What’s the difference?? 이미, 벌써, and 벌써부터

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When translating Korean to English, “이미,” “벌써,” and “벌써부터” are all commonly translated as “already.” How do we know when to use each one? What makes them different from each other? Let’s find out!

First of all, 이미 and 벌써 sometimes DO have the same meaning. They both share a meaning of something having happened and finished at some time in the past. In this case, they are interchangeable. When asked about this meaning of 이미 and 벌써, one of my native speaking friends said that 이미 has a slight feel of simply confirming the fact that something has completed already while 벌써 has a slight feel of something having been unexpected, but it’s not a major difference.

  • 파티가 이미/벌써 끝났어요. (The party already ended.)
  • 엄마는 아빠께 전화하라고 했는데 난 1시간 전에 이미/벌써 전화했어. (Mom told me to call dad, but I already called him an hour ago.)
  • 아침 9시밖에 안 됐는데  집안 일을이미/벌써다 처리했어요. (It’s only 9am and I’ve already taken care of all of the housework.)

벌써, however, has a second meaning that 이미 does not have. This meaning is “already” in reference to something happening more quickly or suddenly than expected.

  • 학기가 벌써 끝났네! 시작한 지 2주일도 안 지난 것 같은데… (The semester has already ended! It seems like not even two weeks have passed since it started…)
  • 그 큰 케이크를 벌써 다 먹었어요?? (You already ate that big cake??)
  • 적응이 잘 되고 있었던 것 같은데 민호 씨는 여기 사는 게 너무 어렵다고 해서 벌써 자기 나라로 돌아가려고 해요. (It seemed like he was adjusting well, but Minho says that living here is too hard so he’s already going back to his country.)

The difference between 벌써 and 벌써부터 is a fairly fine distinction. You can think of 벌써부터 being 벌써 in fast mode— where 벌써 expresses that something happened more quickly or suddenly than expected, 벌써부터 expresses that something you did not expect has happened, and it happening quickly and/or suddenly. It can also carry a feel of disapproval toward whatever the referenced action is. Additionally, it is most often used to talk about something that is in progress. If the action has been completed, 이미 is more appropriate. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • 시험까지 3달 아직도 남았는데 넌 벌써부터 공부하고 있어?? (There are still three months to the test and you’re already studying??)
  • 예린 씨는 벌써부터 퇴근할 준비를 하고 있네요. 지금 2시밖에 안 됐고 퇴근 시간은 6시간인데… (Yerin is already getting ready to leave work. It’s only 2 now, and we get off at 6…)
  • 아기가 아직도 태어나지 않았는데 벌써부터 유치원 신청을 하고 있어요? (The baby hasn’t been born yet, and you’re already registering for kindergartens?)
    • NOTE: This is actually pretty common in Korea! The best daycares and kindergartens have very long wait lists so parents try to get on the lists really early.

 

This should clear up any confusion you might have had about the usages of 이미, 벌써, and 벌써부터. Happy studying, everyone!