I have learned that there are two forms of conjugates that functions for a polite declarative sentences: 요 and ㅂ니다. However, it seems that most people only use 요 and rarely use ㅂ니다, which I also heard by a native Korean.

The native I asked answered that you as a foreign language learner would not use the form ㅂ니다 in any situations. She also said that she rarely (or never) uses it and told me that the only situation a normal Korean uses the form is in army (male only).

I also know that news reporters at TV or flight attendants use the more polite form. However, as a foreigner, is there any chance that I shall use it in everyday life?


Sorry I should have clarified it more, but I meant that it doesn't include an idiomatic phrase like 잘 먹겠습니다 or 잘 먹었습니다, which my Korean friend used, too. I meant if a random verb would be used in ㅂ니다 form in any situation except those idiomatic phrases as a foreigner.

4 Answers 4


Well, if you ever get a job in a Korean environment, you'll get to use it.

I understand that your female friend said that she rarely uses it, but it's more common than she thinks. Most females don't get around to using it, probably because there aren't enough 'formal' settings to be in. By 'formal' I mean giving an announcement or presentation, talking to your boss or professor, writing a formal letter, in the army, in an interview, talking to your parents-in-law before you get married, etc. So if you're going to do any of that in Korean, you'll have to use it.

해요체(요) is classified as informal(비격식체) and polite(존댓말) as opposed to 하십시오체(-ㅂ니다) which is formal(격식체) and polite(존댓말). If a government representative speaks in 해요체 in television, I'm sure that person will receive a lot of criticism. 해요체 is also frequently used towards crowds of children, so if a flight captain does an announcement in 해요체, some people will feel like they are treated like children.

  • 1
    Well, all of them I can agree with. But my question is as a foreigner, and because I won't experience any of them (job interview, writing a formal letter, talk with boss or professor or parents-in-law, army, presentation), I wonder if I have any chance to use it. But I come to feel it is difficult to answer this question without me enumerating every situation I experience, not that the opaque "everyday situation as a foreigner", which would be different depending on each person...
    – Blaszard
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 18:07
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    @Blaszard If you are a foreigner learning the language, always use '-ㅂ니다' 100% until you become proficient in Korean. You will learn the difference naturally. There is no way anybody can explain it in 3-paragraph answer.
    – user7
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 20:21

The 해요체 or '-' style is polite enough for many situations that you'd find yourself in as tourist in Korea, or if you never go to Korea but only meet Korean friends abroad. In those cases then it may be true that you will never need to be any more formal or polite.

The 합쇼체 ('-ㅂ니다') style is used in formal situations including the ones you mentioned, when staff speak to customers (especially when making announcements), and so on. It's certainly not rare to hear, although it's true that foreigners would be less likely to be in situations where they had to speak using 합쇼체.

The 합쇼체 style is also often used to create a sense of ceremony. If I wanted to wish my Korean father-in-law a happy birthday, '생일축하합니다' would be perfectly appropriate - in fact it's often used even for close friends, just to create this sense of ceremony. This can even be true for everyday greetings; members of my Korean family often say 다녀오겠습니다 ('I will go and come back') when they leave the house, and 다녀왔습니다 ('I went and now I'm back') when they return. This includes me, of course, when I am visiting! So I (as a foreigner) do get a chance to use the -ㅂ니다 ending sometimes.

EDIT : Some here have said that phrases like 잘 먹겠습니다 / 잘 먹었습니다, and perhaps the ones I mention could be seen as idiomatic usages - if so, it still seems that such usages are often linked to having a sense of ceremony - such as starting and ending a meal, leaving and arriving, special occasions, and so on.

