In conversation we often talk about other people. We also talk about what those other people have said to us or others. Telling to others what someone has said is called quotation. There a few ways to quote someone in Korean and the direct quotation is one of the ways to do it.

Direct Quotation

Quoting someone in Korean, be it by direct or indirect quotation, is a bit different from how you go about it in English. This is, of course, due to the Korean sentence structure. Korean sentences always have the verb as the last word. However, you will realize while it is a bit different, it isn’t that more difficult to wrap your head around.

We will start things easy with the Korean direct quotation. A direct quotation is in essence a word-for-word retelling of something someone said, wrote, thought, etc. The easiest way to notice them is the use of quotation marks. In English you have some flexibility how you can structure a sentence with a direct quotation, but in Korean you don’t have that freedom. The basic structure of a sentence with a direct quotation is: [Subject] “[quotation]” 하고/라고 [verb]. An example to illustrate:

예수님은 “서로 사랑하세요” 라고 말씀했어요.

The How To

The direct quotation is not that complicated as it will result in a sentence within a sentence. After you have established in your sentence who said what under what conditions you simply open the quotation marks. Then you simply write what the person said, wrote, thought, … after which you close your quotation marks. You follow that with either 하고 or 라고  and then action verbs such as to say, to speak, … Here are a few verbs you can use to quote people: 하다, 말하다, 이야기하다, 그러다, 물어보다, 생각하다, 부탁하다, 쓰다, 듣다, 쓰여 있다.

There are a few things though to keep in mind.

Too much 하다

하고 is derived from 하다, so the following remarks will probably not surprise you. It is common convention to avoid using 하고 하다 when the quoted text ends in a 하다 verb. So the following sentence would be awkward: 안톤 씨는 “내일 선생님을 전화하세요” 하고 했어요. A better version would be either: 안톤 씨는 “내일 선생님을 전화하세요” 라고 했어요. or  안톤 씨는 “내일 선생님을 전화하세요” 하고 말했어요.

Furthermore it is also common to avoid using just 하다 after 하고. So if you use 하고 , it is best to use not just simply 하다, but 말하다, 이야기하다, … instead. Again it is because it simply sounds to awkward: 친구는 “아홉 시에  민수 씨를 만났어요” 하고 했어요. Better would be 친구는 “아홉 시에  민수 씨를 만났어요” 라고 했어요. or 친구는 “아홉 시에  민수 씨를 만났어요” 하고 이야기했어요.

These conventions exist because it is too weird to have so much 하다 in rapid succession. These are conventions, however, so if you go against them you are technically not wrong, it simply makes it sound awkward.

하고 vs 라고

A natural question you’ll ask yourself is: “Is there a difference between using 하고 and 라고 when making direct quotations?” The answer is a simple yes, there is a slight difference in nuance you need to keep in mind. When you use 하고 you are not only citing the words, but it also conveys that you are using the original intonation, emotion or feeling of what you are quoting. It is often used when telling fairy tales when such things need to be conveyed. 라고 on the other hand, does not convey such details and is thus used more commonly in everyday speech.

Asking a Quote

Now that you can quote someone, you probably need to know how to ask what someone has said. You actually don’t ask this using 무엇. Instead you ought to use 뭐라고 to ask this such as: 민수 씨가 뭐라고 말했어요?

Quotation: Direct Quotation - An overview
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A short overview on direct quotation in Korean.