Thursday, 29 December 2011


Korean language is hard to master, not because of the grammar or pronunciation, but because of the way you have to change the verb endings depending on who you're talking to and in what situation. I wouldn't say English is easier, but at least you can usually apply a one-sentence-fits-all rule without sounding too strange. In Korean, however, there are varying levels of politeness or formality that you have to be careful about.

A lot of foreigners first learn the verb ending -습니다/-ㅂ니다, but this is rarely used in everyday conversation so if you use it a lot you will sound very foreign.

The ending -요 is very useful. It's added to the end of most verb conjugations to show politeness. For example, 가요 (go), 갔어요 (went), 갈 거예요 (will go).

If you're talking to a child you would sound strange adding that -요 because you don't need to be polite to children. Also if you're talking to your best mate you wouldn't need the -요. Korea also has rules about how polite you should be depending on if someone is older or younger than you, but I find a lot of people don't apply the same rules for foreigners.

There are even more polite verb endings which would be used for example by store attendants to customers, or by employees to their boss, or in any other situation where you would want to show the most respect. But those very polite endings are only used when you are talking about that person, asking them a question or instructing them to do something - I mean, you don't use those very polite endings if you are talking to that person but telling them something about yourself. If you are referring to yourself you would probably use the basic ending with -요 as I described before.

It's also possible to say something in a rude or angry tone but still add that polite -요.

Confused yet? It's hard enough picking the verb ending you need and then correctly using it with a particular verb, let alone worrying about if you're being too formal, too stand-offish, too informal, over-friendly or perhaps downright rude. If you're starting to learn Korean don't worry too much about it. Just keep practising and you'll get used to it as you go along. Just like any other language, you have to make mistakes along the way.

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