Today, we’ll look at some different words that seem very similar in translation. In English, all of these could be translated simply as “answer.” So, why are there so many words that all basically mean the same thing? When would we use one over the other? Let’s check out the differences between them.
The key to their differences lies in the Hanja, or Chinese characters, that form these words. However, since Hanja isn’t totally necessary to learning Korean (though I recommend that you at least give it a try for various reasons~) I’ll just give the simple answer and then get into the Hanja briefly below.
This word for “answer” is pretty much a general word for “answer.” This can be used for an answer to a request, a question, someone’s name being called, a problem or situation, or… pretty much anything! If you find yourself ever unable to remember the other “answer” words, think of this one as your default.
- 그 질문에 대답하기는 좀 어렵네요. (It’s a bit difficult to answer that question.)
- 내가 네 이름을 몇 번 불렀는데 왜 대답 안 했어? (I called your name a few times; why didn’t you answer?)
답변 is used only for answers to questions. It is generally used for spoken answers to spoken questions, but it can be used to refer to written answers to questions also. It feels a bit more formal than 대답.
- 어떤 기자가 그 국회의원한테 뇌물 논란에 대해서 질문했는데 끝까지 못 들은 척하고 답변을 안 하더라고요. (A reporter asked that National Assembly member about the bribery controversy, but the assemblyman pretended not to hear at all and didn’t answer.)
- 어제 국립국어원 웹사이트에 질문을 올렸는데 방금 답변이 왔네요. (I posted a question to the National Institute of the Korean Language’s website yesterday, and I just got a reply.)
This word is used just for written answers. This could be a letter, an email, a text message, or any other written format. It could be a response to a question, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, replying to a text message a friend sends you telling you to bring the book you borrowed from them last week would be a 답장.
- 한 달 전에 그에게 편지를 보냈는데 아직 답장이 안 왔어요.(I sent him a letter a month ago but I have not gotten a reply yet [Lit- a reply has not come yet].)
- 친구에게 메시지를 보낸 줄 알았는데 메시지를 잘 못 보냈다는 답장이 오더라고요. (I thought I sent the message to my friend, but I got a reply saying I sent it to the wrong person [Lit- I sent it wrongly].)
This word is specifically for answers to exam questions. If you aren’t talking about some kind of test, you can’t use this word!
답안을 시험지에다 깨끗하게 표시하세요. (Please mark your answers cleanly on the test sheet.)
수능 답안이 빨리 나오니까 결과가 나오기 전에도 학생들은 대충 얼마나 잘했는지 알 수 있어요. (The KSAT answers come out quickly so students can know even before the scores come out approximately how well they did.)
정답 and 오답
These words refer to the correct and incorrect answers to something, with 정답 being correct and 오답 being incorrect.
- 이 퍼즐을 풀어보고 너무 힘들면 제가 도와주고 정답을 알려줄게요. (Try to solve this puzzle, and if it’s too hard I’ll help you and tell you the right answer.)
- 정답은 B면, A하고 C, D는 오답이죠. (If B is the correct answer; then A, C, and D are incorrect answers.)
Okay, back to the Hanja! As I said above, the key to the differences between the above four words lies in their component characters. If we look at the characters, we see that all four of them have one character in common, 대답할 (to answer) 답 答. It is the other character in each of the words that brings out the differences in meaning.
대답–> 對答 (대할 [to face] 대, 대답 답)
답변–> 答辯 (대답 답, 말씀 [speech] 변)
답장–> 答狀 (대답 답, 문서 [written document] 장)
답안–> 答案 (대답 답, 책상 [desk] 안)
정답–> 正答 (바를 [straight, upright] 정, 대답 답)
오답–> 誤答 (그르칠 [ruin, spoil] 오, 대답 답)
Some of them are a little less obvious than others, but they generally make sense, right?
As always, happy studying~