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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Honorific Prefixes in Japanese

お/ご

Last week we talked about some word endings, which are very important in Japanese.

Today, we will look at prefixes, in particular the honorifics "o" and "go."

Using the noun fish, a simple example is お魚 (o-sakana). A literal translation would be "honorable fish" or "Mr./Ms. Fish." In Japanese, though, this sounds quite normal and it should be translated simply as "fish."

Why add the "o"?

It sounds polite and softens one's language.

In general, "o" is placed in front of words of Japanese origin. Other examples are:

お名前 (o-namae) = name
お薬 (o-kusuri) = medicine
お休み (o-yasumi) = vacation, day off
お金 (o-kane) = money
お買い物 (o-kaimono) = shopping
お忙しい (o-isogashi) = busy

To make things a bit complicated, there is another honorific: "go."

This is used for words of Chinese origin.

ご紹介 (go-shokai) = introduction
ご住所 (go-jusho) = address
ご注文 (go-chumon) = order
ご家族 (go-kazoku) = family

Finally, keep in mind that these are terms to be used for others. You should refer to your neighbor's family as "go-kazoku"--but never as your own family in that way.

Read more about the Japanese language

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