Perhaps you noticed that the past tense, -았/었다, is a rather ambiguous tense at times. It merely expresses that something did occur in the past, but whether the result of that past action remains or not is left up to the listener’s imagination. Most of the time, this ambiguity is not a problem. However, at other times you might want to remove any ambiguity. For this, you can use the form -았/었었다, which is sometimes called the Korean past perfect tense.
Unlike the Korean past tense, -았/었다, the form -았/었었다 has a very specific meaning and therefore leaves no ambiguity. The form expresses that the action happened in the past. And, it also expresses that its outcome no longer continues in the present. Take for example you want to say you went to Korea a few years back, but you did not stay there. Then you can simply use this form and express all of that in one simple sentence. All in all, this is a quite nifty form. Although, due to its specific meaning, you will encounter it only sporadically.
가: 저 사람은 민수의 아버지인가요?
나: 맞아요. 옛날에 뚱뚱했었어요. 그세서 거의 알아보지 못했네요.
A: Is that Minsu’s father?
B: You’re right. In the past he was fat, so I could barely recognize him. (Minu’s father was fat, but now he is no longer fat)
How To You
The conjugation rules for the form -았/었었다 are highly similar to the Korean past tense, -았/었다, because in truth this form is nothing more than the past tense with an additional past tense marker -었. Therefore, if you’ve mastered the past tense in Korean, you can immediately use this Korean tense.
The rules for the form -았/었었다 goes as follows:
- -았었다: When the final syllable of the verb stem ends with or in either the vowel ㅏ or ㅗ, you use the ending -았었다. When the verb stem ends in a vowel, the form omits the 아 syllable, leaving just -았었다. Attention: When the verb stem ends in ㅗ, the vowel and the form -았요 combine and form -왔었다.
- -었었다: When the final syllable ends with or in any other vowel, you use -었었다. There are a few things to pay heed to:
- When the verb stem ends in ㅣ, the ㅣ and form -었었다 combine to form -였었다.
- When the verb stem ends in ㅜ, the ㅜ and form -었었다 combine to form -웠었다.
- If the verb stem ends in any other vowel than ㅣ and ㅜ, the 었 syllable of the form -었었다 is omitted, leaving just 다 behind
- 했었다: 하다 is always conjugated as 했었다.
- 였었다/이였었다: The unique present tense form of 이다. When a noun ends in a vowel (no batchim), you use 였다. But, when it ends in a consonant (batchim), you use 이였다.
The most important thing, though, is to not mix this form up with the English past perfect. This form has a singular use, it expresses that something happened in the past and its effect does not continue in the present.