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In this Chiebukuro question about whether it should be 心配無用 or 心配無用, one answerer says the following:

ご住所 おなまえ お歳 ご職業 などとは言わないそうです。

Quick translation:

When you add 「ご」 or 「お」 to show politeness/respect, if you just stick it on the last thing it will work on the whole sentence.
For example we say: 「住所氏名年齢職業を書きのうえ」 rather than 住所名前職業...

This got me thinking about the topic of how many times to use 「お」 and 「ご」 in a sentence. For example, I've always wondered why it's not 設定 in the following common train announcement:


Similarly, on the buses where I live, it's:


But, on the other hand, I've seen plenty of sentences like this before:


So I want to ask:
・Are there any prescriptive rules (from 文化庁 for example) that govern how many times to use 「お」「ご」 in a sentence?
・And how do people actually decide how many times to use 「お」「ご」 in a sentence?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As you probably have already guessed, there is no hard rule about how many times you can use お and ご prefixes in a sentence. We often avoid using too many honorifics, and it is true that there is a general tendency to use honorifics in the final verbs. However, we sometimes use honorifics also in other places.

This is different from 二重敬語. For example, consider お読みになられる. Because お読みになる is a respectful form of 読む, and なられる is a respectful form of なる, お読みになられる is something like the respectful form of the respectful form of 読む. Expressions like this are called 二重敬語, and they are usually discouraged in the modern Japanese except for certain common phrases. See pp. 30–31 of 敬語の指針 by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (文化庁) for more about 二重敬語 and what may look like 二重敬語 but actually are not.

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Thank you for answering! So regarding お and ご, while there's no hard rule, avoiding over-using them is generally accepted as good form? That's pretty much what I wanted to know! :) I wonder then, what kind of impression do Japanese people get from the last sentence I quoted (電源をお切りいただくか、マナーモードにご設定の上、ご使用をお控えください) which uses お/ご throughout? (As opposed to the train announcement for example which doesn't.) –  Ash Oct 30 '13 at 2:48
@Ash: (1) Avoiding too many honorifics is acceptable, but which is better probably depends on the context and the personal tastes. (2) It is hard to tell the impression from the last sentence. Now that I read it several times carefully, it started to look like overuse of honorifics, but honestly, if I just read it e.g. at a station, I probably would not even notice that it contains so many honorifics unless I read it carefully. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 30 '13 at 3:02
Would something like お読みになられていただけませんか be "triple honorifics"? –  user54609 Oct 31 '13 at 2:00
I guess it's similar to 行けないから、よろしく伝えてください。 vs 行けませんから、よろしく伝えてください。 –  Darius Jahandarie Oct 31 '13 at 4:25
@Ash: I think it depends on formality. Using honorifics is already formal, and I think that using many honorifics is only acceptable in a very formal occasions. I would not expect something like 電源をお切りいただくか、マナーモードにご設定の上、ご使用をお控えください in spoken Japanese unless it is part of some formal speech. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 1 '13 at 23:12

And how do people actually decide how many times to use 「お」「ご」 in a sentence?

When talking, people think and talk simultaneously. So there are no strict rules to suppress the number of times 'お/ご' are used.

When writing, personally I make it a rule not to overuse 'お/ご'.

But in both cases (talking/writing), prefixing 'お/ご' to every word possible (ie overusing it) causes few trouble, I think.

There is a widely-known trivia that there are some Japanese words that are almost entirely composed of prefixes.

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Thank you for answering! I think I have a better understanding now :) That omiotsuke word is great lol. –  Ash Oct 31 '13 at 15:16

I do know that (my friend' wife is a Japanese teacher in training) compounding politeness is incorrect. Adding extra politeness honorifics does not increase the politeness level, its just wrong. Don't follow everyday Japanese speakers they are not well versed in this area.

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