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Some nouns take the 「ご」 prefix:

ご両親 {りょうしん}
ご家族 {かぞく}
ご無事 {ぶじ}
ご安心 {あんしん}
ご丁寧 {ていねい}

While many others take the 「お」 prefix:

お母さん
お仕事 {しごと}
お月 {つき}
お内 {うち}
お客 {きゃく}

In general, what are the criteria that determine whether a noun takes a 「ご」 or an 「お」?

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You forgot 「み」, 「ぎょ」, and 「おん」. All are 「御」. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 22 '11 at 4:15
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@Ignacio Those are all pretty limited in their use, though. The overwhelming majority of the time, it is either お or ご. –  rintaun Jul 22 '11 at 4:19
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Note that, in some (not so many) cases, and have become part of a fixed expression, and have lost the honorific meaning. For example, in ご飯 (gohan) or お腹 (onaka), or do not mean honorification any more as you can tell from the fact that there is no corresponding form without or ; (meshi) is written with the same kanji, but is read differently, and hence is a different word. –  sawa Jul 22 '11 at 4:56
    
@sawa "read differently" .. Doesn't that refer to on-yomi and kun-yomi reading like stated by rintaun? If so, then it might be the same word even though different reading, right? –  Lukman Jul 22 '11 at 9:04
    
@Lukman No, it does not mean that. Historically, first, there were Japanese words to which no chinese characters assigned. Then came the chinese characters, which had their own reading, and by which Japanese words came to be written. When a chinese character has both on-yomi and kun-yomi, what that means is that two words are written with the same character. –  sawa Jul 22 '11 at 11:42

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Most generally:

  • Words of Chinese (On-yomi) origin take ご
  • Words of Japanese (Kun-yomi) origin take お

If I recall correctly, there are also a very few chinese-origin words which take お as they are very commonly used, but I can't think of any of these off the top of my head.

Edit: One such example is お電話.

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Most famous example of exception to the rule above is 御茶【おちゃ】, which I was once explained as being "so close to the Japanese heart that it is practically a Japanese-origin word (it's not)" ;-) –  Dave Jul 22 '11 at 15:28
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To be accurate, the distinction is not whether it is Japanese or Chinese origin. It is whether it is felt (accepted) as Japanese or Chinese origin. And Dave's example is not an exception in this regard. A similar thing can be seen with Western-origin words. Even though words like かるた, 合羽 are Portuguese origin, they are felt like Japanese origin, and are not written in katakana. –  sawa Jul 22 '11 at 20:53
    
@sawa That is rather vague and subjective. Isn't there a way to objectively tell that a word 'feels' like Japanese origin or not? Also is there possibility that words that don't feel like Japanese origin after some time start to be accepted as Japanese origin and thus change from ご~ to お~? –  Lukman Jul 23 '11 at 4:06
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@Lukman You are right. Over time, words get to feel like Japanese origin. So you can be sure in one direction. If it is kun-yomi, then you can be sure that it takes . The problem is when it is on-yomi. But still in that case, you can just try to memorize the irregular cases, and assume that others take . –  sawa Jul 23 '11 at 4:50

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