Last time, I covered the low-closeness high-formality group of sentence endings that are known as 하십시오체. While useful, it’s not the most useful form if you just want to talk to other people in the most common of daily life scenarios. That honor goes to 해요체!
해요체 is a mid-formality mid-closeness conjugation that is used… pretty much whenever you’re talking to someone you aren’t super close with but don’t want to create too much distance with, and need to maintain some social formality but not excessively so. You are least likely to offend someone using this form, as it is more or less neutral in terms of closeness and formality. If you want to know a bit more about the workings of social formality and closeness in Korean conjugation, you can check out this post and skip down to the “Formality levels” section (and I highly recommend you do so, as it’s very important in Korean society and thus, in the Korean language!).
While this form is generally not too problematic, you might offend someone if you use 해요체 with them when you would usually use a different formality level, like suddenly using it with your boss who insists on 하십시오체, or using it with close friends that you would normally use 해체 with.
When using 해요체, using the formal word for “I,” “저,” is your safest option. Sometimes you will hear “나” being used with 해요체, perhaps from a coworker who is older than you (and thus higher in the social hierarchy) but does not use 반말 with you. Especially when just starting to learn Korean, it is safer to use the formal “I” until you develop a better sense for when it is and isn’t acceptable to use it with 해요체. Also, you should refer to others using their name or title and not the informal “너.” You can sometimes also use “당신” for “you,” but it very often sounds awkward, so sticking to names and titles is best.
The conjugation of 해요체, unlike 하십시오체, does not change depending the type of sentence you are making. Rather, the context of the conversation will be enough to let you know if the sentence is declarative (statement), interrogative (question), imperative (command), or propositive (suggestion).
To form 해요체, you take the root of the verb and add either -아요 or -어요 depending on the final vowel of the root. If the final vowel is 아 or 오, add -아요. If the final vowel is anything else, add -어요. For example:
먹다 – 다 -> 먹 + -어요 = 먹어요
- 민호 씨는 초콜릿을 안 먹어요. (Minho does not eat chocolate.)
좁다 – 다 -> 좁 + -아요 = 좁아요
- 이 방은 정말 좁아요. (This room is really narrow.)
I don’t plan to really get into irregular conjugations here, but there are some extra rules that you must know to use 해요체 properly.
First, if the root ends with either 아 or 어, instead of doubling the vowel you just attach the 요, as if the vowel of the root and the vowel of -아요 or -어요 are simply overlapping.
가다 – 다 -> 가 + -아요 = 가요 (NOT 가아요)
- 저는 학교에 가요. (I go/am going to school.)
서다 – 다 -> 서 + -어요 = 서요 (NOT 서어요)
- 그 상자 위에 서요. (Stand on top of that box.)
하다 is a bit of a special case. Going by the above rule, it would conjugate to 하요. However, it properly conjugates to 해요.
오늘 뭘 해요? (What are you doing today?)
세빈 씨는 정말 강해요. (Sebin is really strong.)
우리 친구 해요! (Let’s be friends!)
되다 is also special. Going by the regular rule, it would be 되어요. While you might see this sometimes in writing, it is not a form used in speech, and it is often contracted in writing as well. Let’s check it out:
되다 – 다 -> 되 + -어요 = 돼요
- 이름은 어떻게 돼요? (What is your name? [Lit. How does your name become?])
Yet another special case is 이다. When attached to a noun that ends with a consonant, it is conjugated as -이에요. When the noun ends with a vowel, 이다 becomes -예요. -에요 is NOT a valid conjugation of 이다.
공책이에요. (It’s a notebook.)
강아지예요. (It’s a puppy.)
Other special cases occur with roots ending in the vowels 이, 우, and 오. In these cases, the final vowel merges with the 어 in -어요 (or the 아 in -아요 in the case of roots ending with 오) to make a compound vowel sound. Sometimes you will see them written out in non-compounded format, similar to 돼요/되어요, but understand that such a form is usually reserve only for writing.
시다 – 다 -> 시 + -어요 = 셔요
- 맛이 너무 셔요. (The taste is too sour.)
춤을 추다 – 다 = 춤을 추 + -어요 = 춤을 춰요
- 미나 씨는 춤을 춰요. (Mina dances/Mina is dancing.)
오다 – 다 -> 오 + -아요 = 와요
- 비가 많이 와요. (It rains a lot/It is raining a lot [Lit. Rain comes a lot].)
NOTE: There is one exception to the above rule—yes, there are a lot of exceptions! This is when you use the honorific infix -(으)시- with your verb (Read more about its usage here!). In that case, the last syllable before you add -아/어요 is 시. Based on the above rule, one would think that the final 시 becomes -셔요. However, it instead becomes -세요.
좋아하다 – 다 -> 좋아하 + 시 + -어요 = 좋아하세요
- 우리 엄마는 꽃을 좋아하세요. (My mom likes flowers.)
앉다 – 다 -> 앉 + 시 + -어요 = 앉으세요
- 여기 앉으세요. (Please sit here. [-(으)시 is used here to make the command more polite.)
We’ve gotten through the conjugation rules for 해요체, including some exceptions. Let’s just check out some more examples using a variety of sentences types.
- Declarative: 오늘 우체국에 가요. (Today I am going to the post office.)
- Interrogative: 어디 가요? (Where are you going?)
- Imperative: 시장에 빨리 가요/가세요. (Go to the market quickly.)
- Propositive: 학교에 같이 가요. (Let’s go to school together.)
- Declarative: 저는 채소를 많이 먹어요. (I eat a lot of vegetables.)
- Interrogative: 고기를 먹어요? (Do you eat meat?)
- Imperative: 이거 먹어요. (Eat this. [Using the honorific -시- here and creating 먹으세요 would be unusual. Instead, one would use the honorific form of 먹다, 드시다.])
- Propositive: 이거 먹어요. (Let’s eat this.)
- Declarative: 그 남자는 축구를 해요. (That man plays soccer/is playing soccer.)
- Interrogative: 민지 씨는 공부를 해요? (Is Minji studying?)
- Imperative: 그만 해요/하세요! (Stop doing that!)
- Propositive: 우리 게임을 해요! (Let’s play games!)
- Declarative: 이 것을 만지면 안 돼요. (It’s not okay if you touch this thing [More natural translation would be “Don’t touch this thing,” but in Korean, it’s a declarative sentence, not imperative].)
- Interrogative: 시간이 돼요? (Do you have time?)
- Imperative: 좋은 하루 되세요. (Have a nice day.)
- Propositive: 우리 좋은 학생이 돼요! (Let’s become good students!)
- Declarative: 에린 씨는 매일 밤 꿈을 꿔요. (Erin dreams every night.)
- Interrogative: 어떤 꿈을 꿔요? (What kinds of dreams do you have/dream?)
- Imperative: 돼지 꿈을 꾸세요! (Dream of pigs! [In Korean culture, a dream of pigs is said to indicate wealth.])
- Propositive: 재미있는 꿈을 꿔요! (Let’s have fun dreams!)
This post was pretty hefty! If you have any questions, feel free to ask. As always, happy studying~