I often have to distinguish whether someone is speaking 반말 banmal or 존댓말 jondaemal. Usually I pay attention to the ending, if I hear a -요, -니다 or -니까 I assume it's jondaemal otherwise banmal, but I'm not sure if that's always the case.

Are there any other rules to recognize one or the other without actually knowing all the vocabulary used? Is it possible for sentences to be both at the same time (neutral)?

Real life example:

A: "[...]에서 왔어요." (jondaemal)

Person B didn't understood properly where person A came from and asked

B: "어디서?"

Did person B really asked in banmal or is this neutral?

Note: I know there are several levels of politenes, but I mainly care for those commonly used in modern days conversations. Thank you.

  • Hi and welcome to the site. From the title (note - title now edited), this looks similar to korean.stackexchange.com/questions/2421/…, which already has a couple of good answers - but if you think there's a more specific question that question doesn't answer (e.g. "is there such a thing as 'neutral'?"), we could edit and reopen or make a new question. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 0:04
  • I did read the linked question and it's answers before writing my own. Unfortunately it does not answer any of my questions. Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 15:55
  • 1
    Answers to the linked question give rules to differentiate between 반말 and 존댓말 (listen for 해요체 and 합쇼체 verb endings; listen for the use of honorific nouns and verbs, listen for the use of the honorific particle). So I'm a bit confused as to why it doesn't answer your question about rules to recognize one or the other? Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 17:15
  • Are these endings the only way to identify it? What about the way people get addressed? There is -ssi and -nim and such stuff. I'm looking for other hints to find out what they are speaking. I'm also fine if someone explains to me, this is the only way to know, but is it really? Because if it is the only way to know, my deduction of person B speaking banmal although person A used jondaemal, would be correct. These are the things I'm looking for. To assure my deductions are correct. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 8:18
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    It is very common for an "asymmetric" relationship to be established - in fact that's what Korean people are (usually) born into. Parents speak to kids in 반말, but kids speak to their parents using 존댓말.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 13:59

1 Answer 1


jondaemal of noun : 밥 -> 식사, 진지, 아침, 점심 또는 저녁

jondaemal of verb : Usually, we use 요. But there are irregular case :

먹다 -> 드시다

마시다 -> 드시다

(1) 엄마 : 아들, 밥 먹었어?

아들 : 네. 엄마는 밥먹었어요 ?

(2) 교수 : 자네, 식사 했나 ?

학생 : 네. 저는 밥 먹었습니다. 교수님은 점심 드셨나요 ?

In social relation, usually we can not use 먹다, 마시다 to older. We can use only 드시다. For instance, 커피 드셨어요 ?

But sometimes, we can use 커피 먹었어요 ? 커피 마셨어요 ? 밥 먹었어요 ?. In this case, they are close. Like a relation, professor and student, student can not use 밥 먹었어요 ? 밥 드셨어요 ?

(3) Special social group, for instance, army or court : They use 까 in asking.

병사 : 장군님, 훈련 마치셨나요 ? (X) 마치셨습니까 ? (O)

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