As a low intermediate student, I learned that 아/어야 is used to express something as a necessary condition, it can be thought as meaning only if and is commonly used (but not exclusively) in the structures 아/어야 하다/되다, 아/어야겠다 and 아/어야지.

In my studies, I found in a YouTube Korean channel (displayed at minute 2:00) the following sentence, together with the translation

           가격이 좀 비싸야 사죠 = It is (the price) too expensive to buy.

I don´t understand how the usual meaning of 아/어야 described in the introduction applies to the sentence above to create the corresponding translation. As for me, it would mean something like only if it is a little/too expensive, I buy or it has to be a little expensive so that I buy, which makes no sense. Does 아/어야 have another meaning I don´t know or, perhaps, is the translation incorrect?

Thank you.

  • What channel is this? Please provide link to video and time stamp
    – user17915
    Oct 12, 2023 at 1:31
  • 1
    I think it might be saying "you should buy a bit more expensive one"
    – user17915
    Oct 12, 2023 at 1:32
  • Hello @user17915. Here is the link to the video: youtu.be/Oi1wGZzareY?feature=shared. The sentence is displayed at minute 2:00.
    – DrOlliver
    Oct 12, 2023 at 2:49
  • You can add this to the question yourself using the "Edit" link at the bottom of your question
    – user17915
    Oct 12, 2023 at 3:50

1 Answer 1


-아/어야 can vary a bit in meaning and nuance (from simple "if" to a dismissive "even though", as in 후회해야 소용없어 = 후회해도 소용없어), but what is crucial in this example is how tightly you bind 좀 and 비싸야.

'좀 비싸야' here is similar to 여간 비싸야. 좀 or 여간 in these phrases means "up to a point", "within limits" or "reasonably", to make the whole sentence "If it were reasonably expensive I would buy it".

좀's most common meaning is straightforward "a little" or "somewhat" though, and it is often used as a prompt for action (e.g. 저 좀 도와주세요). If you take 좀 in this sense and treat it like a phrase level adverb rather than bound to 비싸야, the sentence becomes "If it were more expensive, then I would buy", which doesn't make sense as you noted.

I think the example is a bad one in that it can mean two opposite things depending on how you interpret 좀. The phrase is also traditional and idiomatic (it is a construct well-worn through usage over a long time), and this makes it a hard one for learners to understand. In written form, using phrases like 여간 in place of 좀 would leave no possibility of ambiguity (while others like 웬만큼 and 어느 정도 (both meaning "to a certain extent") would have a similar issue as 좀). 여간 is used strictly in negative or conditional phrases just like this example to create the effect of "within reason" or "tolerably". For instance, 여간 비싼 게 아니야 = It is not reasonably/tolerably expensive = It is awfully expensive.

[EDIT] I think this type of tight or loose couplings occur pretty commonly in most languages. Here's an English example.

  1. I'm not going to say no to you because you declined to help me the other day.
  2. I'm not going to say no to you, because you declined to help me the other day.

#1 is saying "I'm not going to say no even though you did that", whereas #2 doesn't make much sense because the declination would only serve to make people less helpful. #1 has the because clause coupled with the verb "help" (just like 좀 in 좀 비싸야 is bound tightly to 비싸야) but #2 has it working with the whole of the main clause. The meaning changes depending on to which part you connect the sub-clause.

  • Oh many thanks! Your comment expanded my understanding about the usages of 좀, and the English example helped me to be more aware about this general linguistic phenomenon.
    – DrOlliver
    Oct 14, 2023 at 20:31
  • In addition, as someone told me, I think my doubt came up because I stick too much to the translation given in the video. 가격이 좀 비싸야 사죠 = "It is too expensive to buy". I mistakenly thought that "too" was the meaning of 좀 (my bad). But thinking of it as "a little" or "somewhat" (as you said), the translation would be 가격이 좀 비싸야 사죠 = "Only if it is a little expensive I would buy" or "it has to be little expensive so that I buy it" (with the usual meaning of 아/어야). Finally, these sentences are equivalent to "it is too expensive to buy". Thank you very much. This discussion helped me to learn a lot.
    – DrOlliver
    Oct 14, 2023 at 20:41

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