I would like to get to the bottom of something that's been bugging me for years: How Koreans think about 알다 and its conjugation when responding to someone telling them something.


Manager: 이 문서는 오류가 많아요. This document has many errors

Employee: 알았습니다. OK, I'm aware of that. (No idea if that interpretation is correct)

Manager: 확인해서 수정 해주세요. Please check it and modify it.

Employee: 알겠습니다. OK, I will do it.

I don't know if the example makes any sense, but as always in Korean, we must know the context to be able to make sense of anything, so I did my best to set the stage.

Some have told me that 알겠습니다 is just a more formal/honorific form of 알았습니다. However, it seems odd that one would use the verb "to know" in these situations. Literally, I would translate 알았습니다 as "I knew", and 알겠습니다 as "I will know", both of which make absolutely no sense in this situation.

What is in the mind of Koreans when they say these in response to what someone else has told them? Is there any difference in meaning or connotation between 알았습니다 and 알겠습니다 in this context?

Can 알았습니다 correctly translate as "I knew" (i.e. I don't know any more)? If not, what does 알았습니다 mean, and would 알았었습니다 be a better translation for "I knew" (i.e. I don't know any more)?

How do I say "I know" (i.e. I already know that)? Is it 알아요 or 알고 있어요?

In Korean, does 알다 mean "having knowledge", as in English, or is it better interpreted as "acquiring knowledge" (e.g. learning)?

1 Answer 1


All forms of 알다 except 알았었다 are commonly used by natives. 알다 is a special verb which any tenses can be used on.

알아요, 알고 있어요, 알겠어요, 알았어요

Their difference is very subtle but let me still try to explain.

알겠다: Since it is future tense, you use this to respond to a reminder or an order(since reminders and orders are related to stuffs in the future). This one is more polite and formal.

내일 꼭 가셔야돼

알고 있다: Continuous tense, so usually used when you are going to follow the instruction right after it's heard.

되도록 빨리 거기 가 봐.
알고 있습니다.

알았다: It is the same as 알겠다, but less polite and formal.

아빠가 돌아오기 전에 절대 먹지 마, 알았지?

알다: When responding to a fact.

요새 세비 씨는 남자 친구가 생긴 것 같아.
알아, 알아

  • So, for 알았습니다 and 알겠습니다 the tense is irrelevant and only used to articulate politeness for formality?
    – Verax
    Jun 2, 2017 at 3:30
  • Basically yes, but actually they are not "borned" to mean it, it is just the practice of natives.
    – user237
    Jun 2, 2017 at 3:37

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