Lesson 45: One can/cannot – ~ㄹ/을 수 있다/없다

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Vocabulary
Introduction

I can do: ~ㄹ/을 수 있다
I can’t do: ~ㄹ/을 수 없다
Adding particles to 수

 

Vocabulary

Click on the English word to see information and examples of that word in use. You might not be able to understand all of the grammar within the example sentences, but most of the grammar used will be introduced by the end of Unit 2. Use these sentences to give yourself a feel for how each word can be used, and maybe even to expose yourself to the grammar that you will be learning shortly.

A PDF file neatly presenting these words and extra information can be found here.

Nouns:
정장 = a suit

Notes: Another way to refer to a suit is a “양복.”

Common Usages:
정장 차림으로 = wearing a suit
정장을 맞추다 = to get a suit tailored

Examples:
살이 많이 빠져서 지금 정장을 편히 입을 수 있어요
= I can wear a suit comfortably now because I lost a lot of weight

오늘 정장을 맞추기 위해 퇴근을 조금 일찍 해야 해요
= I have to leave work a little bit early today to get a suit tailored

기한 = time limit, deadline

Common Usages:
유통기한 = expiration date
기한을 지키다 = to meet a deadline
기한을 맞추다 = to meet a deadline

Examples:
그 일을 다 마치더라도 이미 기한이 지났어요
= Even if I finish all of that work, the deadline is already passed

우유를 살 때 유통기한을 꼭 확인하세요
= Make sure you check the expiration date when you buy milk

이 프로젝트를 기한 내에 끝내지 못하면 모든 노력이 헛수고가 돼요
= If you don’t finish this project within the deadline, all your work will be for nothing (“in vain”)

윤리 = ethics/morals

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “율리”

Common Usages:
윤리적으로 = ethically
윤리적인 문제 = ethical problem

Examples:
선생님이 원하시면 윤리 교과 과정을 바꿀 수 있어요
= If you want, you can change the ethics curriculum

윤리를 아이들에게 어렸을 때부터 교육하는 것이 중요해요
= It is important to educate kids about ethics from when they are young

온몸 = entire body

Common Usages:
온몸이 아프다 = for one’s entire body to be sore
온몸이 쑤시다 = for one’s entire body to be sore (“쑤시다” is an old fashioned way to say this)

Examples:
이 로션을 온몸에 바를 수 있어요 = You can apply this lotion all over your body

어제 음식을 잘 못 먹고 온몸에 두드러기가 나서 응급실에 갔어요
= I ate something fishy yesterday, and a rash came up all over my body so I went to the emergency room

이번 독감은 매우 독해서 독감에 걸리면 온몸이 아프니 더욱 감기를 조심하시길 바랍니다
= The flu this time is very strong, so if you catch the flu, your body will become very sick, so be careful of catching a cold

= poison

Common Usages:
식중독 = food poisoning
독약 = poison usually made for the purpose of killing somebody
맹독 = powerful poison (often from snakes “venom”)
해독제 = antidote

Examples:
이 독을 마시면 치료할 수 없어요 = If you drink this poison, you cannot cure/treat it

이 뱀은 맹독이 있으므로 물리면 바로 병원에 가서 치료를 받아야 합니다
= This snake has venom, so if you get bit, you should go to the hospital immediately and receive treatment

옛날에는 큰 죄를 저지른 사람에게는 벌로써 독약이 담긴 음식을 먹게 했어요
= A long time ago when people committed a serious crime, as punishment they used to make them eat poisonous food

인권 = human rights

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “인꿘”

Common Usages:
인권운동 = the exercising of human rights (“human rights movement”)
인권운동가 = human rights activist
인권보호 = the protection of human rights
여성인권 = women’s rights

Examples:
이번 선거로 인권 문제를 해결할 수 있어요
= We can solve the problem of human rights through this election

저는 미래에 인권보호를 위한 인권운동단체를 설립하고 싶습니다
= In the future, I want to establish an organization for the protection of human rights

세상에는 아직도 여성의 인권이 매우 낮은 곳이 많습니다
= There are still many places in the words where women’s rights are low

교과 과정 = curriculum

Examples:
선생님이 원하시면 윤리 교과 과정을 바꿀 수 있어요
= If you want, you can change the ethics curriculum

몇 년 주기로 한국에서는 더 나은 교육을 위해 교과 과정이 변경돼요
= Every few years in Korea, the curriculum changes to provide a better education

지점 = a point when it refers to a place

Common Usages:
중간지점 = halfway point

Examples:
저는 그 지점에서 만날 수 있어요 = I can meet at that point
중간지점이나 학교 근처에서 만나는 게 어때요? = How about meeting half-way or at school?
저는 친구들과 약속 장소를 정할 때 항상 중간 지점에서 만나요 = When I decide on a place to meet with friends, we always meet in the middle

선거 = election

Common Usages:
선거운동 = campaigning for an election
선거에서 투표하다 = to vote in an election

Examples:
선거에서 투표를 해야 돼요 = I/you need to vote in the election
이번 선거로 인권 문제를 해결할 수 있어요 = We can solve the problem of human rights through this election

기한이 이미 지나서 선거를 실시할 수 없어요
= You can’t hold an election because the time limit has already passed

돈을 주고 받는 선고운동은 불법이므로 꼭 경찰에 신고해야 합니다
= Exchanging money during an election campaign is illegal, so please report it

세탁 = laundry

Notes: The word 빨래 can also be used

Common Usages:
세탁기 = laundry machine
세탁기를 돌리다 = to turn on, use a washing machine
손 세탁 = hand wash

