Lesson 6: Korean Honorifics

Lesson 6: Korean Honorifics

Vocabulary

The vocabulary is separated into nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs for the purpose of simplicity.

Click on the English word to see information and examples of that word in use (you probably won’t be able to understand the grammar within the sentences at this point, but it is good to see as you progress through your learning).

A PDF file neatly presenting all of these words, example sentences and extra information can be found here.

Nouns:
신발 = shoe

남방 = shirt

질문 = question

문제 = question, problem

나이 = age

화장실 = bathroom, restroom

부장님 = boss

분위기 = the atmosphere of something

차 = tea

바지 = pants

교실 = classroom

급식 = food at school

교감선생님 = vice principal

교장선생님 = principal

풀 = glue

수도 = capital city

병 = bottle

병 = disease, sickness

생선 = fish

야채 = vegetable

언덕 = hill

선물 = present

기타 = guitar

종이 = paper

우유 = milk

손목 = wrist

시계 = clock/watch

손목시계 = wristwatch

영화 = movie

Verbs:
노력하다 = to try

앉다 = to sit

만지다 = to touch

자다 = to sleep

보다 = to see

기다리다 = to wait

청소하다 = to clean

약속하다 = to promise

듣다 = to hear

들어보다 = to listen

그만하다 = to stop

운동하다 = to exercise

Adjectives:
놀라다 = to be surprised

빠르다 = to be fast

느리다 = to be slow

착하다 = to be nice

Adverbs and Other Words:
곧 = soon

항상 = always

주 = week

아래 = bottom

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.

Conjugating with Honorifics

In Lesson 5, you learned how to conjugate verbs and adjectives into the past, present and future forms. You also learned that those conjugations are hardly ever used in speech and are most often used when writing a book, test, article or diary. In this lesson, you will learn the basic word conjugations that are more commonly used in speech.

What are Honorifics in Korean?

To this point, you haven’t learned anything about Honorifics (from this website, at least). In Korean, depending on who you are speaking to, you must use different conjugations of the same word. The different conjugations imply respect and politeness to the person you are speaking to. Depending on that person’s age and/or seniority in relation to yours, you must speak differently to that person.

The reason this is so hard for English speakers to understand is that we have nothing like this in English. We can make some sentences sound polite by adding ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but you can only use those words in a limited amount of sentences. For example, if somebody asked you “where did you go yesterday?” You could respond:

I went to school yesterday.

In English, regardless of whether you were speaking to your girlfriend’s grandfather or your best friend, that sentence would look and sound exactly the same. In Korean, you must use a higher respect form when speaking to somebody older or higher in position. Unless you are literally just starting to learn Korean (in which case, some Korean people would let it pass) you must always do this.

I can share a really funny experience that happened to me. I started learning Korean a few months before I moved to Korea. I was not studying very hard or often, so my Korean was extremely basic. When I arrived at the airport in Seoul, was driven directly to my school and introduced to my principal immediately. My principal said “I am happy you are working at my school,” to which I replied:

나도 (the lower respect form of saying “me too”)

Instead of being impressed that I at least knew some words in Korean, the look on his face was as if somebody had just kidnapped his daughter.

Never, never underestimate the importance of honorific endings in Korean.

Keep in mind that all these conjugations with different honorific endings have exactly the same meaning. You will learn how to conjugate using honorifics in the following ways:

Informal low respect
Used when talking to your friends, people you are close with, people younger than you and your family.
Informal high respect
This can be used in most situations, even in formal situations despite the name being “informal.” This is usually the way most people speak when they are trying to show respect to the person they are talking to.
Formal high respect
This is a very high respect form that is used when addressing people who deserve a lot of respect from you. It is hard to describe perfectly, but honestly, the difference between ‘Informal high respect’ and ‘Formal high respect’ is not very big. As long as you speak in either of these two ways, you will not offend anyone.
The names of each form of speech might be different in every source, but I have chosen the words above to describe each form. In addition, you learned the “Plain form” in the previous lesson.

Before you start! Remember the rule you learned in Lesson 5: When adding something to a word stem, if the last vowel in the stem is ㅏ or ㅗ, you must add 아 plus whatever you are adding. If the last vowel is anything other than ㅏ or ㅗ, you must add 어 plus whatever you are adding. If the syllable of the stem is 하, you add 하여 which can be shortened to 해.

