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When describing the meaning of Hanja, adjectives and verbs use the -ㄹ/을 ending. For example:

美: 아름다울 미

用: 쓸 용

I've always just kind of accepted this, but recently was thinking why is the -ㄹ/을 ending used. Usually it implies a future or potential state of the description, but this doesn't make sense to me with Hanja. Is there any connection to it's use with future tense or is this just another use of the ending?

  • I think this is similar to the way verb translations into English always include "to" ..."to eat" "to run" "to be pretty" etc. That also has a kind of future feel to it, right? – B. Alvn Jun 15 '17 at 12:47
  • When I learned Chinese characters about a-decade-or-so ago, yes, there were -ㄹ/을 everywhere. But nowadays it seems like making use of -ㄹ/을 has ceased and changed to -다 forms, like 아름답다 미 and 쓰다 용. – PenPoint Jun 20 '17 at 8:57
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It's not always future tense. Actually, the most common usage of -ㄹ has little to do with future tense. -ㄹ is just an "An ending of a word that makes the preceding statement function as an adnominal phrase."

As for why -ㄹ, over all other verb endings, is used for Hanja, we don't know for sure, but it's the way it has been for over centuries. Look at this Hanja dictionary from 1458 (初學字會) for example:

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You can clearly see "콩 空 뷜"(Modern 빌 공 空), "통 通 아ᄑᆞᆯ" (Modern 아플 통 痛), which use verbs conjugated with -ㄹ.


Looking at the research paper "선어말어미 '-리-'의 기원", the -ㄹ ending was a nominalizing ending until the 16th century. The adnominal usage was done by adding the adnominal particle ㅅ after nominalization. So 뷜, 아ᄑᆞᆯ etc were considered nominal (noun-like) back in the 16th century. So it makes sense to use -ㄹ, it's akin to where English dictionaries use "to ..." for verbs.

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  • Considering how long Koreans have been using Hanja, I wonder if this use of -ㄹ actually predates the use of -ㄹ to indicate future tense. – jick Jun 14 '17 at 22:58
  • This is really interesting. In Mongolian, the equivalent of 하다, 할, and the nominalizing 할 use the same ending. – Okoyos Jul 9 '17 at 16:08

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