According to the 'Genki' textbook, katakana for 'wo' can be written in two ways;

  • Contracted using the 'o'-katakana; ウォ
  • Non-contracted using just the 'wo'-katakana; ヲ

What are the differences between the two? Is one of the two used more reguarly? It feels, intuitively, liken the 'single-letter' katakana is easier to deal with as it's just one instead of a contraction between two.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of What special kana are used to write foreign words? – macraf Sep 20 '17 at 4:16
  • It kind of is a duplicate, but I don't know if the accepted answer to that gives a decently thorough treatment of what the role (and possible pronunciation) of ヲ actually is. – ConMan Sep 20 '17 at 5:00
  • Yeah, I don't think the answer there is really sufficient, so right now I'm thinking I'd prefer for this question to remain open. – snailplane Sep 21 '17 at 19:09

It's worth reading the accepted answer to this question, but to specifically answer you:

「ヲ」 is not really "wo", at least in the sense you expect it to be. It's the same as 「を」, which is typically pronounced "o" and used as a particle to mark the object of a clause. It is sometimes, depending on the dialect or even just the individual, pronounced as "wo", but you'll find that the "w" isn't necessarily a strong sound - just like how "ra" is only an approximate pronunciation for 「ら」, or "fu" for 「ふ」, if you try to pronounce "wo" like Keanu Reeves says "woah" then you're doing something wrong.

So using 「ワォ」 for "wo" helps get across a little more of that meaning, and for the transliteration of foreign words you will exclusively see this rather than 「ヲ」 (which, outside of its particle use, mostly only shows up in names like 「カヲル」 for semi-historical reasons).

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