All Korean learners should be well aware of the many different levels of formality in the Korean language. There’s a big difference in how you say things depending on who you speak to or who you speak about. In fact, I have previously written a whole blog post about this particular Korean concept called 앞존법.

In simple terms there are two over-all levels called 반말 (intimate language) and 존댓말 (polite language). These two levels are furthermore subdivided into a number of more blurry levels of politeness. Nonetheless, a concept not really talked about in any textbooks is 혼잣말 (self-language). This is simply the language you speak to yourself – in your head or out loud – depending on your level of sanity. You will often see Korean dramas where the main persons speak to themselves as a way of conveying their thoughts to their audience. I personally find this super-awkward but it’s a perfect example of 혼잣말.

So, where’s the problem? Whenever I speak Korean and want to tell the other person in direct quotes what I have thought or said to myself, I accidentally always end up quoting myself using the respectful polite form of 존댓말. An example could be: “아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶어요”라고 생각했어요. While the correct term for directly quoting myself would be “아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶어”라고 생각했어요. This is naturally hilarious to Koreans, as no one would speak to themselves in formal language. After all, you should be fairly close with yourself and speaking in this way is pretty much along the lines of me thinking to myself in English “ah, Ms. Sofie what do you want to eat today?”

An obvious solution could be indirect quotes like 아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶다고 생각했어요, but I’d love to be able to do both indirect and direct quotes without constantly making Koreans around me laugh at my apparently far too elevated level of “self-respect”! Anyone else having this problem? Please share!



  1. Yup!!! I do this too!!! I’ve received my fair share of giggles… I think it’s because most learners are trying very hard not to offend anyone and therefore end up being polite even in situations where they ought to be casual.


  2. I literally just finished my italki session where we talked about this! I was doing the exact same thing while explaining my thoughts of wanting to ride a certain ride at Tivoli, and she started giggling.. I totally get why they find it funny, but it is surprisingly difficult to change the habit of being formal. Especially when it’s in the middle of an otherwise formal conversation. Ah.. Some day.. Some day I will remember ㅎㅎ

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  3. oh yea definitely do this. Then there’s also the whole world of posting something on social media…what should the endings be then? Am I talking to myself or speaking to the people who will read it? Or when it’s just a statement you’re making about something, don’t you end it with 다?

    btw, I’m sure you meant 떡. 😛

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  4. I use 요 way too much and I never use 입니까. I probably need to work on that a little. When I read the 딱 the first thought that popped into my head was 딱갈비 and my mouth started to water. 😋

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  5. I totally struggled with this too! Sometimes still do but I usually default to just saying the whole thought out like 그 개이크 봤는데 ‘이거 먹고 싶다~~’ *pause*라는 생각이 들었어요.

    Excellent post Sofie! I’m doing a little editing now on the interview video you did with Jonson and OMG you have improved SOOOO MUCH SO FAST! YOU ARE A MACHINE! So inspiring, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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