In Korean, to say "something is broken", you use the past form of the verb 고장나다.

텔레비전이 고장났어요.

But now I wonder how to say "something got broken", meaning the malfunction happened in the past. Is it fine to say 텔레비전이 고장났었어요?

Adding "It got broken" and "It's broken" to the Google translate returned the same thing - 고장났어.

At least I understand some verbs such as 못생겼어요 is used in the past form to mean the present tense. But then how do you differentiate it from the pure past tense usage?

  • 1
    Some distinctions don't transfer across languages easily. E.g. 형 vs 오빠 vs (남)동생
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


You cannot take tense from one language, apply to another language, and expect no change. Remember, there's no such thing as "pure past tense". What you're asking about is an English expression with an English past tense.

The Korean expression, "텔레비전이 고장났어요", expresses an event that has happened in the past: in fact, it's almost exactly like the English sentence "The television broke." Due to the nature of the event, when we say it, the most likely interpretation is that the television broke, and it stayed broken until now: so it is in a broken state.

However, given additional information, the expression could be used to mean that the TV had broken, but it isn't broken now. In both English and Korean:

텔레비전이 고장났는데 좀 전에 수리기사가 와서 고쳤어요.

The television broke, but the repair guy came and fixed it moments ago.

If you really have to clarify, then you can, as in these examples. (Note: as always, the English counterpart is rough equivalent.)

텔레비전이 고장나 있어요. = The television is broken (i.e., is in a broken state now).

텔레비전이 고장났었어요. = The television had been broken. (Either it's fixed now, or it is irrelevant now.)

However, just as an English speaker would rarely say "This television is in a broken state," you normally don't say "텔레비전이 고장나 있어요", unless there's a specific reason for it. (E.g., you don't know why it broke, but you just found that it is in a broken state, and you want to emphasize your lack of information.)

In most cases, simply say "텔레비전이 고장났어요": that would be enough.


Adjectives become past tense when "-었" is added once. "좋았다", "없었다", "달랐다" are examples. However, both "고장나다" and "못생기다" are stative verbs.

As you wrote, you can express the past tense of these verbs by using "고장났었다" and "못생겼었다". But this alone can be awkward. You need to specify the tense:

  • 예전에 텔레비전이 고장났었다.
  • 예전에 나는 못생겼었다.

Expressing the tense is a much more certain way. In fact, the following expressions are fine:

  • 예전에 텔레비전이 고장났다.
  • 예전에 나는 못생겼다.

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