Korean in Real life: 네(요)

Korean in Real life: 네(요)

The next topic in my “Korean in Real Life” series is the sentence ending 네 or 네요.

You may know 네 as the most commonly heard word in the Korean language, or in any language for that matter. 네 in Korean means yes. But this is not what I’m going to talk about today. This is a different 네.

The function of this grammatical principle is to express surprise/admiration at something. I haven’t seen this explained in any of the textbooks I’ve used, but I’ve done my research and now hear it so often on a daily basis that I have a pretty solid understanding of when to use it.


Example #1

My third graders recently took their speaking tests and when we finished with some extra time I told them we could play a very common American classroom game. 4 Corners.

The true object of this game has nothing to do with rewarding the students but is of course that it gives the teacher a few precious moments of silence as the kids tiptoe from corner to corner.

Anyway usually when I explain this game to students they fail to see why on earth that would actually be fun. And to be fair why on earth 4 corners is actually fun still eludes me, but it is in fact, universally fun. Once we start playing they get more and more into it until it’s no longer a quite game but a game of trying to fake out the person in the middle with random noises.

One of my boys after a few rounds said to himself, “우와 재미있네!”

The literal translation of that is, “Wow, it’s fun!”

But what Korean has that English doesn’t directly seem to have are grammatical principles (in this case a sentence ending) that conveys a nuance of feeling. Here that feeling is surprise.

So while literally it translates as, “Wow, it’s fun!” a more accurate nuanced translation would be something like, “Oh I didn’t expect it to be fun!” or  “Oh! It’s actually fun!” Something along those lines to express the feeling of surprise.


Example #2

Example number two is also brought to you by 4 corners and my lovely third graders. This time it was said by the boy in the middle.

The players had all been making an effort to lead him to believe there were a bunch of students in one corner. So once everyone had chosen their corners he opened his eyes, saw that no one was there, and said, “없네!?”

Again literal translation is, “There’s no one!” (Even more literally “There exists nothing.”)

But the more nuanced feeling it gives is closer to, “Oh wait, no ones there!” or “What?! There’s no one!” or “I thought there would be people!”


Example #3

My co-teacher who sits at the desk across from me teaches in a separate English room frequently and so often before class there are some students lingering around her desk waiting to get the key so they can go open the door to the classroom.

But if she ever happens to be out of the room when they come, they often just look around helplessly or the brave ones ask me in English where she went. To which I never know the answer.

Anyway, as I’m writing this a student walked into the office, peeked past my desk, noticed that my co-teacher wasn’t there and said, “안 계시네?”

If you’ve studied Korean at all you probably know that there is a lot of meaning going on in just this little phrase. It’s in honorifics, using the formal version of 있다, but spoken informally. So without even knowing the situation you can know that it was a younger person speaking about an older person to person of equal or lower social rank. Or in this case it was a student saying it to herself.

The point for us today though is that she used 네 because she was surprised that my co-teacher was not at her desk. She thought that she would be, but it turned out she wasn’t.


Example #4

This is my last example. So if you’ve studied Korean for a while and you aren’t currently living in Korea, you may have run into the same problem that I did. Lack of actual real life practice with the language. When you get to the point when you can start putting sentences together you want to be able to practice that with real people, but if you live outside of Korea that can be hard.

This is when many people find the app Hello Talk. This app is for getting people who study each others languages in touch with each other so that they can practice through texting or calling. It even has a news feed type page where you can make posts similar to Instagram and Facebook and then people can correct your grammar or language mistakes.

Anyway, I’ve spent a loooooot of time on this app. It’s had its shining moments, I’ve met one really good friend who I meet up with regularly, but it also has its quirks. Namely dudes trying to meet foreign girls. But they’re easy enough to avoid.

Anyway, all of that is background info. So many times, I might even say usually, if I message someone first and say anything from just hello to a proper introduction of myself and my Korean studies, the person will reply with, “오 한국말 잘 하시네요?!”

Again this is spoken in honorifics but the important point is the 네요. Using 네요 shows that they are surprised and impressed at your level of Korean. 네요 can also be used to express when someone is impressed at something.

I remember when I first started using that application and wondering why every sentence seemed to end differently than the basic sentence structure I was taught. It turned out that the Koreans I spoke to were using these kind of feeling nuisance particles, because it’s more natural and often more polite, that I just hadn’t learned yet.


Anyway, as always to my Korean speakers out there, if anything here sounds funny or wrong please let me know! These are just my personal accounts of interacting with the language that I’m learning so this is how I remember them best! Thanks for reading, I hope this finds you well!

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