Hey! What's That お 'o' (or ご ‘go’) Doing There? Part 2

Last week we talked about that polite little 'o' that pops up in 'o-genki desu ka?' (If you haven't read that post - Part 1 - yet, hop on over and read that one now!)

But when is it 'o', and when is it 'go'? And why?

Luckily, there are a few simple rules:

1) ‘O’ for Japanese, ‘go’ for Chinese

The general rule is: お (o) is used with native Japanese words:

o-haka     お墓     grave 
o-kome    お米     rice 
o-sushi     お寿司      sushi 
o-shirase     お知らせ     notice

ご (go) is added to words of Chinese origin:

go-ryoushin     ご両親     parents 
go-renraku     ご連絡     contact, get in touch 
go-kyouryoku     ご協力     cooperation

Why are there two?

It’s actually two readings of the same kanji (御) - ‘o’ is the kunyomi (also called the Japanese reading); ‘go’ is the onyomi (Chinese reading).

That's why we read it o with native Japanese words and go with words from Chinese.

2) Foreign loanwords only get ‘o’

Foreign words don’t usually get this prefix, but when they do, it’s an ‘o’:

o-tabako     おタバコ     tobacco 
o-toire     おトイレ     toilet

3) Notable exceptions

Remember I said all native Japanese words get o, and Chinese words get go? Well, I might have lied a little bit.

There are exceptions, that do the opposite. Here are a few:

o-denwa      お電話    (telephone) 
o-shougatsu     お正月     (New Year) 
o-genki     お元気     (well, healthy) 
go-yukkuri     ごゆっくり     (take your time)

A final word of warning: only certain words get beautified with 'o' and 'go' - if you start adding them all over the place, you'll sound a bit odd.

Now, have fun being marginally more polite than you were previously!