It's possible to honor someone by use of 드리다 rather than 주다 when they receive a favour, use of honorific nouns such as 말씀 instead of 말, and honorific particles like 께서 and 께.

I used to think that I should use these honor anyone that was senior to myself, but I then learned that I shouldn't, for example, refer to my mother honorifically if speaking in front of my grandmother (who outranks her).

Is that the only 'difficult rule' I need to remember or are there other considerations?

  • Mind to add strangers into the question? For example under what circumstances should a stranger not be honored?
    – busukxuan
    Jun 26, 2016 at 15:09
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    @busukxuan maybe that would be great as yet another question, if you wouldn't mind asking it? (title here edited to avoid overlap) Jun 26, 2016 at 15:35
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    sure I wouldn't! I'll ask it after this one gets answered I guess.
    – busukxuan
    Jun 26, 2016 at 15:40
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    압존법 apjonbeop is the Korean name for this "difficult rule"
    – Michaelyus
    May 2, 2019 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


You should use honorifics to any stranger that you're unfamiliar with. Other than that and your mentioned 'outranking' rule, afaik.

For that outranking rules, it's mostly used in Korean army (with their special status in Korea). In casual conversation it is almost obsolete and it's no use to strictly adhere to it.

For example, a (socially higher-ranked) named A may ask a newbie B 'C (who is above B but below A)는 어디 갔냐?', B would have to respond like 'C요? C는 집에 갔어요' if he has to strictly adhere to the rule - but it sounds rude to C in practice, and such this kind of grammar rules are just for textbooks&exams or army (where they STRCITLY adhere to this rules and anyone is expected to follow the rules). Nowadays B would respond 'C님은 집에 가셨습니다.'

FYI, According to National Institute of Korea's 'Standard guidelines for speaking etiquette', it is usually used for house use but you are free to 'not' follow it.

  • I also heard someone say that her 사장님 told her not to refer to her 차장 as '차장님' in front of him (because she was lower than the 사장) Jul 13, 2016 at 20:57
  • Uhm, I think it may differ person by person, but going deep inside this would be more of a cultural aspect than language aspects.
    – revi
    Jul 14, 2016 at 2:48
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    We are in a transition phase at the moment. 압존법 is the rule that you should not use honorifics mentioning someone to another higher in age, position, etc. It had been used only in one's family and between a teacher and a student until the period of Japanese colonial rule. Since the period, it has been used not only in one's family and between a teacher and a student but also in a company and the military. Some people with historical sensibility are saying that it is wrong to observe 압존법 in a company and trying to remove 압존법 from its culture to remove Japanese ways.
    – Klmo
    May 2, 2019 at 1:08

In family :

할아버지, 아버지 왔습니다. Grandfather, my father is arrived

아버님, 형님이 먹었습니다. Father-in-law, the first daughter-in-law ate.

In the company :

Staff : 사장님, 부사장님 (부사장님께서 X) 오셨습니다. President, vice-president is arrived.

President : 부사장님, 그 직원분 들어오라고 (들어오시라고 X) 하세요 Vice-president, give my message to the staff telling that he would visit to my room.

  • So why do we have the honorific in "사장님, 부사장님 오셨습니다", but not in "할아버지, 아버지 왔습니다"? May 1, 2019 at 16:01
  • Listener is prior. But nowadays, 할아버지 아버지가 오셨습니다 is possible, because we use it frequently. But priority is not used in the company or society.
    – HK Lee
    May 1, 2019 at 16:09
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    My guess : We want to distinguish company from family. If not, then a bad habit grown in the family can appear in the company.
    – HK Lee
    May 1, 2019 at 16:15

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