Category: learn korean

This Is One of the Things I’m Talking About When I Refer to the Challenges of Speaking Korean in Korea with Koreans

The following is an extreme example; I don’t usually get corralled into conversations like this in Korea anymore, though, for obvious reasons, it used to happen a lot more often when I taught English.

Fortunately for me now, my ace-in-the-hole is that I can converse in Korean. Without that, this would have been an English discussion where I couldn’t have stopped the chat cold by insisting on Korean. 

Also, I would have had to come up with some nonsense excuse to turn down an invitation to dinner or out for drinks. Or, I could have been really brazen and said, “Sure, I’ll be glad to have dinner with you. My English tutoring rates are W40,000/hour so be sure to bring about W100,000 to cover dinner and conversation!”

As it is, I think it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be hearing from this guy again and so I don’t have to spend extra brain capacity trying to weasel my way out of an unpleasant get-together.

The mindset described here follows people from English-speaking countries around as we live and work in Korea. I understand the reason for it but it also serves as a perfect excuse for foreigners in Korea to not have time to study Korean and miss opportunities to speak it. I think it also leads to a lot of shallow relationships, which likely contributes to the disillusionment many foreigners end up experiencing in Korea, as well as misunderstandings some Koreans have about foreigners.

Those of us who have learned Korean to any degree and formed real relationships have often done so by sticking to our guns in day-to-day life.

The Conversation

So I’m heading home from work yesterday and as I’m waiting on the ground floor for the elevator in our apartment building at the spot in the photo here, a guy walks up to me and says, “Hello”. Those were the only words of English spoken (thanks to my stubborness); the rest was in Korean and here’s a paraphrased translation of what we said.

Me: Hi.

Him: You live here, right?

Me: Yes.

Him: Have you lived here long?

Me: About four years.

Him: Oh! I live right here on the first floor, in that apartment over there.

Me: It’s very nice to meet you.

Him: Yes. I’ve seen you walking by many times but I didn’t have the chance to greet you. Where are you from?

Me: The US.

Him: Where do you work?

Me: Over at Dongseo Core in Jungang-Dong.

Him: Are you an English teacher or something?

Me: No, I have my own business.

Him: Doing?

Me: Translation.

Him: Oh, OK. Here’s my business card.

Me: Thanks. Here’s mine. Oh! I see you’re a professor at Hanyang University. Did you know that I’m also a masters student over there.

Him: I’d really to learn English from you. 

[Note that he didn’t give a hoot about my connection to his university. In fact, in the actual conversation, I think I remember trying to mention my Hanyang University connection again since I thought he must not have heard me the first time. Turns out he wasn’t listening the second time either.]

Me: Oh, really. I don’t teach English.

Him: Really? Why not?

Me: Well, I have my own business doing other things.

Him: Well, couldn’t you help me learn English?

Me: I have a rule that I don’t speak English to Koreans anymore.

Him: What?! Why?

Me: I’ve worked hard to learn Korean and I live in Korea. So I am very stubborn about only speaking Korean with Koreans in Korea.

Him: But couldn’t you speak English with me? I really need to learn. It would be just as if we’re friends. Besides, we live in the same building together.

Me: Yes, thank you. But no, I wouldn’t be willing to do that.

Him: Hmm…. You really wouldn’t? We’d be just life friends.

Me: Yeah, Koreans approach me for this kind of thing quite often; you’re not the first, believe me! But as I’ve thought about it, when people just want to be my friend so they can speak English with me, I feel used. I realize they aren’t real friends. That’s why I have this rule that I follow about not speaking English.

Him: How old are you?

Me: 40

Him: Oh. Do you like to drink?

Me: Yeah, somewhat.

Him: So, we could get together and just be drinking buddies.

Me: Sure, but I’m not going to speak English with you.

Him: You can’t speak English just to me? I need to improve my English before I go overseas for travel.

Me: Well, there are lots of English professors over at Hanyang University. You could learn from one of them.

Him: No, that won’t work. If someone at my level is seen to be studying English, it would really reflect badly on me.

