What’s the Difference?? 또 vs. 다시

I feel like it’s been a while since I did a “What’s the difference??” post! Today we’re going to look at two different adverbs, 또 and 다시, that can seem really similar at first glance. In fact, they are interchangeable in some instances, but not always. How are they similar and how are they different?

As I just mentioned, 또 and 다시 are at times interchangeable:

 만나요! — Let’s meet again!

다시 만나요! — Let’s meet again!

또 and 다시 are both routinely translated as “again” in English, but their usages do not always coincide. How can we know what exactly is meant? For example:

 했어요. — [Subject] did it again.

다시 했어요. —  [Subject] did it again.

My brain (and the brains of native Korean speaking friends I asked for confirmation) automatically imagines two totally different contexts for the conversation that could precede someone saying either of those sentences! Let’s find out why that is.

Meanings

To understand the difference between these words beyond just a vague feeling that one is better suited for one situation than the other, diving into the Korean dictionary will help a lot. First, let’s see what Naver dictionary says about 또:

1. repeating some action

2. more beyond what has already been specified

3. in spite of

In this case, we want to focus on meaning 1, “repeating some action”. Now, let’s check the entry for 다시:

1. repeating something already done

2. in a manner of fixing one’s method or means and starting anew

3. continuing an action that one had stopped

Looking at 다시’s dictionary entry, now we can start to see the difference! 다시 focuses on the doing again or resuming of an action that completed in the past or was stopped partway through, or starting something over. In contrast, 또’s “again” is one of recurrence.

Application

Now we know what the dictionary says makes 또 and 다시 different, but let’s see what this means for sentences.

가을이  왔어요. (O) — Winter has come again.

가을이 다시 왔어요. (X)

The return of a season is something that recurs every year, so 또 is preferable here!

잘못된 부분을 삭제하고  썼어요. (X)

잘못된 부분을 삭제하고 다시 썼어요. (O)

In this case, we’re fixing something and starting anew, so we want the second definition of 다시.

수빈 씨는  전화했어요. (O)

수빈 씨는 다시 전화했어요. (O)

Now we’re hitting at the difference in nuance in the first examples of the post! Both of these sentences would be translated as “Subin called again,” but the nuance is different. Let’s say that the first sentence, with 또, is an exasperated “again.” We can feel that the speaker thinks that the frequency with which Subin calls is excessive, and they exclaim, “Subin called again.” On the other hand, the second sentence feels more like a statement of fact. Perhaps Subin tried to call a restaurant to make a reservation for her friends but nobody answered. She decided to wait a while. Later, one of the friend group asks another friend, “Did Subin call the restaurant again?” They would confirm that the completed action of calling was repeated, saying “Subin called again.”

Remember, 또 is for recurrence and 다시 is for doing something again or restarting something!

Happy studying~