If you’ve listen to K-pop for a while now, then I’m sure you will recognise some words seem to pop up in lots of songs. Here’s a short list of some of the words I think you should know.
This is one that can and has caused plenty of controversy, because it sounds like a derogatory word in English. Calm down, people, it isn’t! 니가 (ni-ga) means “you”. When written down, the official spelling should actually be 네가 (ne-ga) and it is often pronounced this way. However, you may be able to see a problem if you do actually pronounce it as ne-ga, because this is identical to the pronunciation of 내가 (nae-ga), which means “I”.
So simply put, in order to differentiate between “you” and “I”, 네가 is commonly spoken and written as 니가. All clear now?
Koreans actually try to avoid directly using the word “you” in Korean, because they find it not be that respectful. In fact, it is only ever used to those younger than you and when directed at children. Some more poetic words for “you” found in songs, especially ballads, are 그대 (keu-dae) or 당신 (tang-shin).
This one is often translated to “I miss you.” The word is a combination of 보다 meaning “to see”, and the ending – 고 싶다, which means “to want to do something”. So literally, 보고 싶다 means “to want to see (someone/something)”, and it still can be used that way. For example, 그 영화를 보고 싶다 means “I want to see that movie”, and clearly not “I miss that movie.”
But normally in the context of a song, and without a specific object attached to it, it probably is referring to a person, and is better translated as “I miss you”. You might hear this word in other forms such as 보고싶어(요).
But as is the case for love songs, here are other words to look out for to do with feelings:
아프다 / 아파(요) – to hurt, feel hurt (this is often pronounced as 아퍼)
그립다 / 그리워(요) – to miss (a more specific word for “missing” in Korean)
고맙다 / 고마워(요) – to be thankful (less formal version of 감사합니다)
헤어지다 / 헤어지자 – to split up / let’s split up
This word (yeongwonhi) means “forever”. There are lots of phrases to do with time that will come up again and again in songs. Similar to 영원히, we have 여전히, 항상, 늘, 계속, 귾임없이… all with meanings along the line of always, everlasting, continually, never-ending…
You may come across many other time phrases, like 매일 (every day) and 하루 (day).
Some interesting uses of these words are:
매일매일 – every day. You can say 매일 twice in a row, but to be honest it doesn’t really change the meaning, and is just for adding slight emphasis.
매일 아침 – every morning. Combine it times of day, e.g. 매일 1시에 점심 먹으러 가요. Every day at 1pm I go out to eat lunch.
하루종일 – all day. Adding 종일 gives the meaning of “throughout”.
하루하루 – day by day, day after day, from one day to the next, get my drift?
The translation for 어떻게 is usually the interrogative, “how…?” It is always followed by a verb and gives the meaning of “by what means/ how”.
However, this shouldn’t be confused with 어떡해, which is a verb in its own right (coming from 어떡하다). This is roughly means, “oh no! / what (am I supposed) to do?” This is used more as an exclamation. Check out this example conversation:
어떡하지? 나 열쇠 잃어버렸어… Uh oh, I lost my key…
어떡해! Oh no… what are you going to do…
집에 어떻게 들어가지? How will I get in the house?
There are many other important question words you should be aware of:
왜 – why
뭐 / 무엇 – what
언제 – when
무슨 – which
누구 – who
어디 – where
There are many other words you probably know like 사랑해요 that you will often hear in Korean songs. It’s hard to limit it to a set list of words. I hope this post will be helpful in understanding some more of the common words you might hear not just in songs but in regular Korean conversations.
See you next week!