Extended Glossary
Glossary: Jondaemal
by | July 12, 2010 | 82 Comments


You can learn a lot about Soulmate’s main cast
from the way they chose to address one another

Next in the Dramabeans Glossary series is jondaemal, which can be described as “polite speech” or “formal speech.” (Jondae means “honorific,” while mal is the suffix for “speech.”)

Just as oppa and noona are two terms that are closely related, so are jondaemal and its casual counterpart banmal; girlfriday will follow up with the latter term. There will be some necessary overlap in our entries because they’re really two sides of the same coin, but I’ll focus more on the polite side while girlfriday will explain the familiar side.

Those of us who have been exposed to languages outside of English probably have a passing acquaintance with honorifics — you know, social hierarchies being expressed through grammar and speech patterns. In French and Spanish you’ve got tu versus vous and usted, for example.

Korean is a little more complicated, because even within the scope of jondaemal, there are differing levels of formality. However, this isn’t meant to be a grammar lesson so much as it is a casual exploration of how jondaemal is used in dramas, so I’ll try to lay off that cumbersome grammatical nitpickery. (Why, that IS the formal term, why do you ask?)


My Fair Lady’s Hae-na chooses to address
the two men in her life in two very different ways

When to use jondaemal?

Here’s the most basic way to differentiate between jondaemal and banmal: jondae is what you speak to adults, to strangers, to anybody above you, or to a social peer. Banmal, on the other hand, is used when you get past the slightly distant civility of casual acquaintance — either because of familiarity, intimacy, or even rudeness.

Jondaemal keeps a person at arm’s length; banmal brings that person closer.

In fact, a lot of things in Korean culture and language are all about figuring out what that distance is between you and another person. There’s no hard and fast rule, so it’s a matter of being sensitive to how you feel, how the other person feels, and deciding based on that how to speak to the other person. (Jondae or banmal? Unni or sunbae? Agasshi or ajumma?)

If you’re not Korean or around a lot of spoken Korean, perhaps it seems needlessly picky to make the distinction — it is definitely one of those things that is lost in translation, since we don’t have that hierarchy in English. But there’s a reason girlfriday and I squeal in certain dramas when a guy drops jondaemal and switches to banmal. Or in a different context, the switch might make us suck in our breaths and think, “Oh snap! Someone just got told!”

(Side note: This jondae/banmal distinction is one of the fascinating things I find about translations. When you go from Korean to English, you lose all of that nuance. But even more interesting is when you go from English to Korean, because then the translator is actually introducing social hierarchy when there initially wasn’t that distinction.)

When can you drop jondaemal?

If you consider jondaemal the “standard” form of speech — it’s what you learn in classes — when do you know when it’s okay to drop down to banmal?

Here’s your most important rule: When in doubt, use jondaemal. It’s better to be a little too polite than a little too impolite.

How will you know when you’re allowed to drop it? Thankfully, Koreans are pretty straightforward this way: they’ll tell you directly, “Let’s lower our speech.” Some adults may never lower their speech with each other. Others may feel an instant connection and drop their speech relatively quickly as a sign of closeness.

Also, people often drop the jondae in families, but this can be flexible. I don’t use jondae with my parents, but I have friends who do. I feel like using jondae with parents is a bit formal, but others may feel it’s more respectful.


The young lovers of Will It Snow For Christmas

Jondae use among minors

Children are waived from some of the rules regarding jondaemal usage. Oh, a child should definitely use jondaemal with adults. But what about with other children?

When two children meet, most often they use banmal. However, the older the child, the more social hierarchies start to manifest. A minor (under the age of 20) may start to use jondae at school when the social ranking is clear. With kids in your class, informal banmal is perfectly appropriate, even if you’re not friends. But once you start dealing with students older than you, you might start to use jondae, even if you’re only 15.

Example: In Will It Snow For Christmas, young Ji-wan is only a first-year in high school when she meets Kang-jin, but she uses jondae speech with him. Since he’s a year older, he uses banmal with her.

Jondae as an extra layer of respect

In Cinderella’s sister, teenage Eun-jo speaks quite bluntly and rudely to everyone, regardless of age. Her stepfather Dae-sung is the first to point this out to her, and because she genuinely respects him, she makes the effort to “raise” her speech to jondae.

On the other hand, she isn’t about to give Ki-hoon the same courtesy. It’s only when he’s brought on as her tutor that he has actual power over her, and insists that she use jondae with him. He can’t force her to respect him, but he can force her to make that outward show — at least during their lessons — and she reluctantly complies. Outside of classes, however, she drops the jondae.


The ladies of The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry

Jondae used to maintain polite distance

Once you’ve spoken banmal with a person, you can continue using it even when you grow older.

For instance, in Soulmate Yu-jin (Sa Kang) speaks this really exaggerated, formal Korean with everyone. It’s so formal that it’s sort of like somebody going around using Shakespearean (or at least Victorian) English — it’s unusual and, in her case, very cute. She speaks that stilted formal Korean with boyfriend Dong-wook and work colleague Soo-kyung, whom she meets as adults. However, she uses banmal with her roommate Min-ae and bimbo Joo-hee because she knew them in high school.

Another example is The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry. Shin-young (Park Jin-hee) and Bu-ki (Wang Bit-na) met when they were adults, so they probably started out speaking jondaemal. However, they’ve been best friends for ten years, so now they speak banmal with each other.

In contrast, Shin-young meets Da-jung (Eom Ji-won) at age 34 and speaks jondaemal with her — until they realize they were high school classmates and then immediately revert to banmal, even though they aren’t even friends at that point. Here they drop the jondae not out of friendship but out of history.

However, when Da-jung and Bu-ki are together, they speak jondae with each other, because they’re not THAT close yet. There’s still a polite distance between them.


High school sweethearts reconnect in Last Scandal

In Last Scandal of My Life, ordinary Sun-hee and movie star Jae-bin were high school classmates (and sweethearts). They lost touch after graduation and haven’t seen each other in twenty years, but when they meet up as 39-year-olds, they immediately drop the jondae with each other.

On the other hand, to the outside world Sun-hee is Jae-bin’s housekeeper — his inferior in a professional and social sense — so she has to use jondae when other people are around. In this case, language offers a shield for their “secret.”

Conversely:

Take My Fair Lady. If Hae-na (Yoon Eun-hye) were a “normal” and polite young woman, she’d speak jondaemal to all her employees, even if they are her social inferiors. It’s the professional thing to do. But no, she’s a rude, bitchy heiress, so when Dong-chan (Yoon Sang-hyun) is hired as her personal butler/assistant, she drops the jondae and opts to talk to him quite rudely in banmal. (Banmal can be friendly, but if you haven’t earned that closeness, it can be rude.)

However, she wants to impress Tae-yoon (Jung Il-woo), so she uses jondae with him, because it’s more polite.


Gun-wook and Tae-ra in Bad Guy

What does this tell me about these relationships?

The reason girlfriday and I point out these things is because language is revealing. The word choices a character makes with another tell us much more than just the face value of the words: it offers hints into the characters’ psyches.

When Min-jae (Kim Bum) drops out of jondae in The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry, he’s taking an emotional step closer to Shin-young. It’s not rude in his case because they’ve established trust, and respect is therefore implicit in their relationship and doesn’t need to be reinforced with their language.

Then, take the tightly wound Tae-ra in Bad Guy. She’s battling her sexual attraction to Gun-wook and is very proper around him — stiff, even. She starts to suspect that Gun-wook is out to play her sister and her, but they don’t address this head-on, and sort of dance around the topic for a while.

However, in a recent episode she confronts him in the rain and asks what his deal is, and in that moment she drops the jondae. It’s partly to be rude, but there’s more to it: In speaking bluntly rather than skirting the topic as she usually does, her words have greater force. She drops her speech just as she gets real with him, which gives their rain-soaked moment of connection added impact.

Jae-in lowers her speech with Gun-wook as an expression of non-respect, but it ends up actually bringing them closer later on. When she’s chewing him out for lying to her, she drops the jondaemal to be purposely rude. But later on when their relationship takes on friendlier vibes, this lack of formality bridges the gap between them.

There are the fuzzy in-between gray areas, too, and Mo-nae is an example. She generally speaks jondaemal with Gun-wook because he’s much older, but she’d like for them to be closer. Every once in a while she’ll throw in a banmal sentence, as though she’s testing the waters, but then she’ll back up again and use jondae, which is “safe.”

So, essentially it all boils down to this: Jondaemal indicates respect, but also distance. When deciding which to use, you risk dropping one for the sake of the other. The question is: which is more prominent in your particular relationship?

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82 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Snikki

    Even the Koreans we meet here in the States ask for our age (my boyfriend and I); we never get offended. They apply this jondaemal and banmal in english by either saying “dude” or call us by our name… I’m just guessing.

  2. Nhu

    I’m still confused on one thing… What is Jondaemal and banmal? I do understand that one is formal and the other informal, but what IS it – I mean, is it verb forms? Is it using a different “you” when speaking to them? Is there any way a non-Korean kdrama watcher can make that distinction herself?

    The problem with reading subs is of course not being able to pick up on the language they’re using… So all that added depth is lost… It’s rather frustrating. xD (which is probably why I love your recaps so much, since you tend to pick up on the nuances I can’t).

    • 2.1 JinShin

      Korean hierarchical language deals with the verb forms, how will you address the other person and yourself (pronouns)…if you can’t really understand…try to focus on the sentence endings…or study what are the pronouns used like, na, jae, etc.

      it’s really easy…

    • 2.2 v

      It is like this, jondaemal : calling people sir and ma’am. or Mr this Mrs that.
      banmal : calling people hey you, or just by name.

  3. f.

    “So, essentially it all boils down to this: Jondaemal indicates respect, but also distance. ”

    . . .except within families, especially married peoples. More often, the woman is the sole user of jondaemal, while the husband uses banmal, but there is also a fair amount of married couples in which both husband and wife use jondaemal as a matter of respect.

    I also know some married couples who only argue and fight using jondaemal. This keeps fights from disintegrating into all-out, no holds barred, knock-down drag out bouts of incredible ugliness. It keeps you from crossing that line that shouldn’t be crossed and helps you not say something that you’ll really really really really really really really really really really regret later.

    Disclaimer – My husband and I use jondaemal to each other. We’re very loose with other boundaries, but feel it’s important to maintain a certain level of respect for one another. It also sets a good example for the little ones.

  4. kimko

    there is one thing that always drives me crazy about k-dramas. i totally get the whole thing about jondaemal creating distance, being an indicator of respect, etc. but what makes me really mad is that when two people are romantically involved, the man speaks to the woman in banmal and the woman always speaks to the man in chondaemal. to me, that just shows how deeply rooted gender bias is in Korea. subjugation of women in Korean culture is even embedded in language and rears its ugly head in popular culture representations. when i asked my dad why that was, he said there is a korean saying that the man is as high as the heavens and that a woman is as low as the ground.

  5. Yen

    One of my favorite parts of I’m Sorry, I Love You is when Im Soo Jung’s character is teaching So Ji Sub’s to add -yo to the end of everything. It was so touching.

  6. CapitalScandalRocks

    This is similar to Indian culture, this rules applies exactly in our language too. By language the character speaks, you can guess the kind of relationship, social stature, closeness and what not!!!!!!…. Very interesting….Thanks

  7. sajor

    wow, i’ve been waiting for this… thanks so much!

    for jondae, actual name + shi.. and for banmal, actual name only right? can you also use pronouns in place of actual names? and in sentences where you don’t use the names, there must be a lot of this i think, how can you speak formal or informal?

    does jondae necessarily signifies distance? are instances where it indicates closeness possible also? though it is usual that you drop formality with someone you become close with, formality and closeness are not mutually exclusive. like for persons one respects and is very close with, i’d think that person will prefer to use the polite speech. uhm.. will it even be a little disrespectful if one has become very close to a person and still continues to use jondae with him/her?

    oh, i got a lot of questions.. i feel like i’m realizing a lot with my own language while learning a little bit of korean.

  8. xiahkixiri

    @ 3 nhu: they’re types of speech, manifesting themselves in the “yo”s added onto the ends of sentences, which is like casual/easy formal (as opposed to “… ibnida” which is more formal, like newsreaders, businesspeople). if you’re using banmal you use the base form of the word. it’s all about the endings. so.. watch out for the “yo’s”

    @ 4 kimko: i hate that, too. ><"

    @ 6: capitalscandalrocks: in indian/pakistani culture, in those language(s), it's not as strong or inherent as korean though, right? there aren't as many levels of formality, it's not thought about as much. i mean, koreans particularly ask ages, explicitly suggest dropping to casual; that's not done in south-west asia.

  9. tinysunbl

    At least you don’t have to conjugate Korean verbs according to formal and informal types of speech like Spanish, yeah?

  10. 10 gaby

    my parents speak banmal with each other because they met in fifth grade. but my dads parents dont like it when my mom uses it to my dad, and she has to be more formal in front of them. annoying.

  11. 11 CapitalScandalRocks

    @ xiahkixiri

    well it depends…..though language has become casual now days but that’s how it was say 40 yrs ago and is still prevalent in some pockets of India.

    In Indian culture its the relationship that matters not the age…. ….. The region from where I am , if your dad/mom’s bro/sis/cousin is younger than you, you cannot call them by name ; instead you have to call them uncle/aunt and so on. Believe me I have grandpa of 20 yrs age …..LOL….because he is grandson of my grandad’s cousin.

    But many of my husband’s younger brotther/cousins are older than me, but I still call them by name…..this whole thing is slowly vanishing…….but I like those old traditions so still follow them

  12. 12 vie

    hehe i was very happy when my crush suddenly started using banmal with me~~

  13. 13 Orion

    Another interesting post. I’m kind of glad I don’t speak korean though, when I see things like this. I mean, we have the singular/intimate and plural/polite speech in Greece as well, but it’s not so advanced as in Korea.

    I guess if I ever go there as a tourist, english is quite good in that sense. You just have “you” and it can be both plural and singular form. ๐Ÿ˜› And you can still use “miss” and “sir” and all these for strangers.

    I would love to learn korean someday though, even if some things will take getting used to. Hee hee.

  14. 14 Startulle

    Thank u guys!!!!!!!!….in my culture we don’t have dis formalities with each other! sometimes its sad cause i feel no respect for the elders….we just call everyone by their names!

  15. 15 La Fea

    So is there any ‘middle’ way? No too respectful but not rude either. It is confusing.

  16. 16 Your Sassy Friend

    Yeah, I don’t use jondaemal with my parents either although some of my friends do with their parents and it sounds so weird. O_o

    I actually find it weird and awkward using banmal to people around my own age. But I also find speaking in Korean to my friends when I can speak English odd too. LOL.

    I love these posts, jb and gf! I’m Korean American and everything you guys are writing aren’t new to me. But it’s like I’m looking at the topic with new eyes and can appreciate it as someone who has never learned about Korean culture.

  17. 17 dannaluk

    very interesting…..i guess iv’ve kinda caught on to the changes in speech that arise after some 30+ dramas….@3…i know they add the suffix y-o at the end of thiet verbs to indicate jondae. im guessing??….not to sure…bt that’s definitely in there somewhere..i think there’s a lot more to it….im sure GF will clarify in the next post

  18. 18 sallynally

    @kimko, for a couple, when a man speaks in banmal (informal) and the woman speaks in jondaemal (formal), it’s not necessarily because of some sexist attitude. In such circumstances, it’s 100% certain that the male is also older.

    You know the saying “old habits die hard?” Most likely, even before the couple entered into a relationship, because the male was older, the woman addressed him using jondaemal. Many times, people continue to use the speech they started with even after they start dating, and thus, the discrepancy even after they become a couple.

  19. 19 CoffeeLove

    So interesting! Though I don’t speak Korean, I’m slowly able to grasp the squeeeal factor you talk about when the language changes. I’m thinking that’s from the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that I’ve watched Korean dramas. It definitely adds more depth and meaning to the drama if you’re more aware of their language and how it relates to the culture.

    I’m so glad you two are doing these glossaries, Javabeans and girlfriday! You have no idea how much I look forward to your posts everyday ๐Ÿ˜€

  20. 20 hot_saranghae

    I always tend to use jeondaemal…..cuz ttz what I was thought in class…..
    one of my younger friend found it really weird cuz I wrote a letter to her in jeondae….hahaha
    but yeah I kinda have the tendency to use proper language…..even in my own mother tongue….^________^

  21. 21 faan

    OMG could you please not post screenshots from episodes of dramas that haven’t had subs posted yet? I totally haven’t seen that scene with Gun-wook and Tae-ra yet…

  22. 22 Opal

    I found this interesting and worthy, we as k-drama addicts need to learn the culture as well. And….I can show off bits to my family who also k-drama lovers…but will admit the source is coming from …dramabeans !!!! (bravo…bravo)

    I am not a Korean so I am a bit confuse as well with this, how do we know they use jondae, banmal or combine it in the dialogue. Would that be possible they use jondae/banmal on and off depending on the mood? oooooch confuse.

    If banmal is to reflect ‘closeness’, I notice that the couples that romantically involved still use name+shi….??.

    Also, I notice in K-drama there are lot of different way to say sorry (piyane, piyanata, etc), love you (sarange, sarangeyo, sarangmida???), sorry for the misspelling and there are lots words…+mita?.

    JB/GF could you help to exlpain more?.

  23. 23 l1lskyl1l

    now i’m going to pay more attention to dramas to decipher this. I just watched bad boy and of course did not notice it at all. if i only knew of Jondaemal then it would have been a greater affect when i watched it.

    thanks for this crucial info when watching kdramas.

    how do people translate shows that are originally english to korean? do the translators use hierarchy? i wonder what korean think of it when there’s no hierarchy in american shows

  24. 24 pabo ceo reom

    I actually kinda want to hear you ramble on about grammar and grammatical “nitpickery” LOL

    Such a closet grammar nerd… ๐Ÿ˜›

  25. 25 T

    Wow, I find this so fascinating and awesome. On a more humorous note all I can think of is someone asking my southern belle mother how old she is, expecting a truthful answer…lol trying to explain its all in the name of respect. :) what a cultural collision that would be.lol Thanks for the post:)

  26. 26 Dele

    I’ve been learning Korean for a while, and it is still confusing and only gets more. All the honorfic speeach, and remembering to use it when speaking to someone is hard. Because I wasn’t raised speaking Korean I have to remind myself to not forget that “yo” or “imnida” or so on. As a teacher, I still have to use “yo” with my students for the most part, I drop to banmal when I discipline them and tell them to stop whatever nonsense they are doing. I will use formal though when their parents are around no matter what.

