Common errors made by Korean learners

Of course, nobody is perfect and mistakes are bound to happen. However, some errors seem to crop up very commonly when looking at or listening to sentences formed by non-native speakers. Let’s check out some of the most common errors!

되다’s spelling

Going to start heavy with something that even native speakers commonly get wrong. Depending on what follows the root 되, sometimes it remains as 되 and other times it changes to 돼. It’s pronounced the same either way, so spelling errors with this are super common. However, knowing which spelling to use is actually super easy. If the root 되 is followed by a consonant, it doesn’t change. If it is followed by a conjugation starting with 어, it becomes 돼. Let’s look at some examples:

  • 되다 + -겠 (consonant-starting) +어요(or other form of your choosing) = 되겠어요
  • 되다 + -ㅂ니다(consonant-starting) = 됩니다
  • 되다 + -아/어요 = 돼요
  • 되다 + -았/었어요 = 됐어요

NOTE: You might sometimes see 되다 conjugated as 되어요, 되었어요, etc. This is very much a written form, and you won’t hear conjugated 되다 spoken in this manner.

-에요? -이에요? -예요? Conjugating 이다

This is another common error, even among native speakers. Misspelling or misusing the conjugations of this verb is very easy to do because they ultimately sound pretty much the same when spoken. Let’s take a look at them.

  • -에요: This is not a valid conjugation of 이다. It’s just wrong.
  • -이에요: This conjugation is used when the noun to which it is attached—please, no spaces between the noun and 이다, ever!—ends with a consonant. For example:
    • 가방 + 이다 +아/어요 = 가방이에요
    • 집 + 이다 + 아/어요 = 집이에요
  • -예요: This conjugation is used when the noun to which it is attached ends with a vowel. For example:
    • 학교 + 이다 + 아/어요 = 학교예요
    • 문제 + 이다 + 아/어요 = 문제예요

While we’re at it, let’s look at 이다’s past tense -요 conjugations too:

  • consonant-ending noun + 이다 (past tense) = -이었어요
    • 가방이었어요
    • 집이었어요
  • vowel-ending noun + 이다 (past tense) = -였어요
    • 학교였어요
    • 문제였어요

있다가 vs 이따가

They’re pronounced the same, but they’re nothing alike in meaning! 있다가 is the verb 있다 with the connector -다가 on it. I don’t want to get too much into -다가 right now (I’ll do another grammar post on that later!), but for now we can say that 있다가 indicates that something existed or was in a certain state when something else happened at the same time. On the other hand, 이따가 is an adverb which means “later.” Simple, right? This leads into the next common mistake, which is…

이따(가) vs 나중(에)

One of my friends used to get so irate at me when I used these incorrectly! Thanks to him, I’ll never misuse them again >.> Both of these words can be translated as “later,” but the time periods they cover differ.

이따(가) is a near “later,” like within the same day. So, suppose you’re on the phone with your friend in the morning making plans to meet in the afternoon. You can finish up your conversation by saying, “이따 봐!” Or maybe you’re promising you’re mother that you’ll finish up some housework after you meet your friend. You can tell her, “좀 이따 해 줄게요.”

나중(에) is a later “later.” You met up with your friend, and when it came time to pay for your lunch, they realized that they forgot their wallet at home. They offer to run back to their house to get their wallet and pay you back immediately, but you simply say, “나중에 줘도 괜찮아. (It’s fine if you give it to me later.)” This means your friend can give it back to you more or less at their convenience, even if it takes a few days.

덥다? 뜨겁다? 춥다? 차갑다?

덥다 and 뜨겁다 both mean “hot,” and 춥다 and 차갑다 both mean “cold.” However, that does not mean they’re interchangeable! It’s common to see Korean learners accidentally use the wrong “hot” or “cold” in the wrong situation. So, how do we use them correctly?

덥다 and 춥다 are both used when talking about the temperature around you or the weather. For example, a room with the heating turned up too high or Seoul in August would be 덥다, while a snowy winter day would be 춥다.

뜨겁다 and 차갑다 are both used when talking about the temperature of things that are… pretty much not the air around you. For the soup you burnt your tongue on, you can use 뜨겁다. For the ice cube that your immature friend dropped down the back of your shirt, you can use 차갑다.


These are the main mistakes that I see people make (and that some of my friends have told me that they notice, as well). Hopefully you learned something new reading this post! If you’ve noticed that any of these is something you struggle with, work hard to fix it to keep building a strong foundation for your Korean studies.

As always, happy studying~