


Hm… not really, in my opinion. It’s more a matter of whether or not you treat the whole phrase as a single concept. 黒人少女 and 黒人の少女 can both mean ‘black girl’, but 黒人少女 is like a monolithic concept, whereas 黒人の少女 feels more like 黒人 is a descriptor. Similarly, 黒人アーティスト initially struck me as weird for ‘black artist’, because I felt like I would have gone for 黒人のアーティスト, but then I realised it depended on how I wanted to frame the idea: 黒人のアーティストのAndrewsさん and 黒人アーティストのAndrewsさん would be roughly the same for ‘Mr. Andrews, a black artist’, but 黒人のアーティストは白人のアーティストと比べて for ‘Black artists, as compared to white artists,…’ feels like I’m trying to preserve ‘artist’ as a single concept and draw a comparison between specific cases by using descriptors. If I were discussing black artists as a social group or trying to write a dictionary definition for them (though this sounds very strange since this doesn’t seem like a specific status or special term that needs defining), I would definitely prefer 黒人アーティスト.

Honestly, the more I think about it in these cases, the less of a difference I see. We should probably look for better examples, but perhaps there just isn’t an obvious difference when we’re working with apposition (i.e. when the words on both sides of the の refer to the same thing or person). How about this? 外国人生徒 is almost definitely ‘foreign students; students who are foreigners’, whereas with the right context, 外国人の生徒 could mean ‘students of/taught by foreigners’, even though it can also mean ‘students who are foreigners’. Maybe you are right about something being more of a ‘core part’ of a word without の, but I guess to sum up, from my perspective…

  • With の: feels more like a label or description of some sort
  • Without の: feels like a single – possibly new! – concept that needs to be explained/defined or whose meaning can be worked out based on context

Great question. I’m unsure if there is a definitive answer. I certainly don’t know for sure.

It’s possibly similar to using “the” in English (American’s say “in jail” and “in the hospital”, but it’s the other way round in the UK).

In the six examples shown, it seems they could all go either way except 黒人の人.

Adding の to the ones that don’t have it sounds more contrastive to my ear (e.g. 黒人の文化 sounds more like you are comparing it to some other kind of 文化).

Removing it from the examples that have it doesn’t sound impossibly weird to me (though I’m often wrong). 黒人少年 still seems possible to me, but again less contrastive. The difference between, say, a “young-African” and an “African youth”.

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I think the closest simile with English is something like “warlord” vs “war’s lord”. Without the の it’s effectively a new word that has a specific meaning that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Consider something like 火山 which is not merely a mountain on fire but a more specific concept. But I think it’s one of these things you can’t fully predict and will pick up with time and exposure, consider 女子 and 女の子 for instance.

I am not qualified enough to dig deeper on that topic; but yes, if you search on Google for example, you will found some 150000 hits (which is way less than the near 4 million hits of 黄色の花). (and then there is also 黄色い花 and you have three different subtetlies)

Just to let you know both exist, and not be completly lost when seeing it. Feeling/understanding it comes gradually, and can’t be set with a simple definition (I think the use of one or the other is also strongly influenced by the words being used; BのA or BなA will depend on A and (even more) on B.
“黄色の” : 19million; “黄色な” : 2million (which means that it is not that uncommon, but probably for other things than flowers)
“大切の” : 1,5 million; “大切な” 153 million.
For 黄色 there is a ration 1:10 in favor of の,
for 大切 a ratio 1:100 in favor of な (and maybe even more… a lot of the “大切の” are actually things like “大切の意味” … that is, talking about the word itself)

You have to be a bit cautious with google hit counts, which are often inaccurate; also some of the na- hits will be for other words, like 真っ黄色な花. But, yeah, there are enough of them out there that I didn’t want to say 黄色な is flat out wrong (though I am quite close to it…) Still, for most learners I think the simple thing to learn is “this is an i-adjective, not a na-adjective”.

Jim Breen’s n-gram corpus lookup which has more trustable numbers than Google search results gives the three options at:

word hits %
黄色な 35825 1.0%
黄色い 2512089 68.1%
黄色の 1139734 30.9%

(this is likely still including 真っ黄色な, I suspect).


Thank you for all the advice. I appreciate the help.
I think I get the gist of it, and I imagine (read: desperately hope) that I’ll get a more thorough understanding as I learn more about the language.

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