    I love the Korean langaunge, and the more I learn about it the mosre fascinating and beautiful it is to me. My Korean co-teacher is surprised when I say Korean is a beautiful langauge to me. It can be cold as ice one minute and then passionate the next. Haha…I love it. At my school though everyone uses formal but the principal always uses banmal even with other collegues and that kind of makes me annoyed because I find it disrespectul even if he is older and the principal. We all work together.

    I don’t like though when I see wives using formal and the husband speaks in banmal. It irritates the crap out of me, and I asked my co-teacher about it and she says that it just depends on the couple, and since the husband is usually older it’s more respectful. I get that, but seriously you are husband and wife, in my head equals but when one speaks formal and the other banmal it makes it seem distant to me.

    My students try to wiggle out of formal with me, we speak English together ,but sometimes I need to use Korean and they try to wait a heartbeat before adding that “yo” or they try to call me by my 1st name without adding teacher, and I make it crystal clear to them that if they try it again they’ll feel my wrath:).

    Can’t wait for banmal:)

  27. 27 Eeefu

    Disclamier – I am not Korean; just have watched a bit of K-dramas so…

    @2, the formal speech is longer (it takes more words to speak jondae); banmal is shorter.

    e.g. in english you ask: What?
    The banmal version sounds like: Mwo?
    The jondae version sounds like: Mwo migayo?

    e.g.2 in english you say: Don’t worry
    The banmal version sounds like: kukjung ma
    The jondae version sounds like: kukjung haji maseyo

    The presense of the “yo” word at the end of the sentense is usually a good indicator that the speech is jondae… my observation…

  28. 28 Lee

    Since I’ve just started trying to learn Korean it’s apparent to me between formal and informal speech. But one thing that grates me is the whole female formal male informal thing, if I had a boyfriend who spoke Korean I’d want to speak equally be it we both speak formally or informally to each other. But that’s just my western upbringing speaking. Maybe it’s just me but in English I try not to use the word You with people I’m not familiar with like lecturers or acquaintances usually try to say their Mr/ Miss/ Mrs surname or if I don’t know that I use their first name (but feel rather squeamish using it). I call my parents mum or dad as everyone else but I tend to call my mum ์—„๋งˆ as she tends to respond to it rather than mum and it distinguishes who is calling her as my sister and I have similar voices.
    FYI I’m am not Korean I’m just odd.

  29. 29 Alison

    so many nuances in the korean language! i remember one time i asked my korean friend why she never speaks korean with my other friend who is also korean and she said “it’s such a hassel. since katy is older than me i have to speak formally to her, so i just stick to english.”

    also i remember my english teacher telling us that the older the language is the less grammar there will be. which i guess is true because chinese doesn’t have that many formalities. at least not as much as korean and japanese.

    : ) love reading about different aspects of korean culture. you guys are doing a great job!

  30. 30 koalabear

    thanks for pointing this one out, the jondaemal and banmal…I get confused on it sometimes when I watch K-dramas, especially on how the characters address each other but I got the idea that you have to speak formally to ones older than you due to its also applicable in English or other languages, it was interesting for me to realize that there are different ways to address someone in Korean, whether its a new acquaintance or someone you are close to. I like also the choice of dramas for this topic as well, very poignant to the topic..

  31. 31 kit

    I live in Australia and my korean is decent but I still have trouble with my jondaenmal. I speak more banmal to my parents but I mix it around a bit, and they’ve taken it into stride when I say ‘wassup’ to them or ‘dude’ haha.

    Other adults I know well don’t get offended when I say things wrong because it’s the whole ‘oh well she grew up here’ but other people kind of look back at me with a raised eyebrow sometimes. And I don’t think I will ever master talking to my grandparents gah.

    But yeah, I was on exchange to Japan for two weeks and there were quite a few koreans at the school. Because I’m also korean, they expected me to bow every time they came closer and they’d always talk to me asking how my day was, and trying to be extra polite. But this other korean girl I went with ignored them and they basically made her life hell through you know, the small comments and scathing looks. And when an Aussie girl I went with brightly said ‘Ahnyeong!’ to the sunbaeduel, they were all like ‘… WTF’ for a moment until they calmed down. *shakes head* That’s the closest I’ve gotten from a high school hierarchical system in Korea, and it’s the furthest I want to go.

  32. 32 Your Sassy Friend

    @ 22 Opal

    Heya~

    Jondaemal tends to be longer while banmal is short and to the point. For example, let’s say you want something. So you would say, “Give me.”

    Jondaemal = “Ju sae yo.”

    Banmal = “Jo.”

    **The yo is critical. Sometimes you’ll see in dramas when a character is acting up and is using banmal and–only when they’re on the receiving end of a glare–they’ll end “yo” to switch the sentence back to jondaemal. There are some scenes in Lovers in Paris that does that in the beginning episodes. It’s actually pretty hilarious but JB posted, subtle things like that get lost in translation. =(

    As for your second question, it’s possible for people to switch using jondae/ban mal. But I don’t think people would use both jondae and ban mal in the same conversation.

    Sometimes I jokingly use jondaemal with my parents (or if I’m in trouble ^^;;) other times I’ll use banmal with them. It really depends on the situation and the people speaking.

    I think the whole name+shi is also a matter of preference. It depends on the couple. My parents don’t call each other by name. Usually my mom will address my dad as “Eunha Appa” with “Eunha” being my Korean name–basically saying “Eunha’s Dad.” It’s just up to the couple. Sometimes it matters more to use each other’s names while to others it doesn’t matter as much.

    Finally.

