I’ve just finished the last episode of The Princess’s Man (공주의 남자) and I’m so happy that I stuck to this one all through the end. I’ve never allowed myself to really give in to the temptation of Korean historical dramas until now, for fear of learning anything but contemporary Korean. However, with plenty of contemporary Korean in my life, I thought it was about time that I gave in and enjoyed an enticing story filled with beautiful hanbok-clad people.

I instantly fell in love with this drama. I liked the story, the scenery, the music, the characters, the romance, the revenge. All so much more passionate than contemporary dramas, since everything seemed to be a matter of life and death.

I also took a shine to learning a bit of sageuk speech (sageuk, or 사극 means historical drama in Korean). Among the many new words I encountered are:

송구하다 I’m sorry
나으리 Sir (I actually knew this one, but I really like this word)
미끼 Bait
부마 Prince consort
스승님 Teacher
양위 Abdicate
유배 Exile
전하 Majesty
일거양득 Hit to birds with one stone, similar to 일석이조
가혹하다 Brutal
사약을 내리다 Sentence to death by poison
홑몸도 아닌데 Being pregnant
지아비/서방/낭군 Husband

I obviously knew many of these words in modern Korean, but it was so interesting to learn what they are called in 옛말 or archaic Korean. I also found it so amusing that the writers had also managed to include a few girls who would do just about anything to get their favorite 오빠’s attention. The only difference seemed to be that in sageuks, your older male friend is not called 오빠 (stretching the last syllable is optional) but 오라버니. Nonetheless, the frequent use of this word to get what you want from him, even if only attention, seems to have survived from the Joseon dynasty and into modern day Korea. Well, some things never change.

I also noticed that the sentence endings were different from modern day Korean. For one thing, I heard the -네, -게, -세, -구먼, -구려, -마 endings a lot when the characters were speaking informally, and even when people were speaking in formal language, everything sounded different from what I’m used to.

Syllables in sentences were pronounced more clearly like e.g. 곧 갈 터이니 instead of 곧 갈 테니. Polite speech also did not take the ending -요 or -ㅂ니다 like in modern speech style. It would be 가오 instead of 가요 or 가옵니다 instead of 갑니다. I actually got used to this a lot faster than I had expected. I also discovered that the last two chapters in “Korean Grammar in Use, Advanced” actually deal with precisely this type of old Korean. One exercise even makes you rewrite the dialogue of two people wearing T-shirt and jeans into the dialogue of the same people wearing hanboks. Needless to say, I loved working through this chapter.

I’ve added two videos with some of the traditional Korean instrumental music from the soundtrack. The first one is a very happy tune, and the second one is perfect for two minutes of quiet meditation. Enjoy!


  1. I just recently started watching 마녀보감. Everyone just looks absolutely stunning and I’m really excited to see more! Though, I must admit that it takes my full attention to keep up with the language and story line.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s