の and こと

differences between の and こと and what is this nominaliser THING all about? and also what XVI century has in common with のだ。

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between の and こと? Did you read or heard them being called nominalizers and you didn’t really get it? Or are you curious about words like ところ、こと、もの and suffixes like さ and み in Japanese?

Well, then this material is perfect for you!

Let’s start with what nominalization is?

Well, is the use of a word that is not a noun like an adjective, adverb, or verb as a noun. Well, that was easy.

This can be done using affixes, conjugations, or even not changing the verb form at all.

For example in English:

  • – adjectives can be nominalized with ibility suffix.
  • applicable → applicability
  • – verbs can be nominalized with ion and the most productive ing suffixes:
  • to react → reaction
  • to run → running

Very interesting, but how does this is done in Japanese?

Well, originally there were many methods of producing nouns in different eras.

For example, in old Japanese nouns were formed from verbs by replacing the final vowel.

村(むら) emerged from muru 群(む)る ‘to gather’. But this method quickly died out.

We have to recall fast what 終止形(しゅうしけい) and 連体形(れんたいけい) are to have a full understanding.

In classical Japanese, there was another conjugation used at the end of the sentence, and also other forms were used to modify nouns. The first one was called 終止形 (the ending, predictive form) and the other 連体形 (attributive form – that is describing form). The 終止形 died out, except for nouns and なadjectives, where の and な are used for describing other nouns, and だ・である・です at the end.

There is also another form 連用形(れにょうけい) (conjunctive, continuative form) that was used to connect verbs, this is the part of the word if you remove ます.

Example of conjugations for modern なる:

未然形(imperfective form (things that not happened), nai stem) (みぜんけい)なら
連用形(conjunctive form (connects), masu stem)(れんようけい)なり・に
終止形(predicative form, ending form)(しゅうしけい)なり
連体形(attributive form, noun modifying form)(れんたいけい)なる
已然形(realis form (thing that happened, used with ば and ども as in けれども)(いぜんけい)なれ
命令形(imperative form) used for orders (めいれいけい)なれ

This is all cool, but what does it have in common with の、こと and nominalization?

More than many think!

Actually, in classical Japanese continuative form (連用形)and attributive form (連体形) were nominalizers themselves, and this usage survived to modern Japanese! And what is more, you are using the first one fairly often, since it gave birth to many modern nouns, and is used in certain patterns.

連用形 nominalized verb when was followed by particle に. Do you recognize this? Yup, this pattern is still used in に行く に来る constructions like:

  • 食べ物を買いに行く
  • I am going to buy food. 買い is the 連用形 of 買う and is used like a noun.

連体形 was used as a nominalizer by itself and could be followed by particles like が and を. This survived with ごとし (to seem, similar to よう or みたい) 、ゆえ(‘reason similar to から、ので、わけ) and まま (as).

  • 悪夢[あくむ]を 見[み]ているが 如[ごと]き 目[め]つきで 問[と]うた。
  • He asked looking as if he were seeing a nightmare. 見ている is used like a noun here.
  • この redditを 愛[あい]するがゆえに、つくったのです。
  • I created this because I love Reddit. 愛する is used like a noun here.
  • 私[わたし] 達[たち]は 物事[ものごと]をあるがままに 見[み]なければならない。
  • We must see things as they are. ある is used like a noun here.

But everything changed in the XVI century when the ending and attributive form merged and the verbs (more or less) became like the modern ones.

Since the one form could be used at the end of the sentence and to describe nouns, it was kind of hard for it to also be a nominalizer.

And this is when the  entered all in white, on shining armor. の was already used to describe nouns (as an attributive). So it naturally became the new nominalizer.

This is how の came to what is it now, but what about こと?

Well, both の and こと belong to a group called 形式名詞 ‘dummy nouns’. Nouns that original meaning, especially in こと case was partially lost, and gained the role of dependant nominalizers, which have to be followed by other parts of speech or clause (part of the sentence).

こと originally meant (and still means, depending on whether is used as a nominalizer, or standalone noun), ‘phenomenon’, ‘fact’, or ‘non-material thing’.

Example from classical Japanese:

きこと – ‘red thing’ – ‘redness’


思うこと – ‘what one is thinking’ ‘thinking’

Another example of such a word is ところ ‘place’:


I am eating (ところ emphasizes ‘situation’, used when action is progress at this very moment).


