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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to the Ask a Teacher series, where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Why are there two different kana for 'O'?
You should have noticed that these two characters (お and を) are both pronounced “o” in Japanese sentences. You may be wondering whether you can use them interchangeably.
First, I will tell you the history. お and を had different pronunciations in the Nara period around 1300 years ago.
お was pronounced ‘o’ and を was pronounced ‘wo’. However, the language have been changing, so お and を have the same pronunciation ‘o’ these days. Nevertheless, their functions are different.
Let’s think about the sentence おいしい おすしを たべます.
The sentence has three ‘o’s.
The first お at the beginning is part of the word おいしい. It means “delicious.” When a お is part of a word, the お is used.
The second お comes before すし.すし is a complete word without お. おすし is a polite version of すし. The function of お here is showing politeness. It’s called the honorific prefix. We also use お here.
The third one, を, is a particle that is called the object marker. It’s independent and is put between an object and a verb, おすし and たべます. This is the only time when you would use this kana to write the 'O' sound.
Here is one more example:
おもしろいお話を聞きます。It means “I listen to an interesting story.” The first お is a part of the word that means “interesting” – おもしろい. The お in お話 is an honorific prefix and 話 means “story”. Then を is placed between an object お話 and a verb to mean “listen to” 聞きます, and it’s an object marking particle. So, the letter を is used. Their functions are different, but the pronunciations are the same.
I hope this makes sense to you.
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!
またね!

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JapanesePod101.com Verified
March 22nd, 2016 at 06:30 PM
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What Japanese learning question do you have?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
July 19th, 2021 at 04:18 PM
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Dorotaさん


Thank you so much for your comment😄

It's always pronounced "o"😉

Just the exception will be songs. In songs, some singers pronounce it "wo" for lyrical purposes.


Please let us know if you have any questions :)


Sincerely

Ryoma

Team JapanesePod101.com

Dorota
July 11th, 2021 at 05:42 PM
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Hello,


If we see を that means that we always read or speak it as "o", or there is situation when this is sound "wo"?


Best regards

Abel
July 24th, 2017 at 11:56 AM
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I'd like to know if is there any exception for the " 'o' honorific before the noun " rule. Thank you for the lesson!

JapanesePod101.com Verified
July 14th, 2017 at 05:57 PM
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Hi Jess,

Thank you for the comment!


You can say that "o" is a prefix for noun. And there is another prefix, "go".

Both are used for animate or inanimate one.


Keep studying with JapanesePod101.com

Cheers,

Miki(美希)

Team JapanesePod101.com

JapanesePod101.com Verified
July 14th, 2017 at 05:53 PM
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Hi shamvil,

Thank you for the comment and sorry I didn't answer earlier.


Regardless of whether it is a subject of an object, you can use a prefix "o" for nouns.


Besides "o", there is another prefix, "go". For example,

sushi -> o-sushi

kazoku (family) -> go-kazoku


Hope it helps you.


Keep studying with JapanesePod101.com

Cheers,

Miki(美希)

Team JapanesePod101.com

JapanesePod101.com Verified
July 14th, 2017 at 05:46 PM
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Hi Rafael,

Thank you for the comment and sorry I didn't answer earlier.


To be exact, there are 3 types of honorific expressions(Kei-go). The one is a way to respect a person(Sonkei-go), the other one is a way to speak modestly(Kenjō-go), and the last one is to speak just politely(Teinei-go).

Honorific "o" is used to speak politely. Of course you can say "Oishii o-sushi o tabemasu.".


Let me add that all the 3 types of expressions are for respecting a person you talk with eventually.


Keep studying with JapanesePod101.com

Cheers,

Miki(美希)

Team JapanesePod101.com

Jess
June 23rd, 2017 at 02:14 AM
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So お can be used to show respect towards an inanimate object?


何 ?

shamvil
January 21st, 2017 at 04:49 AM
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こんにちは


Its really interesting but also very different, there are objects that can be called with politeness, are there ways to use politeness towards subject too?


Like in turkish language, a casual you would be *sen* while a polite you would be *siz*

or like in hindi language, a casual you would be *tum* while a polite you would be *aap*


Additionally, are there more ways to call certain objects politely?


like おすし


よろしおねがいます

shamvil

JapanesePod101.com Verified
December 23rd, 2016 at 03:26 PM
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Ramel san,

Konnichiwa.

Thank you for your post.:smile:

Yuki 由紀

Team JapanesePod101.com

Ramel
December 3rd, 2016 at 07:58 PM
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Perfect:thumbsup: