I heard someone saying '머리가 아프려고 해'.

I thought 려고 normally signalled an intention, so translated literally, I would think that means something like "My head wants to hurt".

Presumably that's not the intended meaning. What would be a more natural translation, and why is 려고 하다 used?

2 Answers 2


-려고 can also indicate that something is about to happen.

1.어떤 행동을 할 의도나 욕망을 가지고 있음을 나타내는 연결 어미.
2.곧 일어날 움직임이나 상태의 변화를 나타내는 연결어미.

하늘을 보니 곧 비가 쏟아지려고 할 태세다. The sky looks like it'll rain in any second.

  • what does 태다 mean in your sentence there?
    – B. Alvn
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 7:52
  • 1
    @B.Alvn Do you mean 태세? It means attitude, position or state. The literal translation is "When I look at the sky, (I found that) it's in the state where the rain will be pouring soon."
    – MujjinGun
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 11:51

I think you need only think of 'would' as in:

  • The man who would be king.
  • One more push would do it.

There is volition only in the first.

머리가 아프려고 해 is completely natural; so there wouldn't be anything more so. These would be alternatives:

  • 머리가 아플 건가 봐 (from 것인가 보다).
  • 머리가 아플 것 같아 (from 것 같다).
  • So it means "(my/someone's) head would hurt" ? Like maybe if you suggested to someone to drink another bottle of makkeolli or some situation like that?
    – B. Alvn
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 5:05
  • @B.Alvn. No. Neither 아프려고 해, 아플 건가 봐, nor 아플 것 같아 is an equivalent of something would hurt if e.g. I were to drink. In other words 아프려고 해 etc. are not hypothetical or counterfactual. They all refer to an actual state of affairs. The man who would be king also has an actual present intention or design (or at any rate, that's what I meant).
    – Catomic
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 5:16
  • In the first answer, meaning (2) talks about an "upcoming state change" so then it just means "will"? My/someone's head will hurt? That's it? In your answer the two forms you give both mean "seems like" "I think or guess that it will" but I don't quite see where that is coming from here... Sorry for my confusion, but I'm missing something. Also, how can the future refer to an "actual state of affairs" if it hasn't happened yet?
    – B. Alvn
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 6:22
  • 1
    I meant idiomatic alternatives (i.e. what people actually say). Whatever may be its recommendation, 머리가 아프겠어 is not idiomatic. / OP's sentence I would translate to, "My head is about to hurt." / As for a statement being about the future, we can give it up if you only want to understand 려고 하다 and it is only causing more confusion. But if you are interested in it in its own right, I would say that we need to distinguish: a statement about the future vs. a statement about the present from which a probable future may be inferred. 려고 해 is strictly speaking the latter, in my opinion.
    – Catomic
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 8:02
  • 1
    Maybe I can start by inviting you to agree that intend to do x is strictly speaking a statement about the present (from which a probably future may be inferred). If you say yes, the next step would be to tell you that 하려고 하다 in sense 1 works the same way. I.e. 나는 오늘 떠나려고 한다 (I intend to leave today) is a statement of my present intention. Third step would be to hazard a guess in etymology, by saying that 려고 하다 sense 2 inherits the temporal structure of sense 1 and is thus a reference to the present state of the sky, someone's head etc.
    – Catomic
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 8:08

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