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This is a question from the definition stage and I would like to get it discussed in the main site. What are the rules for using honorifis when we are talking about someone in the third person? For example, when,

  1. it is a student talking about the teacher to a senior?
  2. student talking about a teacher to a friend?
  3. father talking about a child to another child?
  4. father talking about a child to the grandfather
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There are 2 ways of expressing the honorific in Korean (3 actually, but one is limited to a few cases).

  • Listener honorific (상대경어법): used to give respect to the person / people you're speaking to. There is a very complex system including 6-7 levels of speech. The listener honorific is expressed by the sentence endings: ㅂ니다, 요, etc.
  • Subject honorific (주체경어법): used to give respect to the subject of the verb. The infix -시- is a subject honorific, as well as certain special verbs, like 주무시다, 드시다, etc.
  • Object honorific (객체경어법): used to give respect to the object of the verb. This was used extensively in medieval Korean, but limited to a few cases now: 뵈다 is an honorific version of 보다 that gives respect to the one seen.

So let's look at the cases:

  1. a student talking about the teacher to a senior. Both the subject and listener are to be "honored": "김선생님 아직 안 오셨어요"

  2. student talking about a teacher to a friend. The subject is to be honored: "김선생님 아직 안 오셨어"

  3. father talking about a child to another child. No honorifics needed. "철수 어디 갔어?"

  4. father talking about a child to the grandfather "철수 어디 갔어요?"

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When it comes to the honorific particle (으)시, you don't only have to consider whether the person you are talking about is senior to you - you also have to consider whether they are senior to the person you are talking to. For example, you shouldn't use (으)시 when talking about your mother if you are talking to her mother, i.e. your grandmother.

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