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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…
Why is the hiragana ‘U/う’ used to extend an O sound?
You might have been puzzled by the way certain words are spelled in Japanese. For example, the word for ‘Good Morning’ is spelled お-は-よ-う, but the actual sound is ‘Ohayō.’ The last two syllables, ‘よ’ and ‘う’ aren’t pronounced as ‘よ-う’ but as ‘よー’ with a long vowel ‘おお’ at the end.
So what’s going on with this?
The long vowel 'ō/おー’ is pronounced for twice as long as the short お. There are two combinations to make this long vowel: which are two of the hiragana "お" characters in a row, and a character ending in an お sound -- such as こ or と -- plus an う.
For example, おおきい is pronounced with the long vowel おーbecause it has two お sounds at the beginning. おはよう is also pronounced as "ohayō" with the long vowel "おー" because the last two syllables, “o” sound in ‘よ/yo’ and its following “u/う’ makes a long vowel “ō.”
Any character with an お sound can be extended in this way by following it with an う.
For example,あ-り-が-と-う meaning "Thank you." becomes ‘Arigatō’. How about とーうーきょーう? It becomes ‘Tōkyō.’ In this word the う is used to extend two syllables.
Just remember, even though you can lengthen an お sound with another お *or* a う, a う character will be used most of the time. Knowing this, you’ll be able to make a good guess, but just like English you need to learn the correct spelling of a word.
How was it?
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to read the long ‘o’ sounds correctly from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!