Korean Translation Tip: Korean Has a Plural Form; It Just Doesn’t Get Used Much

I’ll occasionally get a message like this from a Korean translation client who wants me to change a singular Korean noun to a plural form:

“Steven, the client just made the following change in the English. Can you update it in the Korean?

Old version: “We’ll be sending a document for you to sign.”

New version: “We’ll be sending some documents for you to sign.”

In most cases, no change is required in Korean. While the Korean plural form can be clearly expressed in Korean grammar, plurals are not as smoothly integrated in the language as in English. In English, plurals are embedded into the sentence structure and glide off the tongue smoothly.

In Korean, the singular/plural distinction is often omitted unless it’s important. Thus, by adding the tag (the character “들”) to make a noun plural, you’re calling attention to the fact that being plural is important. Adding the plural changes the meaning subtly. For this reason, it’s often best to just leave it out unless there’s a reason to do otherwise.

This explains why the above revision to the English source is likely not to result in a change to the Korean.

Best-Practice Tip Don’t fret over the Korean plural form in your translation. If you change the source from singular to plural, go ahead and send it over to your English-to-Korean translator to make sure, but don’t be surprised if no change is required.