I know that adding お makes it honorific, but I want to know how they're used differently.


As I'm not a native speaker, my opinion is hardly useful. However, here are links that probably have the answer that you want:

As per the accepted answer to using 美化語{びかご} in 謙譲語{けんじょうご} verb forms does not make sense, right?, your assertion that " I know that adding お makes it honorific, but ... " does not seem correct. A native speaker discussion of what is, is not, 敬語 can be watched at www.bunka.go.jp/keigo

As per the accepted answer to a few words have an honorific 「お」or「ご」 as a necessary prefix, right?、"酒{さけ}" might be getting lexicalized into "お酒" for writing. But, saying "さけ" seems not uncommon (see comments section below). I, myself, have never heard "酒" spoken without 美化語. Likewise, I've never seen "酒" written without 美化語。 I'd say that saying "お酒" is correct in any context. Can't go wrong with it.

  • This might be a bit beside the point, but would one ever refer to 料理酒 as お酒?
    – ssb
    Jan 8 '15 at 23:30
  • @ssb That is a very good point that I overlooked. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – user312440
    Jan 8 '15 at 23:38
  • Seriously, native speakers (men in particular) say 酒 without the お very often. Wonder what kind of crowd you hang out with. An analogy to 茶/お茶 does not work with 酒/お酒. Jan 9 '15 at 1:39
  • @l'électeur ok. My disclaimer from the start was that I'm not a native speaker. I'll edit as per your comments.
    – user312440
    Jan 9 '15 at 1:47
  • we, native MEN speakers, usually say "酒(さけ)" without "お" in informal situation.
    – turutosiya
    Jan 9 '15 at 13:36

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