It is obvious for other forms (마세요, 마십시오) because of the ㄹ 받침 and 으, but 마 is 말 + 아, which means it should be 말아. However, I have never seen that (and in speech it would be heard as 마라 anyway). Does this mean 말다 is an exception?

  • Yes, it is an exception.
    – B. Alvn
    Mar 5 '17 at 4:28
  • " because of the ㄹ 받침 and 으" ??? what are you talking about?
    – Ting Choe
    Mar 7 '17 at 16:21

말다 is irregular among irregular verbs.

  • 말다 (to stop) ・ 살다 (to live) ・ 날다 (to fly)
  • 말라/말아라 ・ 살아라 ・ 날아라
  • 마오 ・ 사오 ・ 나오
  • 마/말아 ・ 살아 ・ 날아

Some speculations:

  • Because 말다 happens to be only used in imperative voices; i.e. pharses like *~하지 말겠다, *~하지 만다 sound ungrammatical and awkward.
  • Because 말다 can't stand alone but like an auxiliary verb, like ~하지 마라.

But you can also use 말아 & 말아라; colloquially 말아 & 말아라 have been used recently, and accepted as (interchangeable) standard in 2015.

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