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I think the words 목표 and 목적 have slightly different nuances. Which word would be better to describe the goal of a new plan? Is there some other word that would be even better?

I've heard one of these is used more for a numerical outcome (like quarterly sales targets) while the other is used more for qualitative goals (like release a new product).

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There's some overlap between them and the nuances are difficult, but I think some major differences can be summarized as:

목적 is often the objective or purpose of something. It is thus often used in form X의 목적, meaning the purpose of X:

인생의 목적 (the purpose of life)

안전의 목적으로 ... (for the purpose of safety)

이 연구의 목적은 ... (The purpose of this study is ...)

목표 is a goal or target. If you're talking about sales goals, that's a target, so it's better to use 목표. If you're talking about your goals in general (not for a specific purpose) then it's better to use 목표.

내년의 목표는 ... ([My] goals for next year are ...)

However, I believe there will be a lot of overlap in these cases, and 목적 may be acceptable when talking about "objectives" in general.

2
  • Can you include a few examples where the two words overlap? I don't think there will be a lot of overlap.
    – user7
    Jun 30 '16 at 12:03
  • 목적 drives you forward to help reach your 목표.
    – Q20
    Jul 1 '16 at 12:06
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It is really difficult to tell the difference by looking at the dictionary definitions.

목적 目的:

실현하려고 하는 일이나 나아가는 방향.

목표目標:

어떤 목적을 이루려고 지향하는 실제적 대상으로 삼음. 또는 그 대상. [비슷한 말] 표목2(標目).

도달해야 할 곳을 목적으로 삼음. 또는 목적으로 삼아 도달해야 할 곳.

'목표' has a Chinese character 標 (표) which literally means 'table'. If you can think of your target or objective you need to achieve as a 'table', '목표' could be used. For example:

이번 3분기 회사의 실적 목표는 무엇입니까? What is your sales target in the third quarter?

You can't use '목적' in the above sentence as '목적' is rather qualitative rather than quantitative.

그는 불순한 목적을 가지고 그녀에게 접근했다. He approached her with impure intention (ulterior motive).

You can't use '목표' in the above sentence.

'목적' is philosophical and abstract and '목표' is rather concrete and achievable.

삶의 목적은 여러가지 목표를 가지고 그것들 (목표들)을 이루어 가는 것이다. The purpose (meaning) of living a life is to have various goals and achieve them.

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