Cryptic title, huh? Well, since I started reading the TTMIK News articles I’ve encountered quite a few semi-advanced negative Korean words, so I’ve been meaning to dig into the matter of how to construct these negations in Korean. And what better way than writing a blog post about it? ^^

Most negations in English are simply constructed by adding “un-” or “not” before a word. E.g. interesting – uninteresting/not interesting. Many words originating from Latin, however, have different negation prefixes such as “im”(possible), “ir”(responsible), “in”decisive… Words derived from Greek often take “an” or “ana” as in anachronism.

Luckily, Korean (at least the Korean I have acquired so far) only have two sources of words; Sino-Korean derived from Chinese and native Korean. This also makes for a slightly simpler structure when it comes to adding negation prefixes. For the native Korean words, you can usually make a word or sentence into a negative by adding 못 or 안 meaning (roughly translated as cannot and is not, respectively). Ex. 못가요 (I can’t go) vs. 안 가요 (I’m not going).

But what about the Sino-Korean words? Here, the following Chinese-based prefixes come into play: 무, 부/불, 미, 비

In Hanja they are written as 無, 否/不, 未, and 非, respectively.

A few examples:

  • Expression/expressionless 표정/표정
  • Enough/insufficient 족하다/족하다
  • At peace/anxious 안한하다/안한하다
  • Complete/incomplete 완성/ 완성
  • Realistic/unrealistic 현실적/현실적

So, when to use which prefix? Just as in English it appears that there are no clear rules about this. I guess I just have to memorize the words, and hope that in time I will develop a sense of which of the prefixes sounds more natural in a given context. So far, just being able to realize that  a word starting with either of the above listed syllables is a negative is extremely helpful in my opinion.


    • Yes, learning Korean is a true challenge but at the same time extremely rewarding. Knowing just basic Korean was very helpful when I visited Seoul in December, and I cannot wait to go back and try out my “better-than-basic” skills ^^


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