Me: OK, then how about going to an English institute?

Him: Nope. Word would get around.

Me: Fine, then you could go study at an English institute in another city in the area.

Him: [laughs] You really won’t help me with my English?

Me: No, I’m sorry. That’s my rule. If I don’t stick with it, bad things happen. 

Him: [Facial expression of trying to think of something to say to extend the conversation]

Me: It’s been nice to meet you. I need to get going; my son’s waiting for me at home.

Him: Bye

Me: Bye.

I Started Learning Korean This Way (Part 3 of 5)

I Got a Tutor

I think one of the cardinal rules of studying Korean has to be this: “Reject all invitations to trade English study for Korean study.” The first reason is that if you trade one hour of English for one hour of Korean, you’ll spend one hour talking in English about English and then another hour talking in English about Korean. How useful is that? 

Secondly, if you go out and teach English for money, you can charge about 3-5 times what you would have to pay a Korean to teach you Korean. To alleviate this imbalance, I remember trying to trade two hours of Korean for one hour of English but that left me feeling pretty guilty at my chutzpah for such an “uneven” trade. 

So at first I paid cash to Korean teachers at my ESL institute for lessons and this was helpful for getting English-language explanations of grammar and vocabulary (especially at the beginning), but I wasn’t forced to think in Korean AND, as English teachers, their time was worth more than I was willing to pay. So relatively soon into my Korean-study program, I moved to four-hours per week of one-on-one Korean lessons with a college student at W10,000/hour (later W15,000/hour).

I would study on my own during the week and prepare questions and practice exercises for my weekend tutoring. When my Korean teacher showed up, I did not expect her to come with a lesson plan; I would simply go through my notes asking questions and asking her to do the practice problems with me. It was intense, hard work, but about a year and a half of this was enough to get through a lot of material.

Organized Korean Classes Weren’t for Me

There are a number of universities in Korea offering good Korean language programs; but being out in Ansan and working an ever-changing schedule at my foreign-language institute, it was not an option for me to travel into Seoul to attend Korean classes.

Later, when I worked at LG International in Yoido, I did take a one-semester evening class in 1997 at Ehwa Woman’s University. But by the time I got home after 11pm each night, it was just too exhausting and so I didn’t continue there either.

My Early Study Materials


I picked up the Korean-language textbooks published by Yonsei University and worked through those in order to learn grammar. I also grabbed a few other grammar books with English explanations. I would go through these with a fine-toothed comb during the week and then with my tutor, we would do the exercises over and over in our weekly class. (After all, four hours of one-on-one study each week is a LONG time… sometimes, the classes felt like they’d never end. I’m sure my teacher felt the same way.)

Printed Materials

In addition to the textbook vocabulary, I would find printed materials with information that looked interesting and read it. On the way through, I’d circle words I didn’t know and then look them up. After that, I’d transfer them to vocabulary cards/pages and carry those cards/pages around with me to review whenever the opportunity arose, such as walking to classes, waiting for a bus, etc. The graphic at right shows what I did to a page of the LG International Corp. company newsletter back in 1996; I still have hundreds of pages of notes like this which I created over the years.


I am not a great small talker and much less so when weighed down by the burden of trying to put together meaningful sentences in a language that makes little sense. So I missed many opportunities in the early days to use my Korean outside of the tutoring sessions.

Furthermore, trying to understand the TV, radio and church sermons was generally an exercise in futility, though I certainly gave it my best shot when I could. Reading the newspaper was almost as hard since, with so many unknown words, the reading was very slow indeed! 

I did get one big language study break/opportunity early on, which is that I landed a job at LG International Corp., where I worked for almost five years. During working hours, I wasn’t all that busy, and though I was prohibited from speaking Korean in the office, my boss didn’t mind if I studied Korean at my desk when there wasn’t other work to do. I put this opportunity to good use.

