After coming by the expression 바라만 보다, I spent more than two hours trying to find something on it, and just before posting that very question here, I got the bright idea of putting the whole term 바라만보다 into Naver. I was told that 바라만보다 is a conjugation of 바라다보다.

I tried looking further from there, but the results were only in Korean and unfortunately not comprehensible to me at this point (see below). I got the feeling that I really should have stopped there, but after spending the time and writing and scrapping an entire question on it here, I kind of want the rest of the picture.

My main thoughts and questions are:

  1. What is the function (and possibly origin) of 만 in 바라만보다? It is certainly joining the two, but are there any other nuances to that? Are there any other words/expressions that this appears in?
  2. Is 바라다보다/바라만보다 sort of archaic/poetic?
  3. Is it any different from 바라보다, except from the archaic/poetic feel? Would it be usable in speech? (Naver claims they are synonyms)

A shorter answer to each of these would suffice, but not that I would refuse a comprehensive one.

The sources I found:

3 Answers 3


Although jick gave a great answer, I would like to add some details in case you meet a word simliar to this later on.

We can breakdown "바라만 보다" into 3 parts:

바라 + 만 + 보다

Q1 : '만' is a postposition that can add various kinds of meanings, and is able to come :

  1. after a noun

  2. after a verb

  3. and sometimes even in between a verb when the word is in (main verb + auxilary verb) form

and according to the Standard Korean Dictionary, postposition '만' means :

  1. showing limitation by restricting ('only' in English)

    ex) 나는 매일 사과 하나만 먹는다. (I only eat an apple everyday.)

  2. emphasizing the noun/verb that came before it (similar to 'has to' in English)

    ex) 그녀는 건강을 위해 뛰어야만 한다. (She has to run for her health.)

  3. showing the minimun quantitiy of expectation (similar to 'at least' in English)

    ex) 다섯 개의 오디션 중 하나만 붙어라. ((I) hope (I) pass at least one audition out of five.)

  4. comparing the noun/verb that comes before it with another (used with "하다" or "못하다", similar to "just like" / "no where near" in English)

    ex) 그의 새 차가 코끼리만 하다. (His new car is just like an elephant.)

  5. showing the condition for something (similar to "everytime")

    ex) 나는 뛰기만 하면 다친다. (I get hurt everytime I run.)

'만' appears in so many different parts in Korean.

In our case '바라만 보다', '만' comes in between a verb, and is showing limitation by restricting. So it means "only staring at it. (no other actions taken)"

Q2 : So no, '바라만 보다' is not archaic/poetic. It is used in daily conversations, and is actually used very often!

(but it is also true that '바라만 보다' is used often in lyrics/poems/classic novels because it has that "sad, heartbroken" feel to it.)

Q3 : Using answers from Q1 and Q2, we can now say that '바라만 보다' is interpreted as (only + '바라보다'), and we can use it in everyday speech.

  • Great answer, thank you! What was odd to me was that most sources I found only talked about 만 being added to nouns, and when somebody talked about 만 being added to verbs, it was always like 고만. What allows it to be done this way here, is it because it is a established phrase, or am I missing some rule like 'when the verb ends in a vowel add 만 only to the stem' (just guessing haha). Thanks again!
    – pavelkomin
    Jul 18, 2020 at 4:39
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    @pavelkomin because there are so many different ways to use '만', it's really hard to show all the examples and rules here. However, you can actually put '만' wherever you want, either behind the main verb or behind the auxilary verb. There will be slight difference in which term you are trying to limit, but it wouldn't be a huge difference when we communicate. 바라만 보다 and 바라보기만 하다 are different, but they are not completely different for us to misunderstand.
    – pkeu
    Jul 18, 2020 at 5:50

I think it's best understood as an analogy of a pattern: (main verb)+만+(aux. verb), meaning "only (verb)". Some examples:

아무 말도 없이 걷고만 있다. [He] is only walking without a word.

부끄러워 죽고만 싶다. [I] am so ashmed that I only want to die.

여기 올려만 놓으면 됩니다. You only have to place it up here.

Now, I feel that "바라만 보다" is a bit unusual(?) because it's not exactly two verbs "바라다"+"보다" - its primary meaning ("stare") is different enough from 바라다 ("hope"), so it's best considered a new verb in its own. However, etymologically speaking, it's still a combination of "바라" + "보다", and apparently the structure is still visible enough that one can insert "만" in the middle.

