Korean Language Blog

Most Common Mistakes by Native Koreans (Part 1) Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 in Korean Language

I once had to take a Korean language test for work. The test aimed to evaluate my grammar skills in written Korean. I did fine in Korean classes in school, so I blindly thought that I should pass the test. However, I failed the test. I was little embarrassed to tell anyone because I have been speaking Korean all my life even though I am not a professional linguist. As a purpose of taking a test is to help test-takers to learn, I learned a lot from the test. Since then, I try to write accurate Korean even when I text to friends.


Image by Pixabay


Believe or not, I sometimes use a dictionary to make sure my grammar is correct. Since spacing words incorrectly can change the meaning, my focus in checking grammar is to review spacing words.


  1. 한잔 vs 한 잔

Most Koreans I know enjoy drinking after work. It is common in Korea to grab a beer with co-workers after work and most Koreans find camaraderie from attending 회식(Hweo-sik: employee afterwork gathering/party). If you work with Koreans, one of your co-workers might ask you to have some drinks after work. They might ask you a phrase like “한잔 할래? (han-jan-hal-rae?: do you want to grab a drink?”) It is literally translated “do you want a cup of glass?”, which asks you if you want to have a couple of drinks with them.


Here ‘한잔’ can be used interchangeably with ‘한 잔’by most native Koreans. However, ‘한잔’ is a correct word when you ask someone to join drinking with you.


In fact, ‘한잔’ is one word and it is a noun. It literally means a small amount of beverage, especially alcohol or tea, but it is replaced as ‘drinking’. Therefore “한잔 할래?” is translated as “do you want to drink?



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  1. 마시다 vs 먹다

My husband, who is not a native Korean, often corrects me when I say “물 먹다.”(Mool-mok-dah: eat water) No one had ever pointed out this mistake until my husband did because many Koreans would use 먹다(mok-dah: to eat) interchangeably with 마시다(mah-si-dah: to drink). Especially, when referring to drinking water.

Although my husband is technically correct. 마시다 means to drink, not to eat. You drink water, not eat water. Therefore, I should say “ 물 마시다.(mool-mah-si-dah: drink water)”  Instead “물 먹다. (Mool-mok-dah: eat water)” I would never have noticed that I’ve been speaking incorrectly until this foreigner corrected me.


  1. 안 된다 vs 안된다

This is another common mistake related to spacing words. If you look it up a dictionary, ‘안 된다’ has many meanings, such as:

 should not (do), ought not to, shall notdon‘t, be forbidden/prohibited, be not allowed, be not supposed to, etc.


As you noticed, the underlying concept of ‘안 된다’ is ‘must not’ or ‘be not supposed to.  Let’s take examples:


  • 빨간불에 길을 건너면 안 된다. (Ppal-gahn-bul-eh-gil-eul-gun-nuh-myeon-ahn-doen-dah: you must not cross the street when the red light is on.)


  • 소화가 잘 안 된다. (so-hwa-ga-jaal-an-deon-dah: I can’t digest well.)


On the other hand, ‘안된다’ can be used in a couple of different situations. The first case is to describe when things/situations are not good. For example,


  • 경기가 안 좋아서 장사가 잘 안된다. (Gyung-gi-ga-anh-joe-ahh-seo-jang-sah-ga-jal-anh-doen-dah: business is bad because of bad economy.)


Secondly, 안된다 can be used when you describe how well someone’s child doing (at something). If child/children are not doing well/being successful (at something), you can use 안된다. As an example,


  • 자식이 안되기를 바라는 부모는 없다. (jah-sik-ee-anh-deo-ghi-lul-bah-rah-nun-boo-moh-nun-up-dah: there are no parents who wish bad things for their children.)


Learning from mistakes, whether it is yours or others’, is one of the most efficient ways to learn a foreign language. The good news is that you don’t need to worry about all these nitty-gritty Korean grammars because many Koreans may not even know they are making mistakes every day.




  • 회식(Hweo-sik: employee afterwork gathering/party)
  • 한잔 할래? (han-jan-hal-rae?: do you want to grab a beer/other alcohol?)


  • 물 먹다.”(Mool-mok-dah: eat water)


  • 물 마시다.(mool-mah-si-dah: drink water)
  • 빨간불에 길을 건너면 안 된다. (Ppal-gahn-bul-eh-gil-eul-gun-nuh-myeon-ahn-doen-dah: you must not cross the street when the red light is on.)

빨간불: red light

건너다: cross the street

  • 경기가 안 좋아서 장사가 잘 안된다. (Gyung-gi-ga-anh-joe-ahh-seo-jang-sah-ga-jal-anh-doen-dah: business is bad because of bad economy.)


장사: (personal) business

  • 소화가 잘 안 된다. (so-hwa-ga-jaal-an-deon-dah: I can’t digest well.)



  • 자식이 안되기를 바라는 부모는 없다. (jah-sik-ee-anh-deo-ghi-lul-bah-rah-nun-boo-moh-nun-up-dah: there are no parents who wish bad things for their children.)

자식: children





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About the Author: Flying Oyster

Hi, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. H.J.