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I see both positive and negative connotations for both. What is the nuance between the two?

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  • I think if translated to english, the first one is more like "attempt/try to live well" while the 2nd means "live well". Slightly diff nuance. Someone correct me if I am wrong.
    – yuri yoon
    Nov 21, 2022 at 6:14

2 Answers 2

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Perhaps others in the community can provide a better explanation, but for me 잘 살아봐요 can have both a positive and negative connotation as you said, whereas 잘 살아요 has a positive connotation only. Here are some examples for 잘 살아봐요:

Positive connotation, when for instance a newly wed couple makes a vow: 우리 한번 잘 살아봐요. Let's team up and lead a good life for the both of us.

Negative connotation, when for instance a very angry friend-zoned man/woman says to his/her ex and archnemesis: 둘이 한번 잘 살아봐요, 그럼. Oh yeah? Let's see how long you two last. The stronger way to say this would be 둘이 한번 잘 살아보든가. It's stronger because there's no use of honorifics.

잘 살아요 from my perspective is almost always positive.

다들 잘 살아요: May all you lead good lives.

다들 잘 살아야지요: We all must lead good lives.

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If we consider both as a suggesting sentence(I don't know the English word, but in Korean it's 청유형), Both of them would not be comprehended as negative meaning, ordinarily.

-아(어) 보다 basically means 'attempt to -' or 'try to -'. So, 잘 살아봐요 means like 'let's try to live happily', the speaker is adding the implication of 'trying', like he is facing a married life of future and regarding it as a task of life. But just 잘 살아요 doesn't have this kind of implication.

On the other hand, we can consider 잘 살아봐요 and 잘 살아요 as a imperative mood(명령형 in Korean), we may able to understand that they can have both positive and negative connotations.

Ordinarily, they are positive languages.

  • 잘 살아봐요!/잘 살아요!(I wish you live happily!)

But at special cases, they can be ironies.

  • 그래, 어디 한번 잘 살아봐라!
  • 너 혼자 잘 먹고 잘 살아라!

These are words of curse, not a blessing.

But note that you don't have to worry about misuse between 잘 살아봐요 and 잘 살아요, they are almost same. The implication I explained above is not that important, it is just a theoretical thing, only to figure out very subtle difference.

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  • 청유형 (請誘形) has various translations into English. The one I'm most familiar with is the "hortative", but it can also be called the "suggestive", "petitionary", "propositive".
    – Michaelyus
    May 25, 2023 at 19:11

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