Difference Between 「白い」 and 「白の」

Good afternoon everyone. This is my first post here in the forums and I apologise in advance if this has been asked before.

I am just starting out here in wanikani; I am still on level 2. But I already met an example that made me scratch my head. I don’t remember quite what the example sentence was, but it had the following grammar construction:


Which it simply enough translated to white ball. What I wanted to know is if there is any difference between saying 「白の玉」 and 「白い玉」. Also, if there is any kind of rule or idea here that might be used for different い-adjectives and how they differ from a の-adjective version of the same.

Thank you very much for your time.


白 on its own is a noun, rather than an adjective and it can be used in the same way as a noun can be used. Like in this example:
My favorite color is white.

This is just intuition and I don’t know the exact rules, but in this scenario, it seems to me like 白の玉 is the name of an object “White Orb” while 白い玉 would just mean “a white ball.” because an adjective describes something, while の often indicates a property of an object.



While 白い is an adjective, 白 is a noun.

You can modify a noun with an adjective by placing the adjective before the noun: 白い玉
You can modify a noun with another noun by using の as a link: 白の玉

Some colour words only exists in the noun form (e.g. ピンク or みどり), therefore you will need to use the の linking for them: ピンクのシャツ, みどりのくるま and not ピンクいシャツ, 緑いくるま

I hope this helps!

Sakura Neko


TheCodingFox, Sakura_Neko, I thank you both for replying to my topic, and for the clarifications on the grammar role of 白い vs 白.

One thing I was wondering, though, is if what is meant by saying “白い” is at all different from what is meant from saying “白の”. I thought the two uses might be slightly different somehow; either by meaning slightly different things or being used in different contexts or some other kind of difference.

For instance, by searching for “白いシャツ” or “白のシャツ” (white shirt) on google, I find that most results actually return “白シャツ”. I am guessing that this is the most natural way of talking about a product. I found “白いシャツ” as part of the name of a book and of a song; so I suspect this might be more natural when talking about a specific shirt instead, maybe?

As for the “白のシャツ”, I found it when the の was already in use for some other reason. For instance: “一番人気の白のシャツ”. So I suspect that using の for a word that can easily become an adjective might not be very common unless you are already using it for another word you are daisy chaining with “の”. This, by the way, brings me to another grammatical question: can you use an い-adjective together with a の used to make a noun into an adjective?

I am a native speaker of Japanese, but the only differences I can think of in terms of 「白いシャツ」,「白のシャツ」and 「白シャツ」are

Depending on the context, 「白のシャツ」can be shortened to 「白の」(white one) while others cannot be shortened and still refer to a white shirt.

The 「の」usage does not depend on whether 「の」is already used in the sentence. So, 一番人気の白いシャツ is perfectly fine.

I hope this helps!

Sakura Neko


Sorry this question made me curious because I didn’t know if there is a difference. So I asked my Japanese husband and he was thinking a lot and finally said that it would be more common to say 白い玉 but it is correct to say のas well but he cannot say what the difference is. :thinking:

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Would 一番人気の白のシャツ be strange?

Husband after rethinking:

I cannot imagine a white ball.
But if it would be shoes than 黒の靴 would emphasize “black” shoes (rather than another colour". :thinking:

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Both 一番人気の白いシャツ and 一番人気の白のシャツ would be fine.

The only difference is that you are modifying シャツ with the adjective 白い in the former, and you are modifying シャツ with 白 which is a noun in the latter.

With 黒の靴,
I think the emphasis only comes from the context, but not from the structure :slight_smile: If you are in a shoe shop and are choosing new shoes from hundreds of different colours, in response to 「どの色の靴が欲しいですか」, you might say 「黒の靴が欲しいです。」as the topic here is the name of the colour of the shoes you would like. But even then, 「黒い靴が欲しいです。」would not be considered wrong.


Thank you!
That’s why my husband said “if you stand in the entrance” maybe…

In the beginning I thought that these particles are quite easy so somehow I have a lack of understanding the nuances now.

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So this made me think about doing a back-translation or whatever it’s called. If Lord of the Rings was originally Japanese, what would get translated as “Gandalf the White?” 白のガンダルフ, right? It seems to be his name, so the question then is whether 白いガンダルフ would hit differently. Does it matter that the English has white as a noun instead of an adjective?

So then I thought about an actual J to E translation: 白い戦隊レンジャー and 白い戦士
Sure enough, it’s not 白の戦隊レンジャー or 白の戦士

I’d like to know more about this.

Edit: Didn’t realize the topic was old, hopefully it’s okay to resurface it.

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The relevant thing for 白のガンダルフ is that [color]の is broader. It indicates that the thing it modifies is related to the color white on a higher level than just the light bouncing off of it.

白いガンダルフ would indicate that something about him is physically white, but nothing more.

白のガンダルフ could be physically white (and we know he is, but I’m imagining you just hear it with no context), but we also know he could be symbolic of “white”, or have allegiance to some group that is “white”, or it might be a title of “White” which means something deeper than just the color.

So either way could be used for a description of a character… it just depends how they want to handle it. Is the physical color all they’re talking about? Or is there some deeper connection.


I found this explanation from 飯間浩明 (sorry, I cannot translate names…)
It seems he is a Japanese-language dictionary editor and Japanese linguist.


Conclusions from his text:

(「豊かな海」is the name of a crater on the moon)


Basically that means, if you write の it is not (necessarily) talking about the color but the color could have another meaning depending on the context. In the case of Gandalf, he wouldn’t need to be really white if he is called 白のガンダルフ. Of course he can be white, but it is not necessary.


I would agree with you and @Leebo on this and if someone were to talk to me about 黒の靴, I would think of that as “black shoes” as a compound. For instance, shoes that are elegant and by definition black. When hearing 黒い靴 I would think of “shoes” which are just incidentally black, because that specific pair is black and not of another color.

I feel like this distinction is kind of prevalent in fantasy settings, like games and such? When seeing 真っ黒の剣 I would think “oh wow, that’s one menacing sword right there” and not “oh wow it’s…black” :smiley:


True, it is a bit like capitalization, the Black sword.


The example sentences confuse me because sometimes the ending of the kanji changes. It might be a verb or an adjective. I have now started to look at grammar to make it understandable.
Sorry but as much help as I can give.