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