Speech Level: 해라체, the Plain Style

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As you know by now I’m planning to do a lot of reading in as part of my new strategy to improve my Korean. However, due to that I’ll be faced with a new type of Korean speech level, 해라체. 해라체, or simply the plain style, is a style most notably used in almost all written materials such as books, newspapers, magazines, etc. Let’s take a look at what 해라체.

Speech Levels

Korean culture is vastly different from European cultures and the difference doesn’t limit itself to some mannerisms. The difference is also omnipresent in its language. Politeness and formality are a big part of Korean culture. Every situation and every person needs to be approached correctly with the proper considerations. For the language it means different words and, in fact, different grammar to a certain part.

One of those aspects is represented by speech levels. You probably know 2 or 3 yourself. You probably call them something like formal, polite and casual language. That is true, but did you know those are, but a few of a far greater group of levels? As I said Korean has a proper way for each situation and that is especially true when it comes to speech levels. Depending the situation you will have to change your style completely.

One of such situation is writing. When writing it is often wise to put a distance between yourself and the text, which is best done by a third person narration. The problem with most speech level automatically makes the reader/listener feel like a first person narrative. Luckily there is a solution for that, the plain style or 해라체.

해라체, The Plain Style

해라체 or the plain style is speech level that is most often used in writing. This is because of its unique nature of not feeling as if the text stems from a personal view. Furthermore it is a formal style, that lacks any sense of politeness. Because of this you will often find this plain style in books, newspapers, magazines, etc; things where a sense of objectivity is important. However, that doesn’t mean people use this speech level outside the written form. You might hear 해라체 being used:

  • Between close friends or when talking to young children
  • In certain exclamations

Please note that even though letters are a written form of language, people generally do not use 해라체 for obvious reasons.

How To

Now that we know a bit more about this plain style or 해라체. It is important that we know use it ourselves. So let’s get cracking.

해라체 Present Tense (-다/ㄴ다/는다)

The first thing we’ll discuss is how to conjugate a verb or adjective in the present tense in 해라체. The conjugation isn’t that hard actually, but you need to get used to it. First you need to know whether the word you want to conjugate is either a verb or an adjective. This is important, because the conjugation differs in the present tense.

The first situation we’ll discuss is the conjugation of a verb in the plain style. For verb conjugation the final letter of a verb stem is important as the plain style present tense ending wholly depends on it. If the verb stems ends in a consonant (batchim) than the present tense verb ending is -는다. If the verb stem ends in a vowel the ending it ㄴ다. Let’s see a few examples:

Verb batchim example: 묵다 (To stay; To lodge): 묵 + 는다 = 묵는다

Verb no batchim example: 치다 (To hit): 치 + ㄴ다 = 친다

The second situation, adjectives, is a lot easier than verbs. For the conjugation of adjectives in the plain style present tense, you simply take verb stem and attach the verb end -다 to it. So in the end the dictionary form of the adjective is actually also the conjugated form of the plain style in the present tense. Let’s see an example:

Adjective example: 마르다 (To be dry): 마르 + 다 = 마르다

There is, however, one special case: adjectives having either 있다 and 없다. As you might have noticed quite a few adjectives actually incorporated both these verbs. These adjectives therefore behave a little different. Their plain style present tense ending is – 는다, not 다. An example:

있다/없다 adjective example: 맛있다 (To be delicious): 맛있 + 는다 = 맛있는다

With these rules you can pretty much put all verbs in their plain style present tense forms. Also do you know what the best part is of 해라체? In the present tense, no irregular verb acts up!

해라체, the Plain Style Present Tense: -다/ㄴ다/는다
Overview on 해라체, the plain style present Tense: -다/ㄴ다/는다

해라체 Past Tense (-었다/았다/했다)

Now that the present tense has been explained, it is time to go over the past tense. The plain style past tense, however, is a lot easier than the plain style in the present tense. First you won’t have to worry about whether a certain word is an actual verb or an adjective. Secondly, the rules are almost identical to the previous past tense rules we’ve already discussed.

The rules to conjugate any verb in the plain style past tense go as follows:

  1. If a verb stem contains either ㅏ or ㅗ, the verb ending you use is 았다.
  2. If the verb stem has neither ㅏ or ㅗ, the verb ending is 었다.
  3. All 하다 verbs’s verb ending is 했다.

As said, the plain style past tense conjugation rules are almost identical to the ones you are used to. Of course, because of that you will have to worry about irregular verbs acting up.

해라체, the Plain Style Past Tense: -었다/았다/했다
Overview on 해라체, the plain style past tense: -었다/았다/했다

해라체 Future Tense (-ㄹ 거다/을 거다)

Following the past is the conjugation rules of the plain style future tense. Like the past tense, the rules for the future tense in its 해라체 form are pretty similar to the future tense rules that we’ve already discussed. Like the past, you won’t have to worry about whether you are dealing with a verb or an adjective. The rules are the same for them.

The rules to conjugate any verb in the plain style future tense  go as follows:

  • If a verb ends in a vowel of ㄹ the verb ending used is  -ㄹ 거다.
  • If a verb ends in a consonant other than ㄹ the verb ending is -을 거다.

Again the rules are pretty similar to the already discussed rules so you won’t have a lot of difficulty getting this. However, you will have to worry about irregular verbs with these verb endings.

해라체, the Plain Style Future Tense: -ㄹ 거다/을 거다
An overview on 해라체, the plain style future tense: -ㄹ 거다/을 거다

Interrogative ending (-니)

The plain style present tense has little thing extra when it comes to questions. Like the common formal style, it has a special verb ending you use when asking questions (interrogative sentences). However, it is pretty easy to use. Regardless the verb, regardless the final letter of the verb stem or what vowel it contains; the interrogative plain form present tense ending is simply -니. It simply replaces the -다 of the all previous seen endings.

Present tense example: 먹다 (To eat): 먹 + 니 = 먹니?

Past tense example: 일하다 (To work): 일하 + 했니 = 일했니?

Future tense example: 사다 (To buy): 사 + ㄹ 거다 = 살 거니?

해라체 Imperative (-어라/아라/해라)

There is, however, one special conjugation that is part of 해라체.  In fact, this special conjugation is what gives the plain style its Korean name. The special conjugation is for an imperative, like the common -세요 and 지 마세요. The plain style imperative has three potential verb endings: -아라, -어라 or 해라. As you may notice, these verb endings adhere to the general 아/어 conjugation rule.

The rules to conjugate any verb in the plain style imperative go as follows:

  1. If a verb stem contains either ㅏ or ㅗ, the verb ending you use is -아라.
  2. If the verb stem contains neither ㅏ or ㅗ, the verb ending is -어라.
  3. All 하다 verbs’s verb ending is 해라.

Pretty easy, but you need to keep the irregular verbs in mind such as the irregular ㅡ verbs.

해라체, the Plain Style Imperative: -어라/아라/해라
Overview on 해라체, the plain style imperative: -어라/아라/해라

If you have any questions regarding 해라체, please let us know in the comments.


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June 6, 2017

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