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The following quotation is from this answer.

북한에서는 동무라느니 수령이라느니 이런 말을 쓴다

In north Korea, north Koreans use such words saying that A is 동무 and that B is 수령.

I am trying to understand that first word.

북 North
한 Korea
에 at
서 from
는 topic marker

The presence of both and seems redundant to me, since "at" and "from" both are locatives so I don't know what their functions are. Also, as the English translation reads "in", I don't see why (which means "from") should be there.

Do these words mean the same thing, and could they be used instead of 북한에서는 in that sentence up there?

  • 북한에는
  • 북한서는

Why or why not?

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에서 is not made of 에+서: on the contrary, 서 is considered a shortened form of more common 에서.

When describing places (i.e., where it happens), different verbs take either 에 or 에서. As HK Lee said, -에 is commonly used for verbs that denote a static state, while -에서 is used for activities.

In the sentence in question, "쓴다" is pretty active, so only -에서 is possible.

Sometimes a verb may allow both: I think "서울에 산다" and "서울에서 산다" are both correct.

  • Note that 에/에서 may have other uses different from "place". For example, 에 is commonly used as direction, and 에서 is used as source:

    철수는 명동에서 두 시간을 걸어 광화문 도착했다.

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Usually 에 means 'state' : The money is in my pocket. 그 돈은 내 지갑에 있다.

And 에서 means 'activity' : I used to eat a meal at home. 나는 집에서 밥을 먹곤 했다.

I live in Seoul city. 나는 서울에서 살고 있다.

Lastly, 에서는 means 'comparing' : I saw a movie in his house. But it is impossible in my house, because of father.

그의 집에서 영화를 봤다. 그러나 우리집에서는 아버지 때문에 불가능하다.

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