Category: Grammar

V + ㄹ세

As you all may or may not know, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is one of my favorite dramas; the books are equally entertaining albeit horribly difficult to read.  I’m still plowing through book one, but I have paged through a lot of it and read chunks here and there.  This bit is from the last chapter of book one (all copyright belongs to the author 정은궐).  If any of you are planning to get the books or watch the drama later, don’t worry, none of these passages should be spoiler-worthy.

Okay so this isn’t strictly 사극 말투 but since I’ve often heard it and read it in historical dramas/books, I decided to include it in here.  It’s important to note V+ㄹ세 is sometimes used among the older generation when speaking 하게체, but rarely (if at all) among the younger current generation.  Here we go!

Three scholars in charge of Sungkyunkwan’s student publication (문집) accost Guhro and physically restrain him from escaping.  This year, they intend on getting his contribution to the publication one way or another, even at the risk of their own lives.

“뭐, 뭐야!  이거 놔!”
“글을 주기 전엔 놓아줄 수 없네.  걸오!  글 좀 주게나.”
“죽고 싶지 않으면 썩 떨어져!”
“죽더라도 글을 받기 전엔 떨어지지 않겠네.  우린 지금 유서 써 놓고 이리 달려들었어.”
“무슨 글?”
“우리 셋이 이번에 문집을 맡았네.  꼭 자네 글을 싣고 싶단 말일세.”
“에잇!  내가 미쳤다고 그런 글을 줘?”

Later, Yoonhee marvels over Guhro’s writing.  Guhro gives her a short poem to read and tells her to take it if she likes it.  Yoonhee is amazed that the contents of the poem and the disposition of the writer can be so… different.  Yongha butts in… 

“이런 걸 두고 사기(fraud)라고 하지.  시 속에 지은이의 성품이 녹아 있기 마련이라더니, 말짱 헛말일세!”
“시비 걸려면 내놔!”
“싫습니다!  이제 이건 제 겁니다.”
윤희는 그가 빼앗기 전에 얼른 소맷자락 속으로 넣아서 감추었다.  용하가 평소와 달리 대단히 기분 나쁜 투로 말하였다.
“걸오!  난 왜 안 주는가?  내가 자네 글을 얼마나 갖고 싶어하는데, 왜 난 안 주고 여기 대물만주는가!  나도 사랑 시를 지어 주게.  나도 달란 말일세!”

V + 일세 is used in one of three situations.

  1. When you are letting another person know of your thoughts/opinion on some matter.
  2. As an exclamation, when you’ve realized something for the first time.
  3. When you are conjecturing/surmising or intending to do something.

I think the first and third examples fall more under situation 1.  (Though I do tend to hear this construction more when I would expect to hear 모모 말이야 in contemporary Korean.)  The second example falls more under situation 2.  Not to be mixed up with the 말일세 of the other examples, 헛말 refers to “meaningless/useless words” and the 일세 in this context functions more like 이네.  Note that this construction is used between social equals or to inferior – it’s practically like using 반말.

There you have it!  I hope you don’t mind the long examples.  I love the humor in these books and it’s a delight to read richer, rounder versions of the characters I loved so much from the drama.


If you’re at the advanced-intermediate-ish level in Korean have a Twitter account, make sure you’re following @urimal365, if you’re not already!  This is the official twitter account of The National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원), where they answer several questions on a daily basis about everything and anything related to the language – grammar, usage, spacing, spelling, honorifics, meaning, shortened forms, expressions, etc.

Keep in mind, this is supposed to be for native speakers so all of the questions and explanations are in Korean.  You may need to brush up on your Korean grammar terminology (check out my list – which I need to update) but if you’ve been using Korean websites to help with learning grammar, the explanations are pretty simple to follow.  I noticed that a LOT of questions are about 띄어 쓰기 and spelling.  Some of the questions surprise me because it’s stuff that I actually already know but then it made me realize – there are a lot of things about “proper” English grammar that I don’t know and have to look up too.  Or things that I know but can’t explain very well.  For example, a native English-speaking friend of mine just asked me the other day about the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther.’  I think native speakers of any language don’t really think about why we say something a certain way and just say what sounds right.  That’s why this Twitter is so great for native Korean speakers.

But, of course, it’s not just for native speakers.  I tweeted them a grammar question today that I couldn’t find a great explanation for anywhere online and got a really clear, helpful answer in return.

I still feel the need to preface my questions with “I’m a foreigner learning Korean…” in case I make a mistake when I’m composing my question or when I’m about to ask something really simple (like this).  I guess I’m still not too confident in myself. ><

Anyway, I’ll have to jot this down in my grammar notebook.  I know it’s easy to go to your Korean friends or teachers or the TTMIK staff about grammar questions, but I’m a really big fan of making a sincere effort in trying to look it up yourself.  I promise you will learn so much more effectively that way.  Really.  The more time you spend trying to look up something online or in a textbook, the better it’ll stick.

But this is still an awesome resource.  I’ll be honest and say I don’t read ALL of their tweets, but when I do, I always learn something.

Accidental Koreanizations?