    Miyan. Miyanhada. Miyanhae. = Sorry

    Jo-ah (banmal for “like”). Saranghae. Saranghaeyo. Saranhanmida = Love

    I covered this earlier. The short versions are banmal whereas the longer ones are jondaemal. Actually, I think all the forms of sorry listed are banmal. The last two Korean words for love can be seen as jondaemal. You see the yo and the da. Da is also another indicator for jondaemal.

    The word for “thank you” demonstrates this.

    Jondae = Go ma wuh yo. Go map seum ni da.

    Ban = Go ma wuh. Go map da. (This is also kind of confusing because I see both of these terms as ban even though the last one has “da” in it.)

    Another example, if I accidentally knocked over a stack of papers belonging to someone my age I would use the word “Miyan” which is banmal for sorry with a cute smile. If I knocked over papers that were on my boss’ desk I would use “Miyanhamnida” which is jondaemal and rush to pick them up. LOL.

    Hope that helped!

    Just remember the rule of thumb is usually if it’s short = banmal and for longer = jondaemal.

    You can also tell if they’re using jondae/ban by who the people are with, situation, and tone of their voice. But I suppose those are pretty subtle and not as obvious.

    Gosh, I never realized how complicated Korean was until I had to explain. O_o

  33. 33 kit

    @22, the whole difference in saranghe, sarangheyo and saranghamnida are the different ranks in politeness. so the first would be considered banmal, said to a friend. the second is polite but not overly so, so maybe said to a guy older than you when you’re not in a relationship? and the third is the most polite, so when his parents ask you do you love him, you’d answer in that way.

    hope that helped (:

  34. 34 peanut butter

    there are also differences aside from the “yo” between jondaemal and banmal. sometimes the word you use is also different. for instance for eating, depending on who you are directing your speech to the words are different.

    banmal: juh-nyuk mukuh
    jondaemal: juh-nyuk deusaeyo

    ahh, korean. oh, and for those who didnt know, we dont really ask for the exact age. more like we ask what year the person was born in. so instead of “how old are you?” its more like “when is your birth year?” just for those that didnt know =]

  35. 35 djes

    thanks to years experience of watching Kdramas, I quite understand and notice about these banmal and jondaemal.
    Now that I start learning Korean, I already understand about it.
    I think this some kind of Asian things… In my language, we do have more polite style of speech, and particularly in my dialect, we even have 3 levels of politeness.

    It’s interesting how you explain and relating this to dramas… my ์„ ์ƒ๋‹˜ should use this method to make it easier to understand! :)

  36. 36 Porcelain

    Omg I love this…. which reminded me of an interview with Kim Sun Ah… so she was saying that she still hangs around with MNIKSS cast and they call each other and stuff…

    She said there was once Daniel Henney called her and I think he was still learning/adjusting his Korean so I think he uses a certain banmal word with her and she kinda freak out… not that she finds it rude or angry but she was going like “eh?” and wondering if she should like correct him… That was such a cute interview just to see KSA’s expression…

    Language is such a beautiful thing… I am gonna add some of them in my bucket list… ๐Ÿ˜€

  37. 37 kiara

    I’m loving these little topics you have about the nuances of Kdrama!

    I never really thought much about the whole banmal/joendemal because I grew up speaking Korean, but for the non-native speakers here I guess it adds *another* dimension to these complex relationships.

    @ 9: As many people mentioned, the “-yo” usually indicates that they are speaking in jondaemal. What’s really gets confusing is often the entire verb will change when you are speaking in jondae (not just the verb tense, but the actual verb).

    For example, the word phrase “Have you eaten?” can be:

    -chu muk uh suh? (rude, almost like swearing)
    -muk-uh-suh? (to close friends, those younger than you)
    -de shush uh yo? (to parents, older, more respectful)
    -shik sa ha shush soom ni gah? (also respectful)

    On a side note, these lines blur a little when alcohol gets into the picture.. which is why I think we Koreans drink so much! Hahah :)

  38. 38 Your Sassy Friend

    @ 34 peanut butter

    OMG. That is kind of annoying for me when they ask your birth year because sometimes I’ll get someone born in some random year and I have to do the math and then I look like an idiot figuring it out. LOL.

    @ 37 kiara

    To add on to your list, whenever I tell my grandfather it’s time to eat I say: “Jinji de she sae yo.”

    **Jinji being a more formal word for meal.

  39. 39 Q

    It’s the same thing with Jap – “the longer the sentence, the more formal it is” is the general rule of thumb. But I’m actually Chinese and it’s interesting how we don’t have such a big difference between formal and informal speech. The only case I can think of is the difference in address (like French, tu vs vous) but the sentence length definitely remains the same and nothing is added onto the end. :/ I guess this makes Chinese easier to learn ;D.

  40. 40 anais

    To add to @37’s explanation of honorifics in Korean for @9’s sake,

    There are both:

    1. use of different sets of vocabulary
    2. verb conjugations.

    Folks have already touched on the casual formal conjugation “-yo,” but there are many others of greater formality, some of which are out of place for everyday usage.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_honorifics

    Skip down to “Speech Levels” which suggests at least 14 levels of formality, although I think it still leaves out some.

  41. 41 pasta

    thanks for the enlightenment!
    now i understand why my korean friend was so miffed about another guy korean classmate using “formal language” with her.
    was she offended cos the guy thought she looked older and had to be respectful towards her?

  42. 42 unny

    You know this is what I appreciate about dramabeans. Instead of “gossip”y blog posts, there are actual, intellectual, and thought-provoking posts that are entertaining to read. For this I thank you. It’s the only website that I’ve found that informs me of important drama news, and now has good articles on Korean culture in general.

    Anyways, like some other people mentioned, I’m getting into the “squeal” as well. My most recent: when Jeon JIn Ho yelled “Kae In-ah” instead of saying “Kae-In-sshi” as he usually does. I was like GASP!! I think watching so many dramas I am inherently understanding such language rules. And being Indian and speaking Telugu which also does have honorific speech and informal speech helps too.