** Click here to visit a page on Korea Business Central with links to Korean-language learning resources.

Notable Challenges of Learning Korean (Part 2 of 5)


The Language is All Backwards

I'm told that Korean is one of the hardest languages in the world for English-speakers to learn. When I was first studying the language, I didn't really sense this though. Spanish had seemed pretty hard to me too and improving my Korean appeared to be just a matter of memorizing words and grammatical structures, and then practicing to assemble them together into sentences. 

But having advanced beyond the beginner stages, I relate a little more with the assessment of how hard Korean is for English-speakers; this is reinforced by comments from Japanese saying how easy Korean is for them (and how difficult English is!) because the underlying grammars of Japanese and Korean are so similar.

6a011279704a5b28a40134828e1441970c-800wi The radically different grammatical structures and phrasing concepts between English and Korean make it much harder to get used to the Korean ways of saying things. 

It is also much more difficult to intuitively guess new ways of putting words together; if I haven't studied a specific usage before, it's pretty risky to suppose it will work in Korean just because that's the way we say it in English.

It's Downright Impossible Sometimes to Speak Korean with Koreans Who Want to Speak English

Another obstacle for many of us in learning Korean is the fact that we first came to Korea as English teachers. Becoming an English teacher in Korea can be a deal with the devil: easy short-term access to a job in exchange for permanently handicapping oneself in the learning of Korean. Once we reach Korea, start teaching English and establish friendships with Koreans wanting to learn English, it takes a tremendous amount of initiative to break out of that and find a Korean-speaking social group. 

In fact, even those not coming to Korea to teach English still find that those in their circle either a) already speak excellent English and don't want to chat in baby Korean with a foreigner or b) don't speak excellent English and want to practice English. 

This is not a small issue; it is one I still struggle with even after all these years. But I should point out that in many cases, I choose the easy way of seeking out an English-speaking option (sometimes by default; sometimes deliberately) and then feeling victimized for not getting to improve my Korean. In these cases, I have nobody to blame but myself.


A Realistic Answer to “How Did You Get So Fluent in Korean?” (Part 1 of 5)

I'm Not Fluent!

The only proper first answer to this question is, "I'm not fluent." Fluency implies a level of comfort in the language that I don't ever expect to achieve. The word I've used for at least the last ten years or so is "proficient" and even that is a pretty generous assessment of my ability, particularly when I'm trying to put together a complex thought.

But this is a question I get a lot from non-Koreans who are frustrated with their progress in learning the language (as well as Koreans that just want to compliment me… such kind folks, really). In fact, I was contacted just a couple weeks ago by the CEO of a US company in Korea who is trying to improve his Korean skills and wanted some pointers. I've put together a few posts here to reflect on my thinking and experience, hoping it can be helpful to others.

I should point out that much/most of what I'll share is not unique to learning Korean; it is equally applicable to learning any language… I am constantly amazed at the level of fluency reached by a few people, particularly in English, and especially those from Europe. I have no idea how they do it. Thus, these articles will likely be more relevant for the "rest of us" who lack those superhuman language-learning skills.

Evolving Thinking

When I first arrived in Korea in late 1993, I planned to learn Korean (completely, no less) in about two years. Then I wanted to go to Japan and learn Japanese… and finally head to China to learn Chinese. I figured I'd be a pretty smart guy after all that. As ridiculous as it seems when written down like this, I don't think my expectations were unusual as I get the feeling this is the kind of unrealistic goal many people have when they come to Korea and start learning Korean.

6a011279704a5b28a40134828ca4e9970c  And the delusions don't end once the first lessons are over. I had a friend from Bangladesh tell me that after a year of studying Korean back home before arriving in Korea, he felt he'd reached a 50% level on the language. I was contacted a few months ago by someone who had apparently done most of his Korean-language study outside Korea and told me he'd gotten to 70% proficiency; he wanted to know how he could knock out the last 30%. 

If I were to put a number on how much of the Korean language I know, I'd estimate it at around 15%. Fortunately, a lot of communication can take place within this small range, but to think I'll ever get past 20% is unrealistic.

