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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Should I use O or GO as an honorific prefix?
You have probably seen words like お金(おかね), ご住所(ごじゅうしょ) and learnt that お and ご are both honorific prefixes to indicate a high politeness level. However, you may be not sure about when you should use お and when you should use ご.
So what’s going on here?
Firstly, I have to explain wago and kango. Wago refers to original Japanese words. And kango are Japanese words of Chinese origin. Do you remember the kun and on readings from the previous lesson? Basically, original Japanese words or wago are read in Kun-reading. And Chinese origin words, or kango, are read in On-reading.
Now let’s get back to today’s topic, お and ご.
Basically お is used in wago or original Japanese words. For example,
お家(おうち) meaning “house”
お水(おみず) meaning “water”
お金 (おかね) meaning “money”
Also, it’s common to use お to refer to your family members.
お父さん(おとうさん Father)、お母さん(おかあさん Mother)、お姉さん(おねえさん Older sister)、お兄さん(おにいさん Older brother) and so on.
On the other hand, ご is used with kango or Chinese origin words. They are usually compounds made up of two kanji. For example,
ご家族 (ごかぞく) which means ‘family’,
ご両親(ごりょうしん Parents) and
ご兄弟(ごきょうだい Siblings).
However, there are some exceptions such as お時間、お電話 and お料理. They are kango, but they take お.
I recommend you only worry about the exceptions after you get used to the basic rule.
Here’s one more example:
Let’s think about 名前 and 氏名. They both mean ‘name.’ Is 名前 kango or wago? 名(な) and 前(まえ) are both kun-readings, so 名前 is wago, even though it’s a compound of two kanji. So お must be chosen. How about 氏名? 氏(シ) and 名(メイ) are on-readings, aren’t they? Therefore, 氏名 is kango or a Chinese origin word, and it takes ご before it.
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!