Thursday, June 05, 2008


"더" - this simple and innocent-looking word is creating a lot of confusion these days. In basic-level Korean, we were taught to use "더" to make comparison like 더 좋아해요 (I like this more) or 더 중요해요 (This is more important). In fact, it was one of those simple Korean words that I frequently used. However, I was never warned that "더" will undergo "extreme transformation" in intermediate-level Korean.

In intermediate-level Korean, "더" manifests itself in the form of sentence-endings like ~더라고요, ~던데요 and ~더군요. It also appears in the middle of sentence as ~던, ~던데 and ~더니. In some sentences, it even appears both in the middle and at the end. The basic meaning of "더" in this context is 회상 (回想) or recollection. It is used when a person is recalling a past experience, event or memory. Explanation of the word is quite easy to understand but the correct application of its many different forms inflict quite a bad headache. It is almost like trying to tell Chinese, Korean and Japanese apart. They all look so alike.

Our teacher, Ms Kim, was trying to explain the grammar "~던" the other day. "~던" is used to express an action or state that was frequently being carried out or was continuous in the past. It can also mean an action that was stopped halfway previously. For example, depending on the context of the sentence, 읽던 책 can mean a book that I used to read frequently or a book that I have read halfway in the past. Our teacher has probably pre-empted that students may ask her why not just use "읽은 책"? So she went on to explain that "읽은 책" only says that I have read the book previously but it stops short of telling others if I have read the book halfway or have completed it.

To make thing simple for us, she added that "읽은 책" has the same as meaning as "읽었던 책". Then one student asked, how do I express 책을 읽었었어요 in the form of ~던? Our teacher replied that "읽은 책" is more appropriate since "책을 읽었었어요" doesn't say if the book has been read halfway or completed. Then another student followed on by asking her, how do we then express the book that I have completed reading, shouldn't it be "읽었던 책"?

You can be forgiven if you are confused at this point of time because our teacher was also "confused" by our questioning. Acknowledging that "~던" is confusing even to native Koreans, our teacher said that this grammar would not be tested in TOPIK or KLPT. Anyway, one thing ironic about learning is that a person will usually be confused before he understands. It's chaos before order. Given a choice, I would rather be in a state of confusion than ignorance. To say 헷갈려요 (I am confused) is definitely more helpful than to say 물라요 (I don't know), especially for someone who want to learn something new.

When our teacher felt that she had explained enough of the grammar "~던" and any further explanation would not lead to better understanding, she asked the class, 느낌이 왔어요? What she meant was, has the feeling (on how to use "~던") come? I was amused by her use of 느낌 but I kinda agree with her that some language points just can't be explained in details and sometimes the only way to fully understand them, is perhaps through "feel".


  1. Wow. This is very interesting (but confusing :D ).
    Mostly because I am very new to Korean grammar.
    This tells me that I have A LOT to practice!

  2. 안녕하세요 ^^

    مرحبا شكرا للمعلومات
    안녕하세요 ~~감사합니다