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I know that they are both pronouns, meaning "I". But people appear to use them in specific situations. How different are they?

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Simply put, 나는 is plain form/not formal. On the other hand, 저는 is used as a sign of deference to the person you are speaking with. It is the "humble" form of 'I'.

Use 나는 when you are speaking about yourself in an informal and casual setting, especially if you are speaking with someone who is your junior. If you are speaking with a superior, use 저는.

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  • Do you think this rule is subtly modified if you are a foreigner (외국인)? Even after knowing someone for (possibly) years, does it seem rude (to the Korean) for the foreigner to use 나는 ?
    – rajah9
    Nov 24 '19 at 11:29
  • @rajah9 I use 나는/내가 (and all other variants of using 나) all of the time while speaking with people to whom such use is appropriate. It actually sounds weird to use 저 when you should be using 나. It would be like calling someone sir in English when they normally would not be called sir. (Picture calling a 6 year old "sir"). Understanding register/formal speech is a very important part of speaking Korean at an advanced level.
    – Vladhagen
    Nov 25 '19 at 17:20

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