Honorific Speech and Speech Levels in Korean

2010/06/05 Lapinski Korean

Koreans often speak and act with deference and respect to teachers, superiors, older relatives and elders.

When they are the subject of discussions, Koreans use honorific speech to show their respect by replacing nouns, verbs or adjectives with their honorific forms.

In addition, Koreans show respect to the person they talk to by choosing the appropriate speech level in their speech. There are as many as 7 speech levels in Korean. Each level shows a certain kind of formality and politeness.

The following 4 speech levels are important for non-native learners. Each speech level can be used with honorific speech or non-honorific speech.

Speech Level Non-Honorific Examples Honorific Examples Usage
Formal and Polite hamnida (합니다) hasimnida (하십니다) Used by TV broadcasters, and in business settings
Formal and Casual handa (한다) hasinda (하신다) Used in reported speech, and in written materials
Informal and Polite haeyo (해요) haseyo (하세요) Used to show politeness as well as social distance
Informal and Casual hada (해) hasyeo (하셔) Used between close friends and relatives, and to younger people

For example, when you are talking to your close friends about your teacher, you would use the verb hasyeo (honorific speech for showing respect to teachers, informal and casual speech level for talking to friends).

The Informal and Casual speech level is called banmal (반말). The other speech levels are called jondaenmal (존댓말).

Never use banmal (반말) to strangers.

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