My experience with learning Korean has often reminded me of some wise words first shared with me by my high school chemistry teacher Mr. Kastrop: "I finished college knowing less than when I started." As I study Korean, I realize just how much more there is to learn and how little of that I know… and can even hope to learn. 

It's Harder Than I Ever Expected

Kids are a different story, of course, but anyone coming to Korea for the first time after finishing university back home (I was 23 when I got to Korea) should have a realistic view of how much work it's going to take to learn Korean and how far they will ever get. In fact, it often seems that every expat in Korea and his brother is studying the language at various levels but those who reach proficiency are a very small number. 

I've also rarely, if ever, met a non-Korean who spent a year or two in Korea before getting serious about language study and then buckled down to make huge improvements. Everybody I know who got good in Korean hit the ground running right from the beginning.

Yet More Help with 그것이 알고 싶다

4-22-2010 12-00-27 AM

I’ve gotten help with a particular Korean grammatical construction twice now already (Post #1, Post #2) Today, my colleague D. Bannon emailed me as follows:

[Here are] my two bits on the “that’s what I wanna know” discussion.  I asked this question years ago, back in the 80s, but never found a satisfactory answer until I read Prof. Sohn’s book, quoted in the attached document.  Enjoy! 

With D. Bannon’s permission and help from Prof. Sohn’s book, here’s his (as always, very helpful!) explanation:


그것이 알고 싶다!—THAT’S what I want to know!

나는 그것을 알고 싶다/나는 그것 알고 싶다, does it make ANY sense?  It does, actually, and it all depends on the verb.  A nominative case particle (이/가) is used in place of usual accusative particle (을/를) to add emphasis.  Think of이/가as a verbal italic, as in, “THAT’S what I want to know.”  [나는 그것이 알고 싶다]  In speech this places the focus on the object of the embedded verb, but the decision for which particle to use is based on the verb itself.  The verb dictates if the nominative or accusative must be used or if they are interchangeable, as explained by Ho-Min Sohn:

The desiderative construction with the adjective siphta ‘be wishful, be de-sirable, wish’ is a peculiar type of sensory construction.  First, the adjective must be preceded by a clause, which is its object.  Second, this object clause is nominalized by the gerundive suffix –ko.  Third, when the clause before –ko siphta is transitive, the object of the embedded verb may be marked with either a nominative or an accusative particle.  When siph-e hata occurs, the object is always in the accusative case.

na  nun   kheyik      i/ul     mek-ko    (ga/lul)   siph-ta 

I    TC     cake     NM/AC  eat-NOM   NM/AC  wish-DC

‘I want to eat cake.’

Mia nun kyeyik    i/ul        mek-ko    (ga/lul)   siph-e      ha-n-ta

Mia TC   cake   NM/AC   eat-NOM  NM/AC   wish-INF  do-IN-DC

‘Mia wants to eat cake.’

Simply put, if the verb is desiderative, as with –고 싶다, a nominative case particle may be used to add emphasis.  Again from Sohn:

The desiderative adjective siphta ‘be desirable, wish’ is a special transitive sensory adjective.  It is a bound adjective and is used only when preceded by a verb clause that ends in the nominalizer suffix –ko.  

na  nun  ku  chinkwu  ka   po-ko     siph-e

I    TC   the   friend  NM  see-to  wishful-INT

‘I wish to see that friend.’

이/가 plays an essential role in spoken language, bringing the focus of a given sentence directly to the most important point of the speech—which may or may not be the subject of the sentence.  As Sohn explains:

The accusative particle alternates with the nominative particle in causative sentences. . . . Desiderative sentences show similar alternation.

hyeng    un   tampay      lul/ka      phiwu-ko      siph-ess-e-yo

brother TC  cigarette   AC/NM   smoke-NOM    wish-PST-POL

‘My older brother wanted to smoke.’

In desiderative sentences, the accusative-marked nominal is associated with the transitive verb (e.g., phiwuta ‘smoke’), whereas the nominative-marked nominal is related to the emotive adjective siphta ‘wish’, as in hyeng un [tampay lul phiwu-ko] siph-ess-ta and hyeng un tampay ka [phiwu-ko] siph-ess-ta, respectively.