Also, in the previous lesson, you learned that if a stem of a word ends in a vowel, “~았/었다” gets merged to the actual stem itself when conjugating into the past tense.

In this lesson, two of the conjugations you will learn will require the addition of ~아/어. When adding ~아/어 to the stem of a word, the same rule applies from previous lesson. That is, if ~아/어 gets added to a stem that ends in a vowel, ~아/어 will be merged to the stem itself. For example:

가다 + ~아/어 = 가 (가 + 아)
오다 + ~아/어 = 와 (오 + 아)
배우다 + ~아/어 = 배워 (배우 + 어)
끼다 + ~아/어 = 껴 (끼 + 어)
나서다 + ~아/어 = 나서 (나서 + 어)
켜다 + ~아/어 = 켜 (켜 + 어)
하다 + ~아/어 = 해 (하 + 여)

Conversely, if a stem ends in a consonant, ~아/어 is attached to the stem, but not merged to it. For example:

먹다 + ~아/어 = 먹어 (먹 + 어)
앉다 + ~아/어 = 앉아 (앉 + 아)

There are many situations when you will have to add ~아/어 (or other vowels and consonants) to stems. Conjugating is just one of these situations. Always keep this rule in mind, as you will see it throughout this lesson, and throughout your studies.

Verbs
Present Tense

You learned in Lesson 5 how to conjugate verbs to the present tense by adding ㄴ/는다 to the stem of the word. To review:

먹다 = to eat (not conjugated)
나는 먹는다 = I eat (conjugated – present tense)

배우다 = to learn (not conjugated)
나는 배운다 = I learn (conjugated – present tense)

There are three more conjugations in the present tense that you should know:

1) Informal low respect
All you need to do is add ~어/아/여 to the stem of the verb:

나는 항상 저녁에 음식을 먹어 = I always eat food in the evening (먹 + 어)

나는 나의 선생님을 항상 봐 = I always see my teacher (보 + 아)

나는 항상 아침에 운동해 = I always exercise in the morning (운동하 + 여)

In Lesson 1, you were introduced to the function of ~에 as a particle which identifies a location or a time in which something occurs in a sentence. Since then, you have seen many cases of ~에 being used to indicate a place, but you have yet to see any examples of it being used to indicate a time. This is just a quick reminder that ~에 is (in addition to other things) attached to the part of sentence to indicate a time.

Also notice in the examples above that “항상” (always) is placed in two different places within a sentence. Adverbs are usually able to be placed wherever the speaker desires. The usage and placement of adverbs is discussed in Lesson 8

2) Informal high respect
This is done the exact same way as ‘Informal low respect’ but you also add ‘~요’ to the end of the word. Adding ~요 to the end of anything in Korean makes it more respectful:

저는 항상 저녁에 음식을 먹어요 = I always eat food in the evening (먹 + 어요)

저는 저의 선생님을 항상 봐요 = I always see my teacher (보 + 아요)

저는 항상 아침에 운동해요 = I always exercise in the morning (운동하 + 여요)

3) Formal high respect
This is done very similar to the conjugation you learned in Lesson 5 – that is, adding ~ㄴ/는다 to the stem of the word. To conjugate using the Formal high respect honorific ending, you add ~ㅂ니다/습니다 to the end of the word stem. If a word stem ends in a vowel, you add ~ㅂ to the last syllable and 니다 follows. If a word stem ends in a consonant, you add ~습니다 to the word stem.

