Hiatus or “이/그/저”

This blog is obviously on hiatus. I’m probably going to move it to Blogger and expand the focus.

In the meantime, here’s what a Korean wrote about the different demonstrative pronouns. I can barely remember how to use them properly in English and Spanish, so this explanation — straight from the Korean — is all that’s below.


There is 3 types of demonstrative pronoun in Korean. “이/그/저”

이 is similar to ‘This’ and 그/저 is equivalent to ‘That’

Let’s distinguish the usage (between? Or of?) 그 and 저.

그 is used when you are talking about a thing or person that is not existed around you and you cannot sense the existence of that now.

Let’s say your friend had a blind date with a man yesterday and you meet your and ask how he is.

Then you should say 그 사람 어땠어?

You can use 저 when you depict a thing or person that is not near around you but you can see that.

For example, you friend says the guy was awful. At the moment, you see another handsome friend who your friend might have a crush on.

In this situation you want ask her how she thinks about him.

Then you can say 저 사람은 어때?

And he comes near to you so you decide to introduce him to her. So you say this is my friend

이 사람은 내 친구야.

In conclusion, in this sentence you are talking about the place which is 3000km away from here. Therefore, 그 is appropriate expression for the sentence.

The Anti-Korean Tongue

Korean is a tough language to wrap an English tongue around. It has sounds we don’t have, a rhythm we don’t do, and a syllabic structure we can’t really relate with. And the Korean feelings for English are mutual. So how do we get over the the reciprocal phonological hump?

I can’t say pronunciation improves much by listening to Korean movies, music, people, etc., unless you’re already a talented linguist who knows how to work that tongue in unknown situations. And you’re gonna have less than stellar help from native speakers because natives don’t generally know how they make their language — they just do it. You will get feedback though — that you’re doing it wrong. The only Koreans that have ever helped me improve my pronunciation beyond the most basics have had credentials in Korean phonology.

I’m not saying the standard avenues shouldn’t be pursued for general language learning, but for better pronunciation, you need to be self-conscious of your own native language. Continue reading

Everything You Wanted to Know about 존댓말 but Were Afraid to Ask (Part 2)

[Note: This is part 2 of an introductory series about 존댓말 (polite speech). These writeups are just meant to give beginners a basic understanding of Korean language concepts — a heads up, if you will, from another learner's point of view — so that you can be more aware as you actually learn how to speak Korean elsewhere. There won't be discussion of mechanics, just lay of the land type stuff.]

A Beginner’s Introduction to Speaking Respectfully in Korean

Last time we went over the basics of 존댓말, which is the grammatically polite way to speak to others. And you can speak politely in a formal way or a casual way. But there’s more — there’s always more.

Koreans can also speak in what I’ll describe as a respectful way — and in this sense, speaking politely and respectfully are different. In Korean you speak politely to people and you speak respectfully about people. Often you speak politely and respectfully to and about someone at the same time, but you can also speak respectfully about someone in the third-person (i.e. in their absence). When Koreans speak to or about someone they respect, they elevate or honor that person with a bit of verb conjugation and special vocabulary. Continue reading

Everything You Wanted to Know about 존댓말 but Were Afraid to Ask

A Beginner’s Introduction to Speaking Politely in Korean

[This one's for Elena.]

When you first start studying Korean, may King Sejong have mercy on your soul, because you immediately run into what seems like two dozen ways to say anything and everything. In English we have at least two dozen ways of saying anything and everything too, but Koreans have many ways of saying anything and everything, and on top of that they have various levels of formality and politeness, built right into the verbs (conjugation).

Once upon a time English speakers used to do this as well, and you’ll see or hear it in very old texts with “thou” and “thy.” Needless to say, speakers of English gave up on politeness quite some time ago, but Koreans are still trying to be polite, at least in their grammar. Continue reading

하늘의 별 따기 (Plucking a Star from the Sky)

하늘의 별 따기 is a bit tricky, so let’s take it apart first.

  • 하늘 means sky.
  • -의 is a possessive marker that works like -’s in English. (So, “the sky’s star.”)
  • is a Korean word for star.
  • 따다 is a verb that can mean a number of things like pick, pluck, gain, or attain. Remember that -다 is part of the base form and comes off.
  • -기 is like -ing in English (a gerund or verb turned noun). This -기 attaches to the base of a verb, so here 따다 (to pluck)  loses the -다 and gets the -기 to become 따기 (plucking).

Roughly 하늘의 별 따다 means to pick, pluck, or attain a star in the sky, and the phrase carries a meaning similar to the English expression “pie in the sky” — something alluring and out of reach that’s realistically unattainable.

So, if something is practically impossible, you can get metaphorical and say 하늘의 별 따기예요. Here -예요 means “it is” so essentially you’re saying, “It is [like] plucking a star from the sky.” Continue reading

삼천포로 빠졌다 (Fell in Samcheonpo)

Koreans have an idiomatic expression that goes something like: “잘 가다가 삼천포로 빠진다.” Things were going well and then fell into Samcheonpo.

삼천포 is a part of the sea (and town) on the southern coast of the Korean peninsula, and Koreans say you fell in 삼천포 when you wander off topic, get sidetracked, or fly off on a tangent in a conversation (or so that’s what we’ve gathered). There are various folk mythologies about the origin of this idiom, usually having to do with a trader blown off course or a navy man returning to service and taking the wrong train.

  • - means “in” or “into” (and in other contexts can mean “toward”, “by”, “by means of”, “through”, “via” and more).
  • 빠지다 means “to fall into” something (like a lake or love), and that’s 빠졌다 in past tense (“fell into”). Watch out because 빠지다 can have many other meanings.

Continue reading


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