If the emphasis is on my own curiousity, I would say, “That’s what I want to know.”  나는 그것을 알고 싶다. However, in colloquial usage, the desiderative auxiliary verb indicates “that the speaker or subject wishes for the action or state of the main verb to happen or come about,” as explained Ihm, Ho Bin, Hong, Kyung Pyo and Chang, Suk In.  The emphasis rests on the object to be known, requiring the nominative case particle to emphasize this point.  So why the이/가 nominative case particle?  그것이 알고 싶다!  


Im, Ho Bin, et al.  Korean Grammar for International Learners: New Edition.  Yonsei University Press (2001): 354.  Translated into English by Ross King.

Sohn, Ho-Min.  Cambridge Language Surveys: The Korean Language.  Cambridge University Press (2001): xix-xx, 287, 331, 384.

Key to Sohn’s abbreviations:

NM  Nominative case particle

TC   Topic-contrast particle

INT  Intimate speech level or suffice

AC   Accusative particle

NOM Nominalizer suffic

PST  Past tense and perfect aspect suffix

POL  Polite speech level suffix or particle

INF  Infinitive suffix

DC   Declarative sentence-type suffix

I Received More Help with Understanding the Grammatical Nuances of “그것이 알고싶다”.

A few months ago I posted an answer from a Korean linguist about a grammatical point that had stumped me for a long time. (Click here for original post.) 

Just recently, another kind linguist, “Xwind”, shared more insights on this matter which has further helped me to grasp the nuance. 

He first posted a short comment on the previous posting:

Hi Steven,

I think the particle “-이” in “그것이 알고싶다” is more related to topic or focus marking. For example, the difference between 영희를 in (4a) and 영희가 in (4b) may come from the contrastive focus marking. With (4b) you might imply that IT IS YENGHI (영희) who you don’t like to meet (not someone else). Thus my contention is that the particle ‘이’ in 그것이 is basically related to focus marking. 

I replied with the following clarification question:

Thanks for the insights.

Then would you say that 그것이 알고싶다 might be translated as “That is what I want to know.” but 그것을 알고싶다 might be “I want to know that”? Both are the same in meaning but the focus is slightly different.

He then provided this very detailed additional message:

Dear Steven,

I will elaborate on my comment a bit here. 

First of all, I would like to say that a few semantic factors promote the use of the subject particle -이/-가 for the object noun. 

The contrastive focusing effect is only one of them, which is also closely related to the example ‘그것이 알고싶다’. 

In linguistics, the relationship between the two constructions ‘It is easy to please John’ and ‘John is easy to please’ is assumed to be derived by a special type of verbs,i.e., easy, tough, seem, etc.

Avoiding complex linguistic terminologies and concepts, I assume that verbs like 알다 ‘to know’ do not belong to the same class of verbs like ‘easy’. 

Thus, the derivational relationships between the two sentences in (1) and (2) would not be the same.

(1) may be the Korean equivalent of the English examples in the post but (2) would not be. 

In (1a), 철수 is the object of the sentence. In (1b), it is the grammatical subject of the sentence. (logically, it is still the object of the sentence).

In (2), on the other hand, the noun 그것 remains as the object in both sentences whether it is marked by the object particle -을 as in (2a) or by the subject particle -이 as in (2b).

This is because the subject position is occupied by the pronoun 우리 ‘we’ in both sentences. 

Since the subject 나는 and the object 그것을/그것이 in (2) do not change their respective grammatical roles the only difference remaining between 그것이 and 그것을 is the alternation of the particles between -을 and -이. 

What would (else) the effect of the alternation of the particle be? 

Given all this, the use of the particle -이 in 그것이 in (2b) must be primarily motivated for the effect of the (contrastive) focus. 

(1) a. 철수를 만나기 쉽다. 

     b. 철수가 만나기 쉽다.

(2)  a. 나는 그것을 알고싶다.

     b. 나는 그것이 알고싶다.  

