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How to say の in English

By Matthew, February 02 2015, 23:48
POTUS (The President of the United States) by Anthony Baker via Flickr
Translating の as "of" in English is often wrong. There are 3 other ways to translate の.

Most Japanese speakers just say "___ of ___" when they think of ___の___ in Japanese. However, this is usually strange in English. There are lots of ways to use ___の___ in Japanese (which are very strange to English native speakers learning Japanese, by the way), and they translate differently in English.

In fact, there are four main ways you can say ___の___ in English:

  1. ___'s ___: e.g. Bob's car;
  2. ___ of ___: e.g. the President of the United States;
  3. compound nouns (noun + noun): e.g. "English teacher" and "English lesson"; and
  4. prepositional phrases: e.g. the appointment on Wednesday.  

All of these types of phrases can be translated as ___の___ phrases in Japanese.

1. Apostrophe S

When you want to talk about who has or owns something, in English we usually prefer to use ____'s. It is very simple and natural. It is better to say "Joe's car" than "the car of Joe". "The car of Joe" is strange.

2. Of

Using ___ of ___ is very serious-sounding. It has a heavy sound to it. It sounds official. We usually use that phrase when we want something to sound important, like "the CEO of the company" or "the magic sword of King Arthur" (imagine me saying that in a deep, booming voice!). It sounds really strange to use this pattern with everyday, normal objects. My room-mate (he was Italian) used to say "the cheese of Matthew". I thought it was really funny. It sounded like my cheese was magical and powerful. I imagined him saying, "Bring me the Cheese of Matthew! Only the Cheese of Matthew can defeat the evil Dark Lord of Salami!").

3 & 4. Noun phrases and prepositional phrases

These take a lot of experience and time to master. Every time you find an example, you have to memorize it.

Can you think of some examples of patterns that use noun phrases or prepositional phrase that translate as ___の___ in Japanese?


Compound nouns

  • "Accounts department", not "department of accounts", e.g. "I work in the accounts department."
  • "English word", not "the word of English", e.g. "I need to learn more English words."
  • "Dinner tonight", not "tonight's dinner", e.g. "Dinner tonight is curry."
  • "TOEIC score",  not "score of TOEIC", e.g. "He has a really high TOEIC score."
  • "Toshiba TV", not "TV of Toshiba", e.g. "I want to buy a Toshiba TV."

Prepositional phrases

  • "Button on my shirt" not "button of my shirt", e.g. "I lost a button on my shirt."
  • "Work for today" not "today's work", e.g. "I have finished work for today."
  • "Points on Poligo", not "points of Poligo", e.g. "I just bought some points on Poligo."
  • "The meeting on Monday", not "the Monday's meeting", e.g. "I have to prepare for the meeting on Monday."
  • "A guidebook for Australia", not "a guidebook of Australia", e.g. "I bought a guidebook for Australia."
  • "A planner for this year", not "this year's planner", e.g. "I got a planner for this year from Loft."
  • "A playground at some school", not "a playground of some school", e.g. "This is a picture of a playground at some school."
  • "The roads in Japan", not "the roads of Japan", e.g. "The roads in Japan are very good."
  • "A meeting with the client", not "a meeting of the client", e.g. "We have a meeting with the client tomorrow."
  • "The button on my iPhone", not "my iPhone's button", e.g. "The button on my iPhone is broken."
  • "Information about our company", not "information of our company", e.g. "Please find some information about our company attached."
  • "The figures for October" not "the figures of October", e.g. "Let's take a look at the figures for October."
  • Matthew's picture
    About me
    I am from New Zealand. I lived in Japan and Brazil for a long time, but now I am back home in Auckland. I am the founder of Poligo. I like to play guitar and video games and surf when I get the chance. I have a wife and two boys.
    I specialize in teaching English to professionals and English teachers. I have taught English since 2001 in Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I speak Japanese & Portuguese. I am the founder of Poligo and The English Farm (an online school for business English).


Shinya55's picture
Submitted by Shinya55 on

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for your explanation. I understand how to say の in English, but it is difficult to use for or of. Except for memorizing, are there any way to know how to use them properly?


Matthew's picture
Submitted by Matthew on

Hello Shinya,

Thanks for your comment.

This is a big topic, so I plan to write a few articles on it. I thought I would start with this one, since most of the mistakes people make begin with thinking that there is a one-to-one relationship between something in their native language and something in English (ex. の = of).

Next I will write about "of" and about prepositions in general.

Stay tuned!


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