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Korean FAQs: Subtle Differences in Low Intermediate #1


We’ve been receiving some questions lately regarding subtle differences in the meanings between some Korean words. So, we’ve decided to post the answers to these questions on this site in order to help benefit other students as well.

1. What’s the difference between 닫히다 and 닫다 and 열리다 and 열다?

For both of these, the second verb (닫다, 열다) is an ACTIVE verb (to close, to open). The first verb (닫히다, 열리다) is a PASSIVE verb (to BE closed, to BE opened).

2. What’s the difference between 되었어요 and 됐어요?

These are identical in meaning (and pronunciation if you pronounce the first quickly). The second (됐어요) is simply a contracted form of the lengthened first (되었어요). It’s like the English “can not -> cannot -> can’t”.

3. What is the 나요 ending in 생각이 안 나요?

It’s a verb in this case (because it is related to 생각). The base form is 생각나다 “come to mind” or “remember”. It’s different from 생각하다 which means “to think.” In this case the phrase means “I can’t recall” or “it doesn’t come to mind.”

4. What is the difference between 기억하다 and 생각이 나다 and 생각나다?

생각이 나다 and 생각나다 are identical in meaning – they both mean “come to mind” (as mentioned above). Just the first one includes the particle 이 because technically 생각 is a noun and 나다 is a verb. But when put together, they are simply a verb.

It’s similar to 운동을 하다 and 운동하다. Both are right, both mean the same thing, but the first has a particle because technically 운동 is a noun and 하다 is a verb. The 을 in this case can be dropped, as the 이 in 생각이 나다 also can.

기억하다 is a verb that means “remember” or “memorize” – as in “I remember…” But 생각나다 simply means “come to mind” or “occur to you” – as in “Did it occur to you…” 기억하다 is a more SOLID verb for remembrance (memorize), while 생각나다 is more closely related to thoughts and thinking (hence the 생각).

(Click either of the links on the vocab above to see those words in different contexts in an online dictionary.)

5. What is 글쎄요? (Is it “hmmm ?”)

Right, pretty much. When asking a question, this is how the listener responds when they also don’t know yet and want to think about it. It can mean “let me think” or “let me see” or “well…” also.

6. What is 모르겠어요? – “I don’t know?” But how is it different to 몰라요.

몰라요 means flat out simply “I dunno” and is very direct. You hear ajushis saying this if they just don’t want to deal with you – and students say this in class when they just plain don’t want to answer.

모르겠어요 means “Hmm, I don’t think I know that” and is less direct. It’s something you’d say when you want to help someone out, but you don’t think you can because you really don’t know the right answer. 몰라요 is used when you just don’t want to help or give an answer (it’s very direct).

7. What’s the difference between 더 and 또?

더 = “more” as in “more items, more noun (food), more adjective (big).”
또 = “also” or “again” as in “one more thing/idea, etc.”

8. What’s the difference between 동네 and 지역?

동네 = your neighborhood, or a village
지역 = “a region” or “regional”

For example, you use 동네 when you talk about where you live, the area around your apartment, but you use 지역 to talk about an area like “the Jeonju area.”

9. What’s the difference between 출발 and 떠나다?

They are similar – in my dictionary it says 떠나다 = 출발함.

떠나다 is clearly a verb that can be used to convey the ACTION of departing or leaving (and all the tenses). 출발 on the other hand is a noun and requires a different verb to show action, such as 출발 해요 or 출발 합시다.

출발 = “a start/departure” while 떠나다 = “to start/leave”

10. Is 시 always an honorific thing? Like 오시나요? = 와요??

Yes, 시 added to verb stems causes the verb to be honorific.

Feel free to submit your own grammar questions on our contact form.

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