The focusing effect becomes more prominent when you use the Korean equivalent of the ’Not A but B’ expressions in English. 

For example, 

In a), which is a semantically-neutral context, you can use either the object particle -를 or the subject particle -가 for the object noun 사과 without much difference in the overall meaning.

If the sentence is uttered out of the blue 사과가 sounds more natural.

1a)     나는 (지금) 사과가/사과를 먹고싶다.

     ‘I just want to eat an apple (now)’

Now, suppose if I want to give a sense of contrast to the sentence like below.

2)  아침에는 사과를/사과가 먹고싶었는데 지금은 배가 먹고싶다.

    ‘I wanted to eat an apple in the morning but I want to eat a pear now.’

As you can see, the object noun ‘사과’ is okay either with the object particle ‘사과를’ or with the subject (once again focus) particle ‘사과가’ in the main clause.

On the other hand, the use of the object particle -를 for the noun in the subsequent clause, as in ‘배를’ in (3) sounds quite unnatural to me, hence I give two questions marks for 3).

3) ?? 아침에는 사과를/사과가 먹고싶었는데 지금은 배를 먹고싶다. 

Today, I can only give one case where the subject particle -이 can be used for the object noun, for the effect of focusing, but as I said there are some more cases where the use of the particle -이 is grammatically required.  

I hope this rough explanation would be helpful to you. 

All the best,


 Whew, I can’t write this insightfully no matter how hard I try. Thanks, Xwind!

Searching for the Meaning of 체하다 in Korean

Background: How it All Started

Koreans are forever referring to a digestive problem called “체하다. I’ve always wondered if it’s just “indigestion”? Or something more? All I could decipher is that it seems to happen for no good reason.

Google Dictionary is no help:

Yahoo! turns out to be more on the mark:


Phase I: My First Stabs at a Meaning

A colleague of mine suggested that it’s a catch-all for “You’ve got an upset stomach” but he also admitted that the Korean usage of the term is so broad that pinning down the exact meaning is hard. He also wasn’t asserting that 체하다 is actually “upset stomach”.

Besides, probably the best translation for “upset tummy” is 속이 않 좋다 since in the Korean mind, 체하다 implies a diagnosis of a specific digestive condition. 

For example, if my son throws up, I’ll hear Myunghee saying something like this to herself later: “왜 그랬지? 체했나?”. Then she’ll run down the list of foods he’s eaten in the last few hours to try to determine which one caused it. 

If we translate 체하다 as “upset stomach”, then we’d have to translate her comment as “Why did that happen? Did he have an upset stomach?”. Well, duh… The question isn’t whether he has an upset stomach, it’s the question of what caused it. And in this case, 체하다 gets blamed for a lot of upset tummies, but it’s not the condition of the upset tummy itself. This is why I keep getting stumped on the exact meaning in English.

As a test one morning last week, on our way to climb Nojeok Hill, I suddenly said to my wife, “오, 나 체했다”. To which she replied, “말이 않 되. 뭘 먹지 않았는데.” So I asked her (yet again) what 체하다 means and she explained, “음식이 명치에 걸려서 않 내려갈때야”. But how does food get stuck in the pit of one’s stomach and not go down?

At that point, I was suspecting that we just don’t recognize this particular medical phenomenon in the West and that it’s one of those things Koreans have invented. It’s certainly a catch-all phrase, but it appeared to be a catch-all for various causes of upset tummy, and not the upset tummy itself.