Also, I don't think it's that archaic. I can imagine it being used in everyday speech, like "뭘 그렇게 멍하니 바라만 보냐?"

  • Thank you. What kind of confused me was from what I read, 만 should only be added to nouns, and when it was added to verbs it was always stem + 고만, but from your third example it would seem that it is possible to add it without 고, my wild guess would be that it is when the word ends in vowel, or when it is a state verb... Could you clarify on that? Thanks once again.
    – pavelkomin
    Jul 18, 2020 at 4:31

바라만 보다 is not a conjugation of 바라다보다; I do not think that you have read carefully the sources you found.

  1. In 바라만 보다 (You should place a space right after 만), is a postpositional particle that indicates an emphasis. The compound verb 바라보다 can be separated into 바라- and 보다 when 만 comes to emphasize it. I have said can because you may also use 바라보기만 하다. 바라다보다 is just another compound verb made of the same verbs (바라다 and 보다); 바라다 means to glance toward something here (not "to hope, want, etc." here).

  2. Archaic means old and no longer used, but those words are still used. They are not poetic either because they themselves do not express emotions in a sensitive or moving way. It is just that you can easily find them in the lyrics of songs. I would say that 바라다 alone is now unlikely to be used to mean to glance toward something because there are other verbs used often, such as 바라보다 and 보다.

  3. They are usable in speech. One thing I should say is that people much prefer 바라보다 to 바라다보다.

  • As I mentioned, I was unable to read the sources I linked, as they are beyond my level of Korean. When 바라만 보다 is put into Naver (with, or without space - although you are clearly right the space should be there) the first result that comes up is "바라다보다 ( 활용형: 바라만 보다 )" (strangely, the space in the result is there only when you put it into the search in the first place - weird!). Naver translates 활용형 as "conjugated form," although I'm kinda skeptical that 바라만 보다 is really a conjugation of 바라다보다.
    – pavelkomin
    Jul 18, 2020 at 4:55
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    Also, archaic is commonly used as old-fashioned and rarely used, mostly found in poetry and novels, but still understood by most people (or at least by those who read books), whereas obsolete would be used for a word no longer used and rarely understood, although the specific usage can vary from dictionary to dictionary (check this answer on English Stack Exchange). Either way, thank you for your answer!
    – pavelkomin
    Jul 18, 2020 at 5:15
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    @pavelkomin I understand that they are beyond your level, but I thought that if you had consulted this dictionary, you would have been able to understand simple sentences like "보조사 '-만, -은' 등은 한 단어 사이에도 들어가는 특징이 있습니다." As for 활용형, Naver sometimes gives the wrong ones (For example, it says that 바라군 is a conjugation of 바라다, but 바라는군 is the correct conjugation) because they made the dictionary to predict the conjugations of verbs and adjectives. Predictions are not always correct. Aside from this, every dictionary has errors.
    – Klmo
    Jul 18, 2020 at 5:22
  • I hadn't consulted that dictionary before you posted it in your answer, but I'm glad you've showed it to me and I will be using it from now own. The links in the original post are from Google, although I consulted 우리말샘, but it is just that my searching abilities are way better than my Korean haha. I understand that dictionaries are sometimes wrong (who isn't?) but that Naver entry allowed me to search more and led me to the sources I posted. It was also the only English source that I was able to find (aside from one short explanation of the meaning). Thank you for your help once again.
    – pavelkomin
    Jul 18, 2020 at 5:36
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    I have just reported the 활용형 error to Naver, though I doubt if they are working hard to correct errors. // I brought the meaning of archaic from one of the dictionaries that I use. Thank you for mentioning the nuances; 바라만 보다 and 바라다보다 are neither archaic nor obsolete. Oh, I forgot to say that 바라보다 has more definitions than 바라다보다, so 바라다보다 can be chosen to make a sentence less ambiguous. // 우리말샘 has a wider range of words, including obsolete Korean characters and words, but it does not have English translations. Thus, 한국어기초사전 that I linked will be a greater help to you for the moment.
    – Klmo
    Jul 18, 2020 at 6:31

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