Korean Statement: The Review

When I started learning Korean almost 4 years ago, I thought it would be as simple as learning the writing system which is  항글 (Hangul) and studying meaning of words, then I would be ready to communicate in Korean.   So when I memorized those characters and bought a dictionary, I hurriedly looked for a Language Exchange partner only to find out I am far from being a decent speaker.

Since I don’t have time to attend a formal class I opted to buy a text book that will allow me to understand Hangul.  I learned my first big lesson, this language is not like learning English.  The basic structure of a Korean sentence is Subject-Object-Verb or  SOV in short.   No wonder I sounded like a fool putting up those words based on their dictionary meaning just how I would construct my English sentence.  The sentence  structure alone is a big difference.  So when we typically say ‘I love you’,  in Korean, the order would be ‘I you love’.  The order of words in a sentence also signifies their importance.  The first in the order is the least important and that the verb is the most important component of the sentence.  The first words in a sentence are most likely to be dropped.  This is because the subject or even the object  can be implied in a conversation.

Using the sample statement ‘I love you’, this is 나 너를 사랑해요 (na noreul saranghaeyo) in Korean.  Let’s dissect this simple statement.

  • 나 (Na means I)
  • 너를 (noreul means you)
  • 사랑해요 (saranghaeyo mean love)

You might have heard 사랑해요 (saranghaeyo) in dramas and songs which actually means i love you as well. The subject and object in the statement were dropped but the meaning stays the same.  This is why the role of the verb in a sentence is important.

Of course creating a clear statement doesn’t end with knowing the word order.  Although subject and object can be dropped in a sentence this should not be taken as a rule of thumb.  In the Korean language post-position and markers are used to emphasize the role of the word in a sentence.  Again using the example above 나 너 사랑해요, 너 which means you is marked as object in the sentence without it the sentence would be vague since the subject 나 (i) is not marked.

Can you just imagine how it is to create a compound or complex sentence in Korean?  I am not even at that level but I am trying =)

Honorifics

I think I have written on my previous entry that in Korean, the manner of speaking is very important and it depends on who you are talking to. This actually confused me when I was trying to learn Hangul — I am still trying by the way :-P.  Most of the phrase books are suggesting phrases in honorific style or at times the polite ones.  There seems to be pattern but nevertheless if you don’t read and read you won’t be able to understand.

Based from what I read there are 3 major ways of expressing thoughts in Korean:

  • Honorific – which is the style used when talking to someone esteemed (older than you, professional people , parents or those whom you have high regard)
  • Casual Polite – the style used when talking to a friend you usually call with sshi 씨 or if you are unsure of the person’s age who seems to have the same age as you.
  • Intimate – the style used when talking to younger person or someone who is very close to you.

It is very important to remember that honorific style is never used to describe your own deed or action. 

To give an example on these different styles, take the case of saying ‘let’s go’ or ‘go’:

  • 가세요 – Ka-Se-Yo, Ka means go and Se is an honorific marker then the polite ending Yo.  As mentioned in my earlier entry  its never an issue to drop the subject when communicating in Korean as such you will not find I or You in the sentence.
  • 가요 – Ka-Yo, this is casual polite just removing the honorific marker Se but ending using the polite way which is Yo.
  • 가 – Ka is actually the word in its infinitive.  When I was talking about base and dictionary entries for word previously, verb in its infinitive form can be used to express action or describe action (words in dictionary form is never used in a normal conversation — later i’ll post more on base words).  Dropping the polite ending Yo leaves you with the word 가 which is the infinitive form for this word which means go.