  43. 43 unny

    @41 Pasta

    It could be that she wants to be closer to him, and he’s keeping her at a distance as if they’re not familiar enough to use informal speech yet. Maybe she wants to date him or something ๐Ÿ˜›

  44. 44 Maria

    Wow. I had to read this article twice to fully understand this. So many layers in Korean society! In Filipino society, there is one way to do it — and that is to use “po” and “opo” when trying to be submissive to anyone older. Mr. or Ms. if you are addressing someone formally as well :-)

  45. 45 Ann

    Thank you so much for this JB & Girlfriday, even if I don’t understand the Korean language I see the difference in the conversations when I’m watching Kdramas. I finished watching Loving you a Thousand Times and I saw this difference in their conversations and I didn’t understand why it was that way, now I know :) Thank you, this is very, interesting.

    Just like what Your sassy friend explained about her mom calling her dad “Eunha Appa” I heard that in the Thousand times drama and didn’t understand why they have to use the child’s name followed by “appa” or “omma”

    MORE PLEASE ๐Ÿ˜€ I’m learning a lot. I hope someday I learn to speak and understand the Korean language.

  46. 46 seraphcelene

    I love this!! I can only pick out a few words in Korean. I’ve been watching kdramas for less than a year. But I can make out some differences in the way characters reference each other. The quality of the subbing makes a huge difference. Some I’ve seen drop the honorific and some use first names in place of. I definitely prefer the subs that include those terms that are not literally translatable. It really does nuance the action on the screen. I think the first time I really noticed it was in BoF when Jan Di calls Jun Pyo by his name throughout and, unlike the others, doesn’t call him sunbae or (later) refuses to call him oppa. It really highlights a lot about the nature of their relationship.

    Anyway, thanks so much for these posts. I’m excited to read more. There are so many great questions in the comments, too. I hope that you get to answer them.

  47. 47 katz

    Thanks JB & GF! This article was really enlightening! Though I’ve watched more than a few dramas and have been a lurker here since like forever, there are always little nuances that I don’t get because I’m not Korean!

    Oh and I totally dig the popculture series of articles too!

  48. 48 Sherrvonn

    Thanks so much for this post!

    When i went to korea for an exchange trip, my host was quite shock that i was one year older than her. I guess she probably thot she got to be more polite.

  49. 49 hbfrack

    this explains a lot about the korean language. a friend of mine was studying korean and i was doing the homework of reading and researching about the language, but this post answers most of the questions i am difficulty finding myself. i keep on telling my kdrama friends (they’re both guys, btw) that there is an informal and formal language. i guess, they are not really sure if i’m that reliable knowing i am not korean at all…

    how about saying hello. “anyong” is considered banmal right? i just watched an interview of kim bum in the philippines, and the interviewer greeted him with “anyong”. i was sure there were uncertainties because it took him awhile to answer and there was a different expression on his face (maybe confused on how he will react). nevertheless, the expression quickly dissolved as he flashed a smile and greeted her, ignoring the informality.

  50. 50 Miky

    Thanks for the vast explination..i have a question,is the same when i see in dramas and i because i’m a non korean thinks is strange and annoying…The main girl to say has a relationship with other guy for a while and their about to get married…why the heck is she calling him AJUSSHI still and not his name…they are lovers etc?
    And another thing i see,families-when the husband or wife call him/she the name of the child first and after dad/mom:I mean for ex: Young Ah dad/mam

  51. 51 Sere

    …and that’s exactly why I’m learning Korean. :) Or why I learned English and French in order to read novels or watch movies and tvshows with “my” translations. This post is awesome, of course, and I’m so grateful you guys decided to tackle this kind of topic. I LOVE reading these posts. They turn watching dramas into a whole new experience. ^^ Thank you

  52. 52 peanut butter

    @ 38 Your Sassy Friend

    hahaha, true true, but its easier that way. think how confusing it is if you had to figure out how they are 24 or something. considering the way age works in korea, asking for the year you were born in is the safest bet. my mom is actually 2 years older or something in korea while i am only a year older in korea.

  53. 53 funster316

    I always loved your blog and these entries are great! I am studying Korean casually and all my language partners are younger. I like that I can use banmal and not be considered rude. I am still learning the nuances, but like others, I have watched 5 years of dramas about 70+ of them and counting.

    I definitely picked up on the nuances of banmal and jondae. I did wonder why husband and wives would use jondae and now it makes sense. I would expect them to use banmal as they are close and intimate with each other. I do joke that I love using banmal but I do use jondae. Due to watching dramas, I have a mixture of knowledge of Korean. I would see how people’s faces would react when they expect jondae and get banmal (ie the variety shows) etc.

    Keep up the awesome work. I love this blog! This blog makes my day and the thoughtful writing and great recaps. The music choices are always wonderful too. Thanks for being my beacon for Kpop dramas and culture.

  54. 54 Simmy

    @39 I studied Chinese, Japanese, and now Korean. To me, Chinese was the hardest actually. lol.

    Java, thanks for this article, I’ve been watching dramas for years so I kinda guessed a little about banmal, but now I will start looking out for it. These little segments are so interesting and useful. Can’t wait for banmal!

  55. 55 Dav

    When I first started practicing my (still) very poor Korean in public, I used jondaemal with a group of kids. I don’t think they ever laughed harder than they did that day. (I think I figured it was better to know the too-polite version than the too-informal version, but I also get things confused frequently, so.)

  56. 56 m

    very interesting! i love how different languages express different things – it’s interesting how in korean the social & relational differences are much more obvious whereas in english it is much more subtle. i guess it means you have to be more on your toes to figure out whether or not someone is being rude!

  57. 57 Jane

    @39… About Chinese being easier to learn, I kinda agree, as a Chinese speaker. I’m pretty sure that Chinese did (a long time ago…) have a more distinguished formal/informal speech until recent years when it’s been blurred more and many people just use the speech we now use… which is probably closer to informal than formal.

    JB and GF, thanks for this blog with more intellectual discussions to help us readers further understand korean culture and dramas. I can’t stand reading blogs that are so full of gossips and way too much fangirl/boy moments. A little fangirling i can take. :)

  58. 58 Renatita

    I feel sorry for people who speaks English (native) because is more difficult for them to understand this kind of expression.
    In Mexico we have that ways of speaking too, so I can understand very well the examples of friendship or respect to older people.
    In addition, I think this post is very useful, but It could be better if you explain better with a phrase in the different ways, the endings, etc., because as I said, people who speaks English has more difficulties to understand it.
    Thank you for the glossary!!!

