What’s the difference??—Making choices in Korean

Hello, everyone! Back again with another “What’s the difference??” post. This time we’re going to look at choice words in Korean. This post is actually inspired by a question someone asked on Reddit about the difference between seven (seven!) decision/choice words. I answered the question very briefly, but now I’d like to look at the words in more detail. 결정하다, 정하다, 마음먹다, 결심하다, 고르다, 선택하다, and 취하다… what’s the difference? Let’s find out!

결정하다 (決定)

We can consider 결정하다 as a pretty standard word for “decide.” You can use this when you make pretty much any sort of decision.

내년에 일본 여행 가기로 결정했어요. (I decided to travel to Japan next year.)

대학교 가서 뭘 공부할지 결정했어요? (Have you decided what you’ll study at university?)

정하다 (定)

정하다 is not so much as “decide” as it is to “set” something, like guidelines, rules, a meeting time, or something like that.

동료들하고 의논해서 연수 날짜를 다음 주 금요일로 정했어요. (After consulting with my coworkers, we set the training date for next Friday.)

정해진 시간에 만나서 같이 출발합시다. (Let’s meet at the decided time and depart together.)

마음먹다

마음을 먹다 is a phrasal verb that is used to express making up one’s mind about something. There is a nuance of difficulty here, like the decision was not made lightly, or perhaps that you were hesitant or nervous beforehand and just decided to go for it.

태형 씨는 마음먹고 태국에 이사가기로 했어요. (Taehyung made up his mind and decided to move to Thailand.)

마음에 걸리는 할 일이 있으면 계속 끙끙 앓느니 차라리 마음 먹고 해버리는 게 낫다. (If there is something that you have to do weighing on your mind, it is better to just make a decision and do it than complain about it.)

결심하다 (決心)

결심하다 is similar to 결정하다 but has a stronger sense of conviction about it. It’s also similar to 마음먹다, but with less hesitation and more firmness. We could translate it in English as “to resolve, to determine.”

아이가 태어났을 때 유찬 씨는 가족을 위해 금연을 결심했고 이제 담배를 안 피운 지 거의 5년이 됐어요. (When his child was born, Yoochan resolved to quit smoking, and now it’s been almost five years since he last smoked.)

너무 오랫동안 마음에 안 드는 일을 하던 효정 씨는 더 좋은 직을을 찾기로 결심했다. (Hyojung, who had been doing work she hated for too long, set herself to finding a better job.)

고르다

고르다 means “to choose” or “to select.” You can use it when you pick something.

나는 아무거나 좋아서 네가 골라. (Anything is fine with me, so you choose.)

오늘 중요한 면접을 봐야 돼서 옷장에서 가장 예쁜 원피스를 골라 입었어요. (I have an important interview today so I chose the prettiest dress in my closet to wear.)

선택하다 (選擇)

선택하다 is very similar to 고르다, with the small difference that it sounds a bit more… academic? formal? I’m not saying it’s a particularly formal word, but it is approximately the Hanja equivalent of 고르다. It’s pretty normal for Hanja equivalents to sound a bit ~fancier~ than their native Korean counterparts.

옵션들 중에서 하나를 선택하세요. (Please select one of these options.)

돈을 아끼려고 더 저렴한 걸 샀는데 사용해 보니까 잘못 선택한 것 같아요. (I bought the cheaper one to save money, but having tried it out I think I chose wrong.)

취하다 (取)

Lastly, we have 취하다! This word means to choose in the sense of taking up or enacting something. For example, you can use this verb when you talk about enacting a policy, taking up a particular stance on something, and so on.

네오나치들은 백인 우월주의 자세를 취한다. (Neo-Nazis take a position of white supremacy.)

질환관리본부 바이러스의 확산을 막기 위해 급한 조치를 취했다. (The Center for Disease Control took emergency measures to stop the spread of the virus.)

With practice, you can make the right choice (haha) between these verbs every time!

Happy studying~