- KangXi: page 368, character 23
- Dai Kanwa Jiten: character 10157
- Dae Jaweon: page 693, character 5
- Hanyu Da Zidian: volume 2, page 832, character 16
- Unihan data for U+5FA1
- Prefix indicating that the word is honorific. Often used to indicate that the word belongs or is related to the listener (as opposed to the speaker).
This prefix is frequently written in hiragana, both because it is complicated and common, and because its reading may be ambiguous if the term is unfamiliar. When the prefix is read as o- (as opposed to go-), it is almost exclusively written in hiragana.
While in general this prefix is optional, in many cases it is so commonly used that the base word can no longer be used in isolation, as in 御飯 (ごはん, gohan, rice) – the form ×飯 *han is not used alone, though it can be used as parts of compounds (such as 炊飯, suihan), and the character can be read in isolation as meshi.
Usage varies between speakers, situations, and male and female – more polite speech, especially by women, features more use of this prefix, while blunt speech, especially by men, uses it less or not at all (words where it has the prefix become mandatory are replaced by blunter terms that do not have the prefix). In rare cases a prefixed term has become impolite, as in 御前 (omae, “you (familiar or derogatory)”).
This character is generally read as お (o-) when it is prefixed to words considered to be of Japanese origin, as in 御水 (おみず, omizu, water), and ご (go-) when it is prefixed to words considered to be of Chinese origin, as in 御主人 (ごしゅじん, goshujin, husband). There are numerous exceptions, however, such as お電話. For (non-Chinese) foreign loan words (外来語, gairaigo), this prefix is seldom used, and both お- and ご- may be used, but お- is somewhat preferred, as in おビール (o-bīru) for beer.
In some rare cases, it is pronounced み (mi-), primarily for religious words, pertaining to gods or the emperor, as in 御輿 (mikoshi, a type of shrine). However, in this context it is often replaced by 神 ("god", also pronounced mi-), and then a further 御 (pronounced お, o-) may be added, as in 御神輿 (o-mi-koshi). In very rare cases, the prefix 御 (with different pronunciations) may be duplicated or even triplicated, notably in 御御御付け, 御御御汁 (o-mi-o-tsuke, “(polite) miso soup”), though this can be considered a form of ateji, punning on 御 (honorable) and 味 (flavor) both having the reading mi. The mi- prefix also became merged into other kanji, as in 宮 (miya, imperial palace).
In rare cases, this is used as a suffix instead, notably in 甥御 oigo and 姪御 meigo (your nephew, your niece).
御 (お, o-) should not be confused with 大 (おお, ō-, great), which is a less-commonly used prefix.
See Honorific prefixes in Japanese for further discussion.
- Honorific prefix added to gods and other spiritually important things. Also added to other nouns to indicate godlike respect.
- Added to place names to emphasize beauty. (This usage is more often written in hiragana)
- 御明 (みあかし, miakashi): an oil lamp lit for Shinto or Buddhist purposes
- 御食 (みけ, mike): an offering of food to a god or spirit
- 御子 (みこ, miko): a shrine maiden
- 御輿, 神輿 (みこし, mikoshi): a portable shrine
- 尊, 命 (みこと, mikoto): a title used for gods and emperors, and other exalted personages
- 御許 (みもと, mimoto): the location of a god, Buddha, emperor, or other object of reference
- 御座 (みまし, mimashi): the presence of a god, Buddha, emperor, or other object of reference
- 宮 (みや, miya): a shrine
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