저는 항상 저녁에 음식을 먹습니다 = I always eat food in the evening (먹 + 습니다)

저는 저의 선생님을 항상 봅니다 = I always see my teacher (보 + ㅂ니다)

저는 항상 아침에 운동합니다 = I always exercise in the morning (운동하 + ㅂ니다)

Past Tense

You learned in Lesson 5 how to conjugate verbs to the past tense by adding 었다/았다/였다 to the stem of the word. To review:

먹다 = to eat (not conjugated)
나는 먹었다 = I ate (conjugated – past tense)

배우다 = to learn (not conjugated)
나는 배웠다 = I learned (conjugated – past tense)

The three new conjugations should be very simple for you now:

1) Informal low respect
Instead of adding 었다/았다/였다 to a stem, remove 다 and add 어 after 었/았/였:

나는 먹었어 = I ate (먹 + 었어)
나는 들어봤어 = I listened (들어보 + 았어)
나는 운동했어 = I exercised (운동하 + 였어)

2) Informal high respect
Just add 요 to the end of the Informal low respect conjugations:

저는 먹었어요 = I ate (먹 + 었어요)
저는 들어봤어요 = I listened (들어보 + 았어요)
저는 운동했어요 = I exercised (운동하 + 였어요)

3) Formal high respect
After adding 었/았/였 instead of adding 다 add 습니다: 저는 먹었습니다 = I ate (먹 + 었습니다)

저는 들어봤습니다 = I listened (들어보 + 았습니다)
저는 운동했습니다 = I exercised (운동하 + 였습니다)

Future Tense

You learned in Lesson 5 how to conjugate verbs to the future tense by adding 겠다to the stem of the word. To review:

먹다 = to eat (not conjugated)
나는 먹겠다 = I will eat (conjugated – future tense)

배우다 = to learn (not conjugated)
나는 배우겠다 = I will learn (conjugated – future tense)

The three new conjugations should be very simple for you now:

1) Informal low respect
Instead of adding 겠다 to a word stem, remove 다 and add 어 after 겠:

나는 먹겠어 = I will eat (먹 + 겠어)
나는 배우겠어 = I will learn (배우 + 겠어)

2) Informal high respect
Just add 요 to the end of the Informal low respect conjugations:

저는 먹겠어요 = I will eat (먹 + 겠어요)
저는 배우겠어요 = I will learn (배우 + 겠어요)

3) Formal high respect
After 겠 instead of adding 다 add 습니다:

저는 먹겠습니다 = I will eat (먹 + 겠습니다)
저는 배우겠습니다 = I will learn (배우 + 겠습니다)

Lets try looking at all the verb conjugations you know together in one table. This table will include the conjugation you learned in Lesson 5, often called “Formal low respect,” “plain form,” or “diary form.”

먹다 Past Present Future
Informal low 먹었어 먹어 먹겠어
Informal high 먹었어요 먹어요 먹겠어요
Plain form 먹었다 먹는다 먹겠다
Formal high 먹었습니다 먹습니다 먹겠습니다

자다 Past Present Future
Informal low 잤어 자 자겠어
Informal high 잤어요 자요 자겠어요
Plain form 잤다 잔다 자겠다
Formal high 잤습니다 잡니다 자겠습니다

이해하다 Past Present Future
Informal low 이해했어 이해해 이해하겠어
Informal high 이해했어요 이해해요 이해하겠어요
Plain form 이해했다 이해한다 이해하겠다
Formal high 이해했습니다 이해합니다 이해하겠습니다

.

Adjectives

Thankfully, adjectives are conjugated the exact same way as verbs are when doing to with these three honorific endings. The major difference in conjugating adjectives and verbs is when conjugating in the most basic form (which we did in Lesson 5). To conjugate adjectives with ‘Informal low respect,’ Informal high respect’ and Formal high respect,’ follow the same rules as verbs:

비싸다 Past Present Future
Informal low 비쌌어 비싸 비싸겠어
Informal high 비쌌어요 비싸요 비싸겠어요
Plain form 비쌌다 비싸다 비싸겠다
Formal high 비쌌습니다 비쌉니다 비싸겠습니다

길다 Past Present Future
Informal low 길었어 길어 길겠어
Informal high 길었어요 길어요 길겠어요
Plain form 길었다 길다 길겠다
Formal high 길었습니다 깁니다 * 길겠습니다
*Irregular conjugation. You will learn about irregulars in the next lesson.

착하다 Past Present Future
Informal low 착했어 착해 착하겠어
Informal high 착했어요 착해요 착하겠어요
Plain form 착했다 착하다 착하겠다
Formal high 착했습니다 착합니다 착하겠습니다
That’s it for this lesson! You are progressing really well in Korean! There are a few irregulars that you need to learn before anything else, so we will cover that in our next lesson.

 

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