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Sometimes I hear people use 나(는) (which should be banmal, right?) but then use a -요 ending (which should be jondetmal) in the same sentence. Is it really okay to mix the two? If so, what are the rules for this? Everything I read in grammar books just explains one or the other, not both of them mixed together in spoken conversation.

ETA: I'm seeing it in Duolingo, too (with no explanation). It will mix (in the same sentence) the pronoun 나 with -습니다:

나를 놀리지 마십시오.

나는 친구를 너무 믿습니다.

My understanding is that 나 is informal. So I find it odd for it to be mixed with a formal ending.

  • That seems to be relevant to this one. Such mixing is unusual although it is often found in the lyrics of love songs. – Klmo Jul 14 at 5:00
  • I would say it is very common in spoken language. It provides the sense of a somewhat in-between politeness between 반말 and 존댓말. – Taegyung Jul 14 at 6:16
  • This has come across my mind: That usage is called 반존대 or 반존댓말. You may look them up in this page (written in Korean) and on Google. It is true that 반존대 is used among some people in very close relationships (a celebrity to their fans, parents to their children, and someone to her/his beloved one) and some in hierarchical relationships (someone to one lower), but you do not have to use it (I have never used it) and maybe that is why your grammar books do not mention it. – Klmo Jul 14 at 9:30
  • @Klmo AFAIK 반존대(반존댓말) mostly refers to the style when you switch between 존댓말 and 반말 in different sentences, not when you mix the two in the same sentence as the OP asked (나는 ... -요). – Taegyung Jul 14 at 9:44
  • These are single sentence examples: (1) 오빠, 나는 이게 좋아요. (2) 나도 보고 싶어요! (3) ○○○ 이병, 물 떠 오세요. Anyway, 반존대 and 반존댓말 are not standard words, which means that no official definitions exist for them. – Klmo Jul 14 at 11:10
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All endings determine the speech level of the sentence. '-요' ending change 반말 to 존댓말. As you thought, it is usually awkward to say both '나' and '-요' in one sentence. It isn't used in a formal situation or for a boss. However, there are a few times to say so.

For example, "나나 잘 할게요." is 존댓말 but it is an expression that lowers myself. It is used in situations of self-deprecation or satire.

Another is "나는 건성 피부라서 가습기를 쓰는데, (저는) 이 제품이 마음에 들어요." In this sentence, the front of comma is 반말 but the back of comma is 존댓말. This means that the former is more personal statement than the latter and the latter is what I want to say. Of course, "저는 건성 피부라서 가습기를 쓰는데, 이 제품이 마음에 들어요." is more formal.

Similarly, "나는 가습기를 쓰는데요." can be interpreted like "내 얘기인데, (제가) 가습기를 쓰는데요."

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No official rules and standard terms describe such mixing, but I would like to say that it is okay only when the listener thinks it is.


인칭 범주에 기반한 한국어 경어법 교육 연구 says the following:

... 청자가 상위자인 경우를 예로 들어 보기로 한다.

가. *내가 할게.

나. *제가 할게.

다. *내가 할게요.

라. 제가 할게요.

... 청자가 상위자인 경우 (가, 나)처럼 화계가 해요체나 하십시오체가 아니면 비문이 되고, (다)처럼 청자 높임의 해요체가 사용되었어도 청자가 상위자이고 화자가 스스로 겸손의 의미를 나타내고자 할 때 ‘저’를 사용하지 않으면 비문이 된다. (다)의 경우는 동급 관계에서 상호 존중의 의미로 사용하거나 상하 위계 관계에서 상급자가 하급자를 예우해줄 때 가능하기는 하지만 화자의 겸손을 나타내지는 못한다. 그러나 (라)와 같이 ‘저’가 해요체나 하십시오체와 함께 사용되면 화자의 겸손 표현이 가능하다.

According to this passage, "나 ...요." could be acceptable in these cases:

  1. 동급 관계에서 상호 존중할 때 (when those at the same level respect each other)

  2. 위계 관계에서 상급자가 하급자를 예우해 줄 때 (when one treat her/his inferior with respect)

I have used could because it may start an argument or fight. Because of the pronoun, 나 (which does not show one's humility), the listener could think that the speaker is rude. One of Usin Jung's examples, "나는 가습기를 쓰는데요.", may sound rude, too. It depends on the listener's judgment.

When is it usually okay? In my opinion, that is when a person says something to her/his beloved, very close one. Nonetheless, some people including me just use complete 반말 and total 존댓말. As for couples, the Korean comments here and there show the reality: There is no consensus about that usage.

Usin Jung also mentioned "나나 잘할게요" and it reminds me of a catchphrase, "너나 잘하세요." A humble person would not make these sarcastic remarks.

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