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お誕生日おめでとう vs 誕生日おめでとう

What's the difference? And is it needed?

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The explanation by user3688956 gives the right interpretation. The one with お is a little more polite and more respectful, though it can be taken as slightly more distanced, if used for very closed friends. I'll illustrate the nuance. For example, compare calling your father "dad" or "father". While the use of the word father doesn't warrant a lack of affection, it has a more respectful or more distant tone (at least here in the US). The impression made with the use of お in the context of congratulating one's bday follows a similar logic.

While お is not necessary, if you are talking to a very traditional (older) person or those to whom you absolutely must show your respect, the use of お and ございます would ensure the highest level of respect. Omitting any one will change the level slightly.

That said, intentionally using polite or honorific expression towards close friend in Japan is a very common form of joke. I believe the same can be said in most cultures, if not all.

  • thanks kentaro! I'm guessing Elsa says 'otanjoubi' because she and Anna were estranged for awhile – BCLC Nov 6 '15 at 2:14
  • Is it really so distanced? If not used among friends then why an abbreviated おたおめ came into existence? – macraf Nov 6 '15 at 2:31
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    "can be" distant. it doesn't have to be (at least not always) but it can be, depending on to who's involved. for おたおめ, I have no idea of the REASON for its existence but we love abbreviating things and no other abbreviations sound right. たおめ?おたます?ため?おため?おたん?See none can remotely hint 誕生日おめでとうor お誕生日 .お誕生日おめでとうhappened to be one expression that can be both friendly and polite, and is ultra common. So i'd guess it's natural to take the 2 first syllables and mash them together. – Kentaro Nov 6 '15 at 2:41
  • @Kentaro Wait, what? おたおめ, たおめ,おたます,ため,おため andおたん are all shortcuts of お誕生日おめでとう? – BCLC Nov 6 '15 at 3:11
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    eh....i wouldnt go that far. Japanese language is very flexible in terms of abbreviating long expression. so TECHNICALLY, all i mentioned are correct in that sense. But whether people would understand them is a different question. It's like calling Robert "obe" or John Smith "omi". They aren't wrong, but nobody would know what you are referring to. – Kentaro Nov 6 '15 at 3:19
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お誕生日おめでとう is a little bit more polite than 誕生日おめでとう.

the point is a little bit..

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