  59. 59 Jo

    Idk, this whole husband and wife thing REALLY depends. And also, perhaps you are judging it too much by your own western standards. seriously, this is Korean culture and you must hold it into perspective. Yea there might be alot of shitty things in it, but change comes slowly especially for a nation that has only just become the stronghold it is now (think about 50 or even 30 years before, Korea was pretty poor!)

    And as I was saying, it really depends. my father is like 6 years older than my mother, so he uses jondaemal whilst my mother uses banmal. Its not only because of their age difference, but also because of their characters as well. My mom is like a kkangpae -_-* (gangster) and my dad is the really quiet soft-speaking type.

  60. 60 Kapp

    Wahhh everyones here either got korean blood therefore speaks korean or in progress of learning them.. im in neither
    Now i fell left out ><
    -actually want to start leaning korean but am not very organised or dicipline, but definitely in my list of thing to do if only i can be more motivated.

  61. 61 MEIKO**** ^-^

    thanks for the post! great one!

    This is one of the things i really, really love about Asian culture (i think most asian countries adhere to this kind of culture), using polite speech where it is proper.

    one of my culture shock when i arrived in US is how casual they would address everybody, even if one is talking to a more senior person. It was awkward for me to call my boss or my seniors by their first names! Took me awhile to stop calling them maam or sir. hahaha!

  62. 62 refresh_daemon

    @7 sajor: To the first part of your question: it’s first name + sshi for jondaemal (if you’re familiar with the person; it’s rude to use someone’s name if you don’t really know them well). For banmal it’s first name + ah/yah (depending on whether the last syllable ends in a consonant or vowel).

    @22 Opal: In my experience, I’ve almost never seen a couple address each other by name banmal-style. I think it’s part of respecting the other person’s name to use name+sshi. There’s a sort of tender loving respect I find in speaking to someone that’s close to you with jondaemal–but that really depends on the couple.

    I think Koreans in general tend to avoid name usage (and second-person pronoun usage), using nicknames, titles, terms of endearment or even insults rather than using names. The only common exceptions (for banmal) I find are between close childhood friends, as they grew up using each others name in banmal, and within family (following age hierarchy rules) for the same reason.

    Personally, I tend to be polite just because it’s in my nature to be respectful of others. Consequently, I often use the most polite common form of jondaemal when speaking with others, dropping down to familiar jondaemal after I’ve got to know someone well. I use banmal almost exclusively with younger family and relatives. In one case, I met a younger distant relative of mine (5-chon or more) for the first time and since I wasn’t very familiar with her, I started using familiar jondaemal out of my normal habit. After a moment of chatting with her, she complained that I was making her feel awkward by using jondaemal since I was her older cousin, so I had to work on using banmal with her.

  63. 63 okdubu

    brb showing this to all my non korean friends

  64. 64 korean_panda_sarang

    I use both with my parents and I don’t even speak Korean with my brother, but that’s not the point. I mostly use banmal but when I use Jondaemal it’s not as in a stiff formal way. I use it in a light joking way. Like let’s say my mom tells me to take out the trash, instead of saying Araso, I’ll give her a an exaggerated bow and say, “Yeh, Algehseumnida” (I don’t know if you can understand that.) Anyway, I’ve also realized that Jondaemal can be used in a sarcastic way too.

  65. 65 bjharm

    this is very helpful in making me understand a little more about the why and wherefores. Jang Nara ,{yes sorry but she the one i know most about}, once said in an interview that when she first started she was blamed for using informal lang, so to look more cute..ie childlike I am guessing, but she said she has always used ‘informal’ speech in her family and had a hard time changing when speaking outside of the family. From this post she would have been speaking ‘banmal’ in her family setting, but was expected to use jondaemal when talking to those outside of it, but she was so used to banmal she kept dropping back to it.
    I note these days she is actually known for always speaking slowly and carefully and always with respect for elders so I am guessing that telling off back then had a lot more importance than I had thought, being 100% western and not really understanding the difference in formal or informal

  66. 66 asianromance

    Thank you for your newest addition to your glossary series! I’m surprised that you had posted again so soon! I just love the layers in Korean language. I also enjoyed the post on banmal! It’s nice to know if you want to be deliberately rude to someone in ways that do not involve swearing and telling them to go fug themselves- you can just switch to banmal during those moments when you should be using jondaemal!

  67. 67 George

    Ooooo How much does this explanation reminds me of Que sera sera ?

    Like there is a scene in which Eun Soo – Jang Yumi – asks Tae Joo – Eric – to use formal speech with her, ’cause 1) they broke up 2) they’re now working together and it annoys her.
    And at some point in one of the maaaany elevators scene, he adresses her in Jondaemal. And reverts back to banmal only few minuts later, saying that he had goosebumps all ever and it makes him sick to speak to her in formal speech.

    I found it hilarious, really couldn’t stop laughing, cause that was definitely being rude for Eric, but sooo true since their relation was kind of wacky since the beginning.

    There is another scene in which Tae Joo and Second male lead fight over the speech they’d have to use and it’s HILARIOUS, seeing them trying to impose themselves and trying to show whose the man. Haha.
    Tae Joo : Why are you using banmal.
    2nd lead : Cause I can.
    Tae Joo : We only met a few times. How dare you? HOW OLD ARE YOU ?
    2nd lead : I’m older than you so shut up.

    …well that is not the correct transcription but it goes something like this. And seeing some much testosterone thrown into such a short scene. I went “aaaaaaaaaaaah”

  68. 68 Opal

    Sassy,……, you are splendid…thanks a lot for the learning.

  69. 69 Opal

    @32 sassy…., you’re splendid…..thanks a lot for the learning…, the way you explain it is easy to chew… . Have been a korea-mania recenty so anything relates to Korea excite me

    @62 refresh_daemon, your younger cousin must be flattered and impressed on the respective manner that you have. Wish I have cousins like that ^^

  70. 70 Rovi

    Gonna ask…

    How is ์กด๋Œ€๋ง different from the more (very) “formal” type of speech???