  • Oops. I meant polite, not formal, sorry. And I meant that my situation doesn't include more idiomatic phrases like what you said, or what you @Rathony said. I should have clarified it. But other than those idiomatic phrases, do foreigners still have a chance to use it in everyday situation?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 9:20
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    @Blaszard As MujjinGun says in his answer, it depends what you do in your day! It is definitely used within my Korean family, and not only for common/idiomatic phrases - my mother-in-law will often use it when sending polite wishes to another part of the family, for example. You can also make jokes - when we came back from holiday recently, my wife sent the family a message : "지금 막 착륙 했습니가", to make it sound like an 'official' announcement. Your friend is right that 합쇼체 is not the normal, everyday familiar language, but that's exactly why it sounds special and formal. Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 10:34

Is there any chance that a Korean language-learner uses ㅂ니다 ever?

Yes, definitely. If you are not sure which to use between '-ㅂ니다' and '-요', always use '-ㅂ니다' because it is better to sound polite while sounding a bit awkward than to sound impolite. You will learn the difference as your Korean becomes more proficient.

It is inappropriate for any native speaker to explain how their native language works to a non-native speaker using the adverb "only" or "not ~ any ~". There are many expressions that using '-ㅂ니다' that are used in everyday conversations.

잘 먹겠습니다. (Literally) I will eat well.

It is very idiomatic and more broadly used than "잘 먹을께(요)" which is used between close friends or lovers. The latter could also be used by children to their mother or father who prepared a meal or bought some food for them.

If you don't use '-ㅂ니다' in formal context such as when you are having an interview, or conversation with your elders or superiors, you would sound very awkward and insincere.

If you are Japanese, it would be easier to understand from this question. "How many times do you use '-ます' and '-です' in everyday conversation in Japanese?" I believe it is very rare, but it depends on where you are and to whom you are talking to.

When you need to be polite, you have to use '-ㅂ니다'.

For example:

What do you do for a living?

직장인입니다. (이다 + ㅂ니다) サラリーマンです. (Japanese)

어디 가세요? (Literally) Where do you go?

학교에 갑니다. (가다 + ㅂ니다). I go to school.

You should use "학교에 갑니다." when you have to use "学校へ行きます." in Japanese.

  • Sorry that I didn't mean it includes an idiomatic phrase. I just edited my question. My bad. But what kind of situations do foreigners use ㅂ니다 in talking with elders or superiors? For example, as a foreigner, the only chance I talk with elders (40 or over) are talking with police, shop or restaurant staff, flight attendants, hotel staffs, bus conductors, taxi drivers, or some strangers who talk to me in the street. In these situation, should I use ㅂ니다 or 요?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 9:34
  • However, I strongly disagree with your Japanese comparison. Any Japanese people use です/ます in everyday conversation. It is more like that people should use です/ます and only when they are in close relationship (friends, family, etc) they can be allowed to NOT use です/ます. However, I believe です/ます is more close to 요 than ㅂ니다 and there is nothing close to ㅂ니다, so it makes me confused...
    – Blaszard
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 9:44
  • @Blaszard I can speak Japanese fluently and lived in Japan for a while. It is not 100%, but when you have to use です/ます in Japanese, you can use ㅂ니다- For example, What do you do for a living? 직장인입니다. サラリーマンです. Now, Korean has more polite expressions to express 직장인입니다, but it would be easier for you to remember in this way.
    – user7
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 10:10
  • I shall apologize to have made you confused, but isn't your example a special form of ㅂ니다, which is added to a noun (a noun + ㅂ니더), not a conjugate of a verb (e.g. 삽니다)? But if you want to buy something at shops, you will use 사요, not 삽니다, right?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 10:24
  • @Blaszard No need for apology. There is no です/ます difference in Korean. You use ㅂ니다 in both cases, for example. 어디 가세요? 학교에 갑니다. (가다 + ㅂ니다). You have to use "학교에 갑니다." when you have to use "学校へ行きます." in Japanese.
    – user7
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 10:58

Some sentences require ㅂ니다 form to keep the nuance intact. For example, when you want to express polite form of gratitude, you would say 감사합니다, not 감사요. The latter won't be taken as "polite".

  • 감사요 seems not to just have a different verb ending, it seems to be entirely missing the '하다' (verb) part. Is '감사요' a slang form? Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 6:18

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