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As mentioned in the Addressing strangers without knowing the name thread, 敬語{けいご} often communicates the implied actors in a sentence. The thread titled using 美化語 in 謙譲語 verb forms does not make sense, right? raises the issue of whether 美化語 is 敬語, or not. Then, I noticed example sentences in the thread titled 「を」 object marker in this 受身形 sentence that would seem to add more clarity regarding whether 美化語 is 敬語 (and thus can be used to create implied actors):

Can an implied subject be created by adding 美化語 to 財布:

usage case #1
"泥棒{どろぼう}に財布{さいふ}が盗{ぬす}まれた。"
"泥棒に 財布が盗まれた。"
Here, both are ok. The "お" is optional because the owner of the wallet is not known. Personally, I would not add the "お".

usage case #2
"泥棒に財布を盗まれた。"
The use of "を" implies that I am the owner of the wallet. So, that means that I cannot make the wallet honorific. which means that, if 美化語 is 敬語, then I cannot say:
"泥棒に 財布を盗まれた。"

In essence, this the progression:
(1) "泥棒に財布を盗まれた。" // ok. The implied owner of the wallet is me.
(2) "泥棒に 財布を盗まれた。" // whoops. I have made something that is mine, the wallet, honorific by adding 美化語 on the wallet.

conclusion
In usage case #2 (modify 財布 with を)、 adding 美化語 to 財布 is still grammatically correct, but sounds unnatural because I am misusing honorifics?

  • I don't know about a rule for this, but here is an example from real life that contradicts this: my wife often says stuff like お菓子を食べているの。talking about herself. My understanding was always that the "honorific" on common word is a matter of choice rather than actual honor and is destined to make the sound more pleasing (and therefore also more polite sounding). Not using honorifics is usually considered as "rough" speak as far as I know, but there is no rule against using it on your own belongings that I know of. – yu_ominae Sep 19 '14 at 17:31
  • One more thing I just thought of: women use honorifics more than men. When I removed the お from お財布 when I answered the question you took those sentences from I did it because that's what felt natural form me. I could well imagine a woman saying お財布を盗まれたのよ and it wouldn't feel in the least bit weird. – yu_ominae Sep 19 '14 at 17:58
  • @yu_ominae yes, you are correct. A woman gave me the example sentences that used "お財布" instead of "財布".. – user312440 Sep 19 '14 at 20:26
  • Thinking about this some more today I realised that I would use お in front of words when talking to people I need to defer to, like my manager or my neighbours. I wouldn't use those if I talked to friends or junior people in the office (if I know them already and can dispense with Keiko). In that sense I guess you are right in saying that these are like honorifics which are used depending on one's standing and situation. They are not strictly necessary, but not using them might come across as impolite. – yu_ominae Sep 20 '14 at 16:30
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美化語 is not 尊敬語 (=honorific), although 美化語 is a subset of 敬語.

Using 美化語 simply "beautifies" the target word. Saying お財布 (instead of 財布) does not imply the owner of the wallet, and you can always say 私のお財布 if you like. In this case, 「泥棒にお財布を盗まれました」 is a perfect way to say "I had my wallet stolen".

Likewise, you can usually say (my) "お寿司", "お友達", "お風呂", "お菓子" etc., without worrying about honorifics at all, because these are 美化語 (male speakers use these less frequently, though)

But you cannot use words like "お体", "お姿", "お目", "お手", "ご気分", etc., if these nouns belong to yourself. Some people say "私のお仕事" is not good in formal conversations, either. So it depends.

From 文化庁's 敬語の指針 (PDF), page 37:

自分のことに「お」や「御」を付けてはいけないと習ったような気がするが 「お待ちしています」や「御説明をしたいのですが」などと言うときに,自分の動作なのに 「お」や「ご」を付けるのは,おかしくないのだろうか。これは,どう考えれば良いのだろうか。

【解説】自分側の動作やものごとなどにも 「お」や「御」を付けることはある。自分の動作やものごとでも,それが<向かう先>を立てる場合であれば,謙譲語Ⅰとして,「(先生を)お待ちする」「(山田さんに)御説明をしたい」など「お」や「御」を付けることには全く問題がない。また「私のお帽子」など,美化語として用いる場合もある。「お」や「御」を自分のことに付けてはいけないのは,例えば 「私のお考え」「私の御理解」など,自分側の動作やものごとが相手側や第三者に直接かかわらない場合で,自分側の動作やものごとを立ててしまう場合である。この場合は,結果として,自分側に尊敬語を用いてしまう誤用となる。

  • Thank you for this information. Actually, here is a video about keigo that I watch every day. It talks about bikago, but I don't understand it very much. Even though I don't understand, the format is so funny I watch it: bunka.go.jp/kokugo_nihongo/keigo/chapter1/index.html – user312440 Sep 19 '14 at 18:34
  • Are you sure 'beautifies' is really the best word for this? It sounds like it's a kind of honorific that's triggered primarily by the formality level of the sentence as a whole, with some restrictions on inalienably-possessible nouns. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with how phonaesthetically pleasing the word becomes. – Sjiveru Sep 19 '14 at 19:05
  • (Beginner here) My understanding is that this also depends on which word the honorific is applied to -- I've never seen 酒 stand alone in any sentence, for example, regardless of who is drinking. – Simon Richter Sep 19 '14 at 19:35
  • @SimonRichter snailboat has part of your observation covered here: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/13081/… – user312440 Sep 19 '14 at 19:59
  • @Sjiveru "お+noun" acts both as 美化語 and 尊敬語. お in pure 美化語 is not related to honorifics and may be safely omitted even in most formal conversations. お財布 clearly falls into this category. If omitting お is rude (as in 「お名前を頂戴します」「ご気分は如何ですか」), then it's probably not 美化語 but 尊敬語. 敬語の指針 states that 美化語 is not a kind of 尊敬語 but a kind of 敬語 in broader sense; see p. 18 in the PDF. – naruto Sep 19 '14 at 22:12

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