Korean Speech Styles



Kpop Groupie
Aug 24, 2019
Wherever I am, I'm listening to NCT
There are many different speaking styles in Korean Language, six to be exact but only four are mainly used nowadays. In many kpop songs, kdramas, or videos featuring your favorite idols, sometimes a mix of the styles is used and it can be confusing to see what each of these styles mean and how they translate. So hopefully I can help by using some simple examples below using the four common speech styles.

1). Polite Style
This is the most common style and the first one that language learners master. You use the polite style when speaking to those older than you (friends, parents, etc), in a customer-worker conversation (like a restaurant or store), the workplace, and to those you generally don't know very well. The style of ending is that 'yo' (요) is heard at the end. So if you hear that, its polite style!
Some examples of the polite style:
안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo) which translates roughly to "hello, how are you?" (this is ended with a '?' because it is technically a question)
사랑해요 (saranghaeyo) which translates to "I love you" (subject and object implied)
이름 ~ㅇㅇ~ 이에요 (ireum ieyo) which means "my name is XX" (ㅇㅇ is a place holder in Korean, like XX for English)

2). Deferential Style
This is the most formal/respectful style of speech. It is rarely used except in cases of public speeches, news broadcasts, interviews, etc. So you will rarely hear it used in situations.
Some examples of the deferential style:
안녕하십니까 (annyeonghasibnigga) which translates to "hello, how are you?" (the ~(니까) ending is used for questions)
사랑합니다 (saranghabnida) which translates to "I love you"
이름 ~ㅇㅇ~ 입니다 (ireum ibnida) which translates to "my name is XX"

3). Intimate Style
This style is, as you guessed, used in intimate situations. Some examples of this would be used by children speaking to their parents, vice versa, children talking to each other, old friends, friends or spouses whom you are close enough to to switch to this style, etc. It is pretty commonly used and you will probably hear some of your idols speaking this way in various videos.
Some examples of the polite style:
안녕 (anyeong) which translates to "hi, how are you?" (note the use of hi, not hello, making it less formal)
사랑해 (saranghae) which translates to "I love you"
이름 ~ㅇㅇ~ 이야 (ireum iya) which translates to "my name is XX"

4). Plain Style
Plain style is very weird because there's not a certain context in which to use it. It is typically used in conjunction with the polite or intimate styles. It is used mainly when the speaker wants to draw attention an action or object, give a command, quoting someone's words, and in diary/journal entries. It is also commonly used when speaking to a child. Its a bit harder to use because there are different endings for the sentence types (statement, question, command/request, and proposal). So I'll give examples of all of them.
Some examples of the plain style:
사랑하다 (saranghada) which translates roughly to "I love you" (a statement)
사랑하니 (saranghani) which translates roughly to "do you love me" (a question)
사랑하라 (saranghara) which translates roughly to something like "love me" (a command)
사랑하자 (saranghacha) which translates roughly to "let's love" (a proposal)

This is by no means a complete guide and I am so not claiming to a master or anything. I recommend checking out other resources for learning Korean or buying used textbooks on ebay if you're really serious. But hopefully it helps and maybe gives some insight into the different ways idols speak to one another or how speech styles in dramas are used!
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