Phase II: Some New Insights

I shared the above thoughts with my colleague and he kindly send me this English translation of a reply from a Korean pharmacist:

체하다 needs something to act on it: that is, an object for the verb.  When customers complain of 체하다, they are complaining of a symptom, usually a blockage in the stomach caused by some outside source.  It is not just overeating or acid reflux; that is incorrect.  This blockage is not constipation.  It is a general sense of gastrointestinal unease due to poor digestion.  Certain teas can relieve the symptom of 체하다, but the causative element must be discovered for a long-term cure.  I would define it as follows [the following written in English]:  “The definition of 체하다 is dyspeptic (suffering from dyspepsia): gastrointestinal unease due to poor digestion brought on by ingesting incompatible elements.”  [She then inserted this English-language link]:

He also gave me this insight:

However, 체하다 seems to be used MOST often in relation to overeating (과식하다) or binge eating (폭식).  That is, when the digestion isn’t moving along nice and comfy (소화가 되다), usually from eating too much or too fast or both.  I’ve heard it used for acid stomach (위산), too, and acid reflux (위산 역류), once from a friend whose meds made her stomach awful, and even just an equivalent of “my tummy’s blech” — but I suspect the most common usage is the bloated ugh feeling you get after eating too much or too fast.  Allow me to say that this is strictly my inferred meaning from experience and not an exact definition.  

Phase III: The Final Definition

“Blockage” seems to be a key word here… In fact, when I pestered Myunghee about it some more on another walk last week, she finally got exasperated, picked up some pine needles in her hand and asked me if we were to throw these into a sieve (a 체!), would they get caught in the mesh or slide right through? 

And that’s when it clicked for me. 

체하다 really refers to a condition where food gets stuck in the stomach.

Of course, that begs the question as to whether it’s even medically possible for food to “get stuck”… 

Korean<>English Dictionary from Google

I generally go to Yahoo! Korea’s Korean<>English dictionary for definitions when translating. It’s pretty good and has several subject-matter specialties. Korean portal sites and also have about the same offering but I’ve stuck with Yahoo! simply because the interface is more familiar to me. It probably doesn’t matter though because I think all three are based on the same database.

Anyway, Google’s just released their own competing service at Google Dictionary, which includes Korean<>English and a whole lot of other languages too. In typical Google fashion, the display pages are pretty austere, but what does it matter if the information is good?


Time will tell whether I end up switching to Google from Yahoo, but based on my past history, it seems that this is yet another service for which I’ll be migrating over to Google.

One more bit of interesting news. Google just integrated translation into their Web search results too. Here’s the intro post from Google’s weblog:

A Very Helpful Explanation about Korean Grammar from Linguist Yongjoon Cho

I just posted an announcement on my Nojeok Hill blog regarding a survey of learners of Korean. Having completed the survey myself, I emailed the author, Yongjoon Cho, with a Korean grammatical question that’s been on my mind for awhile.

My message to Mr. Cho:

Hi Yongjoon,

I’ve got a question that I’ve never been able to get a proper answer to. Since it’s related to the grammar in your survey, I was thinking I’d run it by you.

There’s a Korean TV program called “그것이 알고 싶다”. Why is it “그것”? Everything that I know about Korean says it should be “그것”. Perhaps both are OK and there’s a nuance difference? But the “그것” just seems wrong to me.

I’d be really grateful if you could explain it for me.



Here is the excellent reply I got back:

Hi Steven,

The constructions are called “desiderative constructions” in Korean.

In the constructions, the object of an embedded predicate can also be the subject of the matrix clause. It is not the same, but in English apparently similar constructions exist:

(1) a. It is easy to please John.

     b. John is easy to please.

Originally “John” is the object of the embedded predicate “please”, but it can appear in the position of the matrix clause as in (1b).


(2) a. 철수를 만나기 쉽다.

     b. 철수가 만나기 쉽다.

철수, the object of the embedded predicate 만나다, can be the matrix subject, as in (2b).


(3) a. 나는 그것을 알고 싶다.

     b. 나는 그것이 알고 싶다.

the object in the desiderative constructions, as in (3), can have the object marker (3a) as well as the subject marker (3b).

So the two alternatives, as in (3), are both grammatical in Korean. There is no semantic difference between those two options. If there is any slight difference in nuance, it might be related to the “focused reading” on 그것이, rather than 그것을.

The predicate of the opposite meaning, 싫다, also has the same structure, as in (4):

(4) a. 나는 영희를 만나기 싫다.

    b. 나는 영희가 만나기 싫다.

I hope this is a helpful answer to your question. 

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you.