Richard Harris, in his book Roadmap to Korean, makes an observation (under the heading 'Cautious to Conjugate') that

Koreans in some situations try to avoid clearly saying a verb and its ending, perhaps because it forces you to commit to a 'speech level' and risk speaking inappropriately.

Is this a phenomenon that is commonly observed? If so, what are some tactics that may be used to do this? The book mentions

  • people saying the verb endings 'through laughter, or quiet as a whisper'
  • using a noun but no verb
  • people leaving a sentence hanging in 'mid-air' for someone else to pick up
  • Women covering their mouths to obscure what's actually being said

(But the book doesn't actually give any examples of sentences, exchanges, or utterances that I can share with you - sorry!)

  • 1
    I'd really appreciate an explanation for the downvote. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 5:13
  • 2
    Can you list a few examples?
    – user7
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 5:24
  • 3
    This is definitely true. You have to consider the intricate relationships with the person you're talking to, and the situation you're speaking in, in order to end your sentence properly. To avoid risking using incorrect verb forms, some people slur the end of their sentences a lot(말끝을 흐리다). In some situations this is definitely a problem.
    – MujjinGun
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 5:27
  • 2
    Well, you linked a book in the question and you need to let us know what examples were cited in the book to show "Koreans might be cautious to actually say a verb in a sentence.".
    – user7
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 5:43
  • 1
    It is not a matter of language, but of social atmosphere. Many Koreans are usually shy.(Well I am an exception :P) They become extremely shy in front of foreigner. Also, speaking in emphatic tone in front of elders is often considered as a rude behavior. But what I mean is, many Koreans 'tend to be' like that. Not all Koreans speak verb ambiguously.
    – jungyh0218
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 6:45

3 Answers 3


Not very common (I think), but many people show this behavior with different reasons.

Korean has formal speech forms. Minors must use formal speech form in conversation with seniors. Between civilians, number one rule is the age. But there are other hierarchies: office rank, school seniority, gender(!), and so on.

Suppose there are two office workers with same age but different gender. If one is lower ranked male and the other is high ranked female, some male people feeling ashamed when using strict formal form to speak to same aged women. But because she is higher rank, he can't use normal form. So he obscure his sentence ending with various methods.

Also note that, Koreans use formal form to address school seniors but this raises many problems in universities ;-)

  • Yeah, a lot of times in Korean, people just don't finish their sentences.
    – Isaac
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 2:40
  • Can you expand slightly on the "problems in universities" ? I don't feel in on the joke! Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 7:14

I am not sure if I understood your question 100%, but let me try to answer it.

One of the most distinct features of Korean (and Japanese) is you conjugate and negate verbs at the end of a sentence. For example:

난 (I) 너를 (you) 사랑 (love)...

If you hear someone say this, you never know whether 'I' loves or doesn't love 'you' as there could be many different sentences as follows:

난 너를 사랑해: I love you.

난 너를 사랑안해: I don't love you.

난 너를 사랑했어 (지금은 아니야): I loved you (but not now).

난 너를 사랑할래: I will love you.

난 너를 사랑하지 않아: I don't love you.

난 너를 사랑하고 싶어: I would like to love you. (I'd like to fall in love with you.)

난 너를 사랑이라 부르고 싶어: I want to call you 'Sarang'.

난 너를 사랑하지 않는게 아니야: It's not true that I don't love you.

If a speaker doesn't make it clear after "사랑" in the above sentence, there is no way we can understand what (s)he intends to mean.

Some Koreans intentionally take advantage of this feature and slurs or whispers the words at the end of the sentence to be intentionally ambiguous or confusing. But I don't think it happens very often.

  • Wow! It's really hard to keep those in mind.!
    – Ehsan
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 12:11

I will add some to previous answers and comments :

1) Not host in given situation : Sometimes, one dislikes a duty in a present situation. If there is a group of going to eat, then one of clarifying end may buy dinner.

2) Observing other's interest : When we talk, someone want to satisfy other. So when we observe other's face, the sentence may vary : 밥은 choice 1 양식이 좋아 먹으러 가자 (Western style is suitable for a dinner. Let's go) choice 2 됐고 영화 보러 가자 (I am not hungry so that let' go to theater.)

3) End of conversation : If we have nothing to talk (that is, at end of talk), then clarifying end may imply that I have something to talk.

4) Stupid gesture : Except a case where there are a lot of talking or we can talk in a balance, clarifying end seems to be weird.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.