The many faces of 되다

되다 is one of the most useful, and perhaps most confusing, verbs you will encounter while learning Korean. If you were to ask me what it means, my fast-and-easy answer would be “to become.” However, it serves a lot of purposes in a lot of different contexts. Today, we’ll look at some of the most common of its usages.

To become

As I already mentioned, “to become” is my fast answer for whenever someone asks me what 되다 means. Let’s look at some simple examples:

  • 호인 씨는 아빠가 됐어요. (Hoin became a father.)
  • 이렇게 쓰면 괜찮은데 그렇게 쓰면 틀린 말이 돼요. (If you write it like this it’s okay, but if you write it like that it’s bad [lit: it becomes incorrect words].)
  • 그는 제가 써준 편지가 힘이 됐다고 해요. (He says that the letters I wrote gave him strength [lit. became strength].)

Passage of time

되다 is also often used when one wants to refer to how much time has passed. This usage often occurs with the grammar -(으)ㄴ 지, which can be translated as “since.”

  • 입대한 지 2개월이 됐어요. (It has been two months since he enlisted.)
  • 아침을 먹은 지 1 시간도 안 됐는데 배가 고프네요. (It’s only been an hour since I ate breakfast but I’m hungry.)

“Leave it!”

Sometimes when you’re annoyed, you just want to tell someone that you’re done with the conversation or that you want them to leave you alone. You can accomplish this with a single exclamation:

“됐어!”

Let’s look at it in some context:

A: 다니 씨가 어제 입은 빨간색 원피스가 엄청 예뻤어. (The red dress that Dani wore yesterday was really pretty.)

B: 파란색이었는데? (It was blue, though?)

A: 아니, 빨간색이었어. (No, it was red.)

B: 빨간색 원피스는 경하 씨가 입었잖아! (Kyeongha wore the red dress!)

A: 아, 됐어, 색깔이 그렇게 중요하냐? (Oh, leave it, is the color that important?)

Permission

If you want to ask permission—or deny permission!—되다 is there for you! In this case, it is paired up with -아/어도 or -(으)면 (even if). When -아/어도 or -(으)면  is followed by 되다, it takes on the meaning of, “Is it okay if…?” when presented as a question or as granting permission when presented as a statement. Adding negation to 되다 will turn that granting of permission into refusal. Also, you can simply use “돼요” and “안 돼요” for the same meaning.

  • 내 핸드폰을 맘대로 가져가 사용하면 안 돼. (You can’t take my phone as you please and use it.)
  • 저 컴퓨터를 사용해도 돼요. (You can use that computer over there.)

A: 이 케이크를 먹어도 돼요? (Is it okay if I eat this cake?)

B: 안 돼요. (No [It’s not okay].)

Disbelief

Imagine an action movie, the lead hero and and his or her sidekick fighting together, when suddenly the sidekick is seriously injured! The hero cries out “No!” in disbelief and rushes to the sidekick’s side. That “No!” can be translated in Korean to “안 돼(요)!” This usage is fairly limited to negative situations.

Acceptability judgments

Sometimes you need to decide if something is up to a certain standard, or if something is suitable for a certain purpose. In this case, you can use 되다 to pass judgments on something:

  • 이 채소는 안 돼요. 가장 신선한 것만 사용해요. (These vegetables are no good. Let’s used only the freshest ones.)

A: 음식을 충분히 준비했어요? (Have you prepared enough food?)

B: 이 정도면 될 것 같아요. (It seems like this much will be fine.)

Completion

Finally, 되다 can be used to express completion! Suppose a friend asks you if you’re done with your part of a group project. You can show them your finished portion and tell them, “다 됐어!”

A: 준비할 게 아직도 있어요? (Is there anything else to prepare?)

B: 아뇨, 준비가 다 됐어요. (No, the preparations are all complete.)

A: 오븐 안에 있는 쿠키를 좀 확인해 줘. (Please check the cookies in the oven.)

B: 아, 다 됐네. (Oh, they’re all done.)

 

As always, happy studying~