How to know when to use Honorific in Korean

Did you know in Korean you speak differently to adults, strangers, or even your own parents as you get older?

For example, if I wanted to say, “I’m watching TV,” to my 12 year-old, I would say, “TV 보고 있어,” (tee-bee boh-goh iss-eo).

However, if my 12 year-old was talking to me, his mom, he would say, “TV 보고 있어요,” (tee-bee boh-goh iss-eo-yo).

The second version is the honorific. It is used in the home:

(1) if a pre-teen child or older child is speaking to a parent,

(2) if a child of any age or an adult is speaking to a grandparent,

(3) sometimes for older generations, if a younger spouse is speaking to an older spouse that is about five years or older, and

(4) if a parent is teaching a toddler to use honorific expressions.

How do parents teach toddlers the honorific expressions?

When a parent is teaching their toddler honorific expressions, the parent often refer to themself in the third person by replacing, “I,” 제가 (jeh-gah) or 저 (jeo) with 아빠 (ah-bbah), which means dad and 엄마 (eom-mah), which means mom. So, instead of saying, “I am replacing the batteries,” a mom would say, “Mom is replacing the batteries.”

Maybe you’ve even spoken this way in English or heard another parent talk about themself in the third person while talking to their child, so you can relate to this.

Here are a couple more examples of phrases you can use with your family and their honorific versions.

Don’t eat on the couch. 소파 위에서 먹으면 안 돼. (soh-pah wee-eh-seo meog-eu-myeon an dwae.)

Honorific: 소파 위에서 먹으면 안 돼요. (soh-pah wee-eh-seo meog-eu-myeon an dwae-yo.)

Did you move the clothes to the dryer?옷 빨래 건조기로 옮겼어?(ot bbal-lae geon-joh-gee-loh om-gyeoss-eo?)

Honorific: 옷 빨래 건조기로 옮겼어요? (ot bbal-lae geon-joh-gee-loh om-gyeoss-eo-yo?)

What would you like to eat? 뭐 먹고 싶어? (mweo meog-goh seep-eo?)

Honorific. 뭐 먹고 싶으세요? (mweo meog-goh seep-eu-seh-yo?)

If you’d like to see thousands of examples and easily talk with your family in Korean as well as use the honorific, I highly recommend starting the TalkBox.Mom Korean Program! You’ll hear your whole family using Korean together the same day you start.

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