I (just) ate. (ところ emphasizes ‘situation’ when the action just ended)


I am about to eat. (ところ emphasizes ‘situation’ about to happen)

Depending on the verb, used at the end of sentence, ところ might be followed by various particles like を、へ、に、が and so on, but let’s leave this for another time.

By the way, adjectives can be nominalized using suffixes さ and み

美し – beauty (noun) (usually in sense of degree)


Mrnoone’s beauty, the generous gift of nature. (Ok, I am not pretty at all, but always wanted to write something poetic)

うまみ – taste/flavor (usually in sense of condition/state)


Ramen overflows with taste.

There is another nominalizer もの (tangible thing, physical thing):

we can see it in some derived nouns like, though it is not productive that is we cannot use it with any kind of verb to create new nouns:

食べ物(たべもの) – food

飲み物(のみもの) – drinks

And to indicate something that is a fact, something widely considered true.

この 種[しゅ]の 事故[じこ]はしばしば 起[お]こるものだ。

Accidents like this occur repeatedly.

Well, let’s go to the differences between こと and の.

The often explanation is that の is more subjective and concrete(something speakers can perceive with their 5 senses, states, and events), and こと more objective and abstract(general ideas, abstract concepts, thoughts).

So, there are verbs that can be used with only の or こと and MANY verbs that can be used with both.


の cannot be used as a nominalizer at the end of a sentence before だ/です. (because this construction is used as explanatory)In this case, you just use こと (go to very bottom to read more)

usually is used with verbs that describe perception through senses: 聞[き]く、 見[み]る、 味[あじ]わう etc


Do as you see me do!

usually is used when someone gets involved in someone else’s action (try to read all of those aloud fast!):待[ま]つ、 手伝[てつだ]う、じゃまする、 写[うつ]す、 送[おく]る、 追[お]う、さえぎる、 会[あ]う、おさえる、 助[たす]ける、 冷[ひ]やす、 直[なお]す、 遅[おく]れる、 止[と]まる、やむ。。


I stopped going to gym.

usually is used with adjectives うるさい and やかましい


usually is used with verbs that express communication like 言[い]う、 書[か]く、 伝[つた]えるetc


Do you think that I said something wrong?

usually is used with verbs that express influencing someone to do something or not like: 禁[きん]じる、 許[ゆる]す、 命[めい]じる, 頼[たの]etc


They are prohibited from participating in rehearsal.

usually is used with verbs that express thought process and believing: 考[かんが]える、 思[おも]う、 理解[りかい]する、 信[しん]じるetc


To consider what is the best way to do (something.

ONLY こと is used with some set expressions: ことができる、ことがある、ことにする、ことになるetc


I can eat.

アジアに 行ったことがある

I went to Asia. (I’ve experienced going to Asia)

アムステルダムでは吹雪(ふぶ)くことがある。(when ことがある follows non-past it means that something happens ocassionally)

There are sometimes Blizzards in Amsterdam.

何をことにすることを試みていた。(ことにする means to decide)

I tried to decide what to do.

When both can be used:

Everything else, like:

verbs that describe operations on information: 知る、忘れる、思い出すetc


(Someone) remembered seeing you.

verbs and adjectives that describe feelings towards something: 好(この)む、好(す)き、嫌(きら)いetc


I like to read.

with words that describe learning: 学ぶ、習うetc -…


This is opportunity to learn something new.

According to some Japanese speakers, in cases when both can be used, ことfeels more polite and “hard(formal)”, while の feels rougher and “soft”. Therefore when they write they tend to choose こと over の。On the other hand, some say that they do not feel a particular difference between them.

Also, even though 好き、嫌い、上手、下手 can be used with こと, however, those are most often used together with の and are taught together with it in textbooks.

And as a bonus, an explanation of の (explanatory, emphasis).

Other than nominalizing, 連体形 had other, special function. When used at the end of the sentence, instead of ending form it produced a certain rhetorical effect, implying that something is left unsaid. This was very popular in female speech.

Since the attributive form became the new ending form, something new was needed to have this implication. And again, の were used here. Which produced の used for example in female speech or an explanatory sense.


This was very interesting!

And this is all folks,

I am mrnoone and that was ‘not so’ brief Japanese.

If you are curious about more posts like this, you can follow me on reddit :>

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