How to decide when to use formal Korean and casual Korean (존댓말 & 반말)

Hey, brave Korean learners! It's me, Ari, again. Now I'm getting used to writing weekly blog posts. Last week, I wrote about how to form a Korean sentence. Please go read it if you haven't yet. Today, I want to talk about a very tricky part of Korean language that is formal & casual Korean. 


Korean language is all about courtesy. When you speak Korean, you have to think about whom you're speaking to. Koreans speak different languages according to the counterpart. And we call that 존댓말(formal Korean) & 반말(casual Korean).

So how do we decide which Korean language to speak? There are two rules. 

Rule #1. 

Formal Korean, 존댓말 to older people
Casual Korean, 반말 to same age or younger people

So basically, formal Korean is for showing your courtesy to old people. When we speak 존댓말, we use longer words and become very polite. When we speak 반말, we use short words and we tend to be comfortable. 

Rule #2.

You're close to the counterpart: Use casual Korean
You're not close to the counterpart: Use formal Korean

The closer you are to the counterpart, the more likely you use casual Korean and vice versa. This is why Koreans speak formal Korean to a stranger. 

And you should know that the first rule can be revoked by the second rule. For example, I speak casual Korean to my mom even though, of course, she's older than me, because I'm close to her. So there're cases you speak casual Korean to an older person and you speak formal Korean to a younger person. And it's based on the second rule.


Basically, you should use formal Korean to anyone who's older than you and someone you don't know. But if you're close to that older person, you can use casual Korean. 


Q. You meet a stranger who looks (and is) much younger than you. Which Korean should you speak?


Answer: Formal Korean
According to the rule 1, it should be casual Korean. But like I said, rule 1 can be revoked by rule 2. Because you're not close to that person, you should use formal Korean.


It's all for the day! Please look forward to the next blog post. Follow me for more Korean things on Instagram. Leave a comment if you have any questions or the next blog ideas. 


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