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This is something that has been puzzling me for a while: 'long time no see' is often expressed by 오랜만이에요.

오랜 means 'a long time' and 이에요 is the present tense form of the verb 이다. So far so good. But 만 means 'only'. So the litteral translation of 오랜만이에요 seems to be 'it is only a long time'.

Quite strange! You would expect 진짜 오랜이에요 or 오랜이네요 or 오랜이죠 (or simply a plain 오랜이에요).

Why do Korean people use 오랜만이에요 to say 'long time no see' ?

Is it a form of euphemism? Or is my analysis of the expression wrong? As @topo morto pointed in comment, the answer to the question may also apply to the extended form 오래 간만이에요.

(As a side question, would the expressions in the third paragraph be natural sounding alternatives)

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  • Interesting question - would you consider expanding it to include the longer form "오래 간만이에요" ? – topo Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '16 at 9:31
  • I never heard 오래 간만이에요 but I can add it to the question – Taladris Dec 30 '16 at 13:14
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오랜 means 'a long time' and 이에요 is the present tense form of the verb 이다. So far so good.

So far not so good, 오랜 does not mean "a long time". It's an attributive, not a noun. It can only be used to modify other nouns. The English equivalent would be "old" or "long-time" as an adjective.

  • 오랜 시간 = a long time

  • 오랜 친구 = an old friend

But 만 means 'only'. So the literal translation of 오랜만이에요 seems to be 'it is only a long time'.

만 is not the auxiliary particle here. As from the above, 오랜 is an attributive and attributives can't take a particle. Instead, it's a contraction of 간만, as stated in the dictionary:

오랜-만

명사
‘오래간만(어떤 일이 있은 때로부터 긴 시간이 지난 뒤)’의 준말.

And now, 오랜만 is a noun. As a side note, 오래간만 became 오랜만 by deletion of '가' in the middle of the word.

Quite strange! You would expect 진짜 오랜이에요 or 오랜이네요 or 오랜이죠 (or simply a plain 오랜이에요).

오랜이다 doesn't even make sense because you can't use 이다, a predicate case marker, on an attributive. That's like saying 많은이다 instead of 많다.

오래간만이에요 would make sense. 오래간만 is a noun after all, so why not?

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  • what does the '간만' bit mean on its own, if anything? – topo Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '16 at 15:04
  • @topomorto 간만 means nothing on its own, though it's used as a contraction of 오래간만 colloquially. An example would be "간만에 만났네". – MujjinGun Dec 30 '16 at 15:08
  • OK. So is it fair to say that '오래간만' is a word in its own right that just means 'a long time since' ? – topo Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '16 at 15:20
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    @topomorto Exactly. – MujjinGun Dec 30 '16 at 15:24
  • It seems that I got 오래 and 오랜 mixed. Thanks for breaking down the expression. – Taladris Jan 6 '17 at 7:47
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-만 can be a suffix meaning "only", but it can also be a dependent noun (의존명사) meaning "after a period of time". The 표준국어사전 defines it this way:

동안이나 얼마간 계속되었음을 나타내는 말. 예) 심 년 만의 귀국

The example given in the second line can be translated "return to his/her country after a period of 10 years".

So in the case of 오랜만이에요, we have what was originally an adjective (technically, a 관형사, which must precede a word that it describes) followed by the bound noun 만, but this very common expression is fossilized into one word.

However, I'm not sure about the history of the word. According to the 표준국어대사전, 오랜만 is actually an abbreviation of 오래간만; however, 오래간 is not found alone (to my knowledge), and I'm not sure if one preceded the other. In any case, the 만 certainly refers to the bound noun meaning "a period of time".

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