Honorific Subject Marker 께서(는)

The honorific style is just one of the complications in learning Korean (한국어).  I had several posts on this style which includes the honorific verbs and nouns.  Despite knowing the existence of this style, I am still surprised to know that particles do have honorifics too. 

The particle 께서 is used to mark an esteemed person as a subject. This means that it is equivalent to the function of an earlier particle that I have posted, the subject particle 이/가.   Example:  선생님께서 가셨어요 (Sonsaengnimkkeso kasyeosseoyo – The esteemed teacher left).

This particle is used only for persons. It can be used alone or followed by topic particle (는). As such, you may encounter statements like: 어머니께서는 무엇을 하세요? (Eomeonikkesoneun mueoseul haseyo? – What does you mother do?)  Removing the topic particle 는  renders the statement to have the same correct meaning.

As I have always been writing about particles, it is pronounced without pause along with the noun to which it is attached.

Honorific Nouns

On my earlier days of studying Korean, i have been introduced to some words that are called honorific.  These are words that are used when talking to someone with high social status, government official, foreign guest, teachers etc.

When honorific words are used the polite (-요) or formal (-ㅂ니다/습니다) style of speech. Many of the honorific words I learned before are actually verb such as 주무시 (chumushi) instead or 자 (ja) for the word sleep or 드시 (dushi) instead of 먹다 (mokta) for the verb eat.   Apart from these verbs, there are noun that are considered honorific.  Here are some of the examples:

Regular Noun

Honorific Noun

English Meaning

집 (jip) 댁 (daek) House
나이 (nai) 연세 (yeonse) Age
사람 (saram) 분 (bun) Person
밥 (bap) 진지 (chinji) Rice
아이 (ai) 자 녀분 (cha nyeobun) Children
자 제분 (cha chebun)

These are the nouns preferred when talking to an esteemed person.

Honorific Base and Infinitive

When I was trying to check my English-Korean / Korean-English dictionary, I was actually making a big mistake of using the word as is, moreover using the same pattern that English is spoken which is the Subject-Verb-Object pattern.  This is the big difference, in Korean the pattern is Subject-Object-Verb.  Verb being the last part of the sentence is the most important part of the speech as Subject and Object can be dropped in Korean conversation.

The dictionary entry with 다 -da as marker suggest what the base word is. The base word is the one that is used to form infinitive (words as used in conversation).  I have not mastered deducing the base form of a word from its dictionary entry but somehow I am more familiar now.  Using my favorite verb ‘go’:

  • 가다 – Ka-Da is the dictionary entry of this word and is never used as is.
  • 가 – Ka is the base form of this word and at the same time the infinitive form.  Common rule in deriving the infinitive is to add 아 (a) or 어  (eo) to the base form.  There are some complication but normally consonant ending words takes the 어 to get the infinitive except on cases where the previous vowel to the consonant ending word is either ㅗ or ㅏ  in that case 아 is the infinitive ending.

Words have honorific base and infinitive too, similar to the exercise of putting 아 or 어 to the base word to create the regular infinitive.  To make the honorific base, ~으시 or ~시 is added to the base word.  으시 if the word ends in consonant and 시 when word ends in vowel.   Then to make the honorific infinitive ㅓ is added to ~으시 or ~시.  In most cases 으시어 or 시어 is abbreviated to 으셔 or 셔.

Let’s take the word ‘write’ as an example:

  • 쓰다 – Ss-eu-da is the dictionary form of the word (again never used in a conversation unless you are asked what write is in Korean)
  • 쓰 – Ss-eu is the base form of the word
  • 써 – Ss-eo is the regular infinitive form, as mentioned earlier, infinitive form ends with either ㅓor ㅏ.  In the case of the word write which end in ㅡ the rule is  to drop this and replace with ㅓ but if the word still has a vowel before it which ends in ㅗ ㅏ then ㅏ will be the ending.  For this word ㅡ is the last and only vowel so the ending will be ㅓ.
  • 쓰시 – Ssu-shi is the honorific base form.
  • 쓰셔 – Ssu-syo is the infinitive form

Other verbs in their honorific infinitive:

Read  (dictionary entry 읽다 — ikda)

  • 읽 – ik (where s sound is silent) is the regular base form
  • 읽어 – i-ko is the regular infinitive form
  • 읽으시 – i-ku-shi is the honorific base form
  • 읽으셔 – i-ku-syo is the honorific infinitive form

Walk (dictionary entry 걷다 geot-da)

  • 걷 – geot is the base form
  • 걷어 – geo-to is the infinitive form
  • 걷으시 -geo-tu-shi is the honorific base form
  • 걷으셔 – gee-tu-syo is the honorific infinitive form

Come (dictionary entry 오다 oda)

  • 오 – eo is the base form
  • 와 – wa is the infinitive form
  • 오시 – eo-shi is the honorific base form
  • 오셔 – eo-syo is the honorific infinitive form

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.