Here’s yet another thing that sets Korean apart from all the other foreign languages I’ve ever attempted.  I find myself accidentally using Korean language conventions in English and in my native language of Marathi more and more these days.  And I don’t mean things like certain words or exclamations (아이씨, 아이고, 대박! etc.) – rather, accidental Koreanizations that are inadvertently creeping into my style of speech!  These are two especially sneaky ones:

Answering negative questions.  I think I’ve confused a lot of teachers and friends by accidentally using the Korean convention of answering negative questions.  These questions perplex me and somehow I’ve always been at a loss as to how to answer them unambiguously with a simple “yes” or “no” in English.  Some types of negative questions have a certain contextual polarity associated with them that doesn’t necessarily match with what the question is actually asking, so that gets confusing too.  In English, I usually  end up having to support my yes/no answer with extra verbiage to make it less ambiguous.  My logical head prefers the succinct, unambiguous Korean mode of answering negative questions.

To illustrate how confusing it can get, take this example:

Question:  Aren’t you Korean?
English:  No.  (=No, I’m not Korean.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you are wrong.  I am Korean.)

I’ve always found this an intriguing difference between English and Korean.  The “aren’t you…” or “isn’t that/this…” implies a relative degree of certainty in English.  A question like “Aren’t you Korean?” translates to something more like, “I’m pretty sure you’re Korean.”  So that’s why in English, the “yes” or “no” reply directly addresses the latter statement than the actual question.  But in Korean, the sentence reads more like “Are you not Korean?”  So the “yes” or “no” reply goes with the “not Korean” part of the sentence.

Something slightly more confusing is stuff like

Question:  Don’t you have something to eat?
English:  No.  (=No, I don’t have anything to eat.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you’re wrong.  I do have something to eat.)

More and more often these days, I find myself answering questions like these Korean-style and probably confusing the heck out of people while I’m at it.  Not sure how and why I started doing this, but in order to avoid unwarranted confusion, I’ve been making more of an effort to stay away from one-word “yes”/”no” answers.

Overusing the word “little.”  ‘좀’, the contracted form of 조금, doesn’t necessarily mean “little” all the time.  In some contexts, it can be used to sound a bit more polite, as in, “이거 좀 보세요.”  In other contexts it makes you sound a bit more exasperated, as in, “제발 좀 그만해라” or a bit more desperate, like in “날 좀 살려줘.”

In any case, I’ve actually started to adopt this type of speech while speaking in my mother tongue Marathi, using the Marathi word for “little” just like I would use 좀 in Korean.  My mom actually makes fun of me for it because it doesn’t make any sense at all in my native language!  I think it was easy for me to pick up this quirk because Korean and Marathi (most Indian languages, for that matter) are so structurally similar to each other, it was literally just a matter of substituting Marathi words for Korean words in certain cases.

Honestly I’m baffled as to how and why this “accidental Koreanization” of my two first languages occurred when I have never fully immersed myself in the Korean language.

Has anyone else experienced this?  In what manner and to what extent?

V + 자꾸나

Hwon and Woon are lost in the forest.  Night is upon them and a misty rain begins to fall.

제운은 아랑곳없이 눈을 감은 채 고개를 숙이고 주위의 움직임을 읽었다.  먼 곳을 보던 훤이 산자락에 있는 희미한 불빛을 발견하고 반갑게 말했다.

“아!  잠시 저기서 비를 피하자꾸나.”

-정을궐, 해를 품은 달

First off, here’s a structure most of you are probably very familiar with:  V + 자” – the casual way to propose something you want to do with someone else.

예) 먹자! = Let’s eat!

예) 가자! = Let’s go!

-자꾸나 is equivalent to -자.  It can mean “Let’s…” or “How about… [we do something]?” but it tends to sound more intimate and is often used by an older person when addressing a younger person.  (In this case, Woon is older but Hwon is the king.)

예) 한잔 하자(꾸나) = Let’s have a drink.

예)  잠시 저기서 비를 피하자(꾸나). = Let us seek shelter from the rain for a moment over there.

로서 vs 로써

I was reading 세상에 너를 소리쳐 a few days ago and came across a particle I wasn’t familiar with: 로서.  Obviously 로 is used in a variety of situations, but what I wasn’t sure if 로서 was used in a similar way or if it was completely unrelated to 로.  So I did a bit of research and came across an English blog post that did quite a poor job of explaining how to use 로서, 로써, 로인하여 and then went on to conclude that 로서, 로써, 로인하여, as well as 므로 could just be replaced by 로 colloquially.  Well, that sounded a bit suspicious so I brought up the question with CoreanBigSis on Twitter and, sure enough, that was incorrect.  As 언니 explained to me, there are SOME situations where 로 can colloquially replace the other particles and some situations where it simply cannot.  So, I googled something in Korean about those particles and came up with a really excellent explanation on when to use 로서 vs 로써 (which, I assume, are mixed up quite often by native speakers.  Like when English speakers mix up “your” and “you’re”).

Continue reading “로서 vs 로써”

Korean grammar terms

When I just can’t find good explanations of more advanced (?) Korean grammar points in English, I resort to searching for explanations in Korean.  I’ve also started to use the 국어 사전 more these days to look up words I don’t know (and to learn new words while I’m at it!)  Anyway, I’ve begun compiling a list of Korean grammatical terms that’ll hopefully make it easier to understand dictionary entries and grammar explanations in Korean.  I’ll probably add more to this list in the future but here’s what I have so far.

Edit:  I decided to make a separate page for this topic.