I've read that 었/았+었 is often used to talk about a state or action that was true, but is no longer true:

이모 이름을 잊었었다. 그런데 지금은 생각이 난다.

I had forgotten my aunt's name. But now I remember.

But how about a sentence like:

그 날은 날씨가 무척 추웠었다.

Does that imply that it was cold at some point on the day before the time you were talking about? Or is this a different meaning?

I've also seen 하루꼬가 뉴욕에 갔었다 translated as "Haruko has been to New York". If that's a possible translation, it doesn't seem to be talking about something that is no longer true.

Does the '-었/았+었-' construction have more than one distinct meaning, or can it be condensed down to one meaning?

  • 1
    This question is very interesting. As far as I know, there is no "present perfect" tense in Korean and its counterpart in English should be translated to Korean literally depending on context, e.g., "I have eaten" could be translated to "밥 먹었다 (I ate)", "밥 먹어서 배부르다 (I ate and am full)", "밥 금방 먹었다 (I have just finished eating)", etc. . I don't think "Haruko has been to New York" is the right translation for "하루꼬가 미국에 갔었다." Let me think about it.
    – user7
    Jul 8, 2016 at 9:14
  • @Rathony it's possible that the 하루꼬 example needs more context. Jul 8, 2016 at 11:12
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    Now, I can see your question. How strange! Anyway, I will try to post an answer tomorrow when I have time. I don't think a short answer would suffice.
    – user7
    Jul 8, 2016 at 11:57
  • @Rathony thanks. I wonder if geographical location makes any difference on the delay? Anyway I am going away for a couple of days anyway so no rush on the answer! :) Jul 8, 2016 at 12:10

2 Answers 2


The double past tense (past-perfect or "past-past") is indeed a valid grammatical form. As has been expressed, it is used to express an event or action that occurred, but is no longer occurring.

According to Korean Grammar for International Learners by the Yonsei University Press, this form is usually used when something happened "much earlier than the time of utterance." I think it is up to interpretation as to what "much earlier" means.

I use this form most often when saying something like

"I had never eaten squid before."

(그때는 오징어를 먹어 본 적이 없었었어요)


"She used to study English" (but does not any more).

(그녀가 영어를 공부했었다).

Personally, I find the form to be a bit bulky and avoid using it where possible. However it certainly is a valid form.

  • "오징어를 먹어 본 적이 없었었어요" doesn't sound natural unless "그때는 (at that time)" or "내가 열살때는 (when I was 10 years old)", etc. is used to indicate a certain point in the past.
    – user7
    Jul 8, 2016 at 20:01

하루꼬가 뉴욕에 갔었다 -> The person is no longer in New York, but he went to New York in the past.

그 날은 날씨가 무척 추웠었다. It was cold that day but no longer at the point of speaking, since the day of speaking is different from "that day"

So your 2 meanings could mean no longer doing smth but smth done in the past.

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