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I hear "가지고" used a lot in spoken language (almost never in written language); for example:

고기를 잡아 가지고 찌개를 끓였다. ([He] caught a fish and made jjigae (stew).)

It's not hard for me to understand this sentence, but I'm interested in knowing the precise meaning of the connective phrase 아/어 가지고, and when it can and cannot be used. Does it just mean "and"? And if so, what distinguishes it from -고 (e.g. 고기를 잡고 찌개를 끓였다)?

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By using "가지고", you can describe "찌개를 끓였다" as a result of "고기를 잡아". Then, you can infer that the speaker used "고기" as an ingredient of "찌개". If you write "고기를 잡고 찌개를 끓였다", then there can be no causality, because "-고" is used in many ways - not only showing causality, but also simply "and", so you may feel that it is ambiguous.

Other examples using "가지고":

  • 날씨가 너무 더워 가지고 공부를 못하겠다. (It is too hot, so I can't study well.)
  • 그렇게 놀아 가지고 시험에 붙겠니? (You play too much, can you pass the exam? - indirectly blaming "You can't pass the exam if you play too much.")

Examples that "가지고" and "-고" are different:

  • 여름에는 비가 내리고 겨울에는 눈이 내린다. (It rains in summer and it snows in winter.)
  • 여름에는 비가 내려 가지고 겨울에는 눈이 내린다. (It rains in summer, so it snows in winter.(?))

Examples are from "가지고" and "-고" from Naver Dictionary.

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In many ways, it is functionally similar to ~어서, and can usually be interchanged with it. Both "x해 가지고," and "x해서," can be translated to English as "Because I did x" or "As a result of doing x."

There is a difference in the nuance though. I think the best way I can explain it is that ~어 가지고 often has a stronger implication of deliberateness, while ~어서 is more general.

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We could say 가지고 is a compound word of '가지다' + '고'.

Words or word forms ending with '고' usually have connective meaning: 그리고, ~하고, ~있고, ~주고, ~받고, ... Actually, we can append '고' to any(?) words.

가지다 could express: have, take, by means of, with, ...

That is, we can rewrite below sentence,

고기를 잡아 가지고 찌개를 끓였다. ([He] caught a fish and made jjigae (stew).)

Like this: (Someone) caught fish (no singular/plural information), and with this (that someone) made jjigae.

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