  71. 71 refresh_daemon

    70 Rovi: I think jondaemal references every kind of honorific speech that isn’t banmal, including the different levels of formality and familiarity. It’s an inclusive word that determines that you are being humble with your language. So, whether I say ํ–ˆ์Šต๋‹ˆ๋‹ค, ํ–ˆ์–ด์š”, or ํ–ˆ๋‹ค, all three of these are a form of jondaemal of varying degrees of respectful speech. It’s only not jondaemal if I say ํ–ˆ์–ด.

    On a broader note, there is both formal and informal speech, as well as polite and impolite speech. Formal/informal you (typically) use to determine speech level with strangers vs. people you know. Polite and non-polite speech based on where they stand (or might stand) in hierarchy to you. Based on this matrix, you’d think there’d only be four types of speech, but there are some more. If you watch a lot of historical dramas or attend a Korean church, you’ll find the most humble level of honorific speech (always formal, always polite), which is only used with lords and heads of state or deities. And there’s another form I’m aware of, but I think it’s not used very much anymore (“ํ–ˆ์•„์˜ค”) and I don’t know how it’s supposed to be used since I don’t use it myself.

  72. 72 Stephanie

    I do realise that koreans and japanese have a very strong bias against women. And I see why. I cannot imagine using formal speech with my husband next time when my husband uses informal. I can slightly accept it if both sides use formal speech but it is like a weird distance between the couple yknow? But I guess if formal speech is nothing more than a habit and their relationship does not need banmal to confirm their closeness then it should be fine. still…..it is weird.

    I love jondaemal in korean culture and I have learned to treat my elders well even before they have earned my trust because I have learned to do it out of respect. I also plan to give up my job at least for the first 6 years of starting a family because I don’t trust guys to take care of the family well without being ashamed of the term househusband. But I really don’t know how to accept the image of a submissive korean women and a unreasonable husband who orders her around like a maid.

  73. 73 junaly

    i expected to see a mention of You’re Beautiful in this….haha, i still remember how Go Mi Nam/Nyeo spoke in really polite terms. :D:D

  74. 74 eed

    what an interesting article. thank you for sharing this information. i love how intricate a language can be. as a native French speaker myself, i can see how important it is to maintain a certain “distance” through language…
    i have recently developed an addiction to k-dramas, and i have certainly gained a new appreciation for them through this article! thanks again!

  75. 75 Tari Abraham

    this post made me want to learn korean..LOL.. I’m indonesian, and our local tv translate or dubbing kdrama without any respect to the language culture, although we also have those formal and informal. Our local tv usually translated/dubbed “oppa” with the character’s name..:( thats why i prefer to watch kdrama online. i just love yr blog.

  76. 76 L'horreurD'Esther

    Javabeans…I speak French and I’m quite offended.

    In French it is not just “tu” vs. “vous”. If that’s what you think, then I’m afraid that you are also in translation. I find myself cringing at the way that some of my classic French movies are translated because they don’t have that strict very formal, formal and informal speech. In French it’s “soutenu/courant/familier”.

    In France you cannot…I repeat YOU CANNOT go around and use informal speech.
    The French are too proud for that. Unless it’s immediate family and friends, it’s uncourteous and lacks dignity and respect. The verbs and subjects go together so when you “vouvoie” or “tutoie” there’s a huge difference….especially with the adjectives, plurals and singular.
    Even, I myself get very lost. Especially verb tenses…it gets complicated depending on the very formal, formal or informal level of speech!

    I don’t have the time nor energy to elaborate or detail everything BUT please do not just assume, or reduce a country’s language in that way. It’s sounds ignorant.
    I know you don’t mean too and I absolute love this blog. It’s just…it made me upset when you said that…

    • 76.1 Hiyami

      I think Javabeans was just using them as examples as to what other languages have social hierarchies “expressed through grammar and speech patterns” and didn’t go into detail as to where/when/why each is used. “In French and Spanish youโ€™ve got ‘tu’ versus ‘vous’ and ‘usted’, FOR EXAMPLE.”

      Trying to figure out which is jondaemal and which is banmal and when to use them is confusing enough for non-korean speakers that maybe JB didn’t want to add in more confusion for those poor souls trying to get to the heart of it all by explaining ANOTHER language. (Just imagine the headache…) And JB may have added the examples for those who are curious if other languages have the same/similar rules when it comes to formal/informal speech so they can look more up themselves and not derail from the main point of this topic: explaining the jondaemal used in KDramas.

      And as even you stated, it gets complicated. So I’d imagine adding the complexity of explaining the use of French (even a few lines) onto explaining the ins and outs of jondaemal used in KDrama would confuse the hell out of the reader. So the French that was there wasn’t there out of assumption and/or to reduce a country’s language, it’s there as a QUICK EXAMPLE that there are other languages out there that have the same/similar complexity when it comes to when, where and why formal/informal speech is used.

      I find it best to take everything with a grain of salt so one doesn’t get offended/upset about things (especially what’s written in blogs).

      tl;dr
      They were just used as quick EXAMPLES to show readers (like me) that there ARE other languages that uses similar patterns to express social hierarchies. No offence intended.

      P.s. I do apologise as I know it has been months since you posted this comment but I couldn’t let it be un-replied.

  77. 77 Ivy

    Whoa complicated…
    I don’t really feel that Chinese is like this at all. But it’s definitely very interesting – I would love to learn Korean :)

  78. 78 Shadow-chan

    Ahh, this really makes me want to learn Korean… I’m a huge language nerd and I love stuff like this and therefore I’m sad I definitely haven’t watched enough dramas to catch the changes, usually.
    It also makes me think that it probably actually would be nice to have German subtitles instead of English ones (because we have two different ways to address other people as well, and while it obviously is different from the Korean system, it’s still a bit closer than just “you”).

  79. 79 lily

    i really hope you can answer me this.

    have you heard IU’s song called my old story? im kinda confused with the term used.
    the lyrics goes like
    “dangsineun giokhasimnikka”

    isnt dangsin a banmal term.
    and suffix -nikka a jondaemal term?

    can you explain?

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