Examples:
저는 세탁을 집에서 할 수 있어요 = I can do laundry at home
저는 밤에 세탁기를 돌렸어요 = I ran my laundry machine at night
옷감의 종류에 따라 세탁의 방법이 달라지니 세탁을 할 때 주의하세요 = Depending on the type of material the way to launder clothes can be different, so when doing laundry, pay attention

첫눈 = first sight

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “천눈”

Common Usages:
첫눈에 사랑에 빠지다 = to fall in love at first side
첫눈에 반하다 = to fall in love at first sight

Examples:
저는 제 여자친구를 보자마자 너무 아름다워서 첫눈에 반했어요
= As soon as I saw my girlfriend, she is/(was) so beautiful so I fell in love with her at first sight

카페에서 첫눈에 초등학교 친구를 알아보고 반가워 인사를 했어요
= In the coffee shop, I recognized an old elementary school the first time I saw him, and I was happy to see him so I said “hi”

장기 = a long time period

Common Usages:
장기임대 = long term lease/rental
장기계약 = long term contract
장기휴가 = long term vacation

Examples:
장기임대를 할수록 이곳의 임대료가 싸져요
= The longer you rent this place, the lower the rental fee is

그런 일을 하면 장기 휴가를 갈 수 없어요
= If you do that kind of work/job, you can’t go on any long/extended holidays

이 회사에서 일하려면 2년이상의 장기계약을 해야 하므로 신중히 고려해 주세요
= If you want to work at this company, you need to sign a long term contract over two years, so please think about it carefully

단기 = a short time period

Common Usages:
단기임대 = short term lease/rental
단기계약 = short term contract
단기휴가 = short term vacation

Examples:
이 집을 단기로 계약해서 이사 왔기 때문에 곧 다른 집을 찾아봐야 해요
= We moved into this place on a short term lease, so we soon need to go out and find another place

단기다이어트계획으로 우선 하루에 1시간씩 걸어서 출퇴근할 거예요
= My short term diet plans are first to walk to and from work for an hour every day

Verbs:
자습하다 = to teach oneself

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “자스파다”

Common Usages:
자습실 = self-study room
자습시간 = self-study time

Examples:
여기서 자습할 수 있어요? = Are you able to (self-)study here?
그런 시끄러운 방에서 저는 자습할 수 없어요 = I can’t (self)-study in such a loud room
우리가 내일 자습이나 복습을 할 거예요 = Tomorrow we will do self-study or review
한국의 몇몇 고등학교에서는 의무적으로 학생들이 수업 후 자습을 해요 = In some Korean schools, it is obligatory for students to self-study after school/classes

생기다= to occur, to come up, to arise

Common Usages:
힘이 생기다 = for power, energy to come up
일이 생기다 = for some task, thing to come up
문제가 생기다 = for a problem to come up
돈이 생기다 = to get money (for money to come up)
건물/식당/회사가 생기다 = for a building/restaurant/business to open up/pop up

Examples:
시급한 일이 생겨서 지금 나갈 수 없어요 = Something urgent came up, so I can’t go out
그 일을 진행하면서 문제가 많이 생겼어요 = While doing that job, many problems came up
그렇게 하면 문제가 생길 것처럼 보여요 = It looks like a problem will come up if we do it like that

오늘은 어제 좋은 꿈을 꿔서 좋은 일이 생길 것 같아요
= Yesterday I had a good dream, so today something good will probably happen

10키로 마라톤을 뛰어 보니까 모든 것을 할 수 있다는 자신감이 생겼다
= Now that I have tried/attempted running a 10km race, I have the confidence to do everything

지금 환경을 보존하지 않으면 미래에 더 큰 문제가 생길 것 같아요
= If we don’t preserve the environment now, there will probably be bigger problems in the future

미끄러지다 = to slip

Notes: This is the verb form of the adjective 미끄럽다 (to be slippery)

Examples:
겨울철에 눈이 많이 내리면 차가 도로에서 많이 미끄러져서 사고가 나요
= In the winter, when it snows a lot, cars slip on the roads and there are a lot of accidents

저희 엄마는 어제 길에서 미끄러져서 병원에 입원했어요
= Yesterday our mom slipped on the road and went to the hospital

비키다 = to step aside, to step away

Common Usages:
비켜주다 = to step aside for someone
비켜서다 = to step aside
자리를 비키다 = to give room/space/a seat

Examples:
모두가 화면을 볼 수 있도록 조금 비켜 주세요
= Please move a little bit so that everybody can see the screen

영화관에서 제 자리에 이미 앉아 있는 사람이 있어서 자리를 비켜 달라고 요청했어요
= In the movie theater, there was already somebody sitting in my seat, so I asked him to move

참고하다 = to refer to, to consult

Common Usages:
자료를 참고하다 = to refer to material

Examples:
이 자료를 참고해서 열 장짜리 에세이를 써서 2주 안에 제출해야 해요
= Refer to this material, write a ten-paged essay and submit it within two weeks

저는 주로 책을 참고해서 집안을 꾸미는 것을 좋아해요
= I usually/mostly like to decorate my house by looking at/referring to books

바르다 = to apply or spread a liquid

Common Usages:
로션을 바르다 = to apply lotion
데오드란트를 바르다 = to put on deodorant
자외선 차단제(UV blocker)/선크림을 바르다 = to apply sun cream

Examples:
로션을 얼굴에도 발라 야 돼요 = You should also put lotion on your face
손이 부드럽지 않아서 로션을 발랐어요 = I put lotion on my hands because they weren’t soft

화장품을 바를 때 올바른 순서로 제품을 바르는 것은 매우 중요해요
= It is very important that you apply makeup products in the right order

어제 해변에 가서 로션을 많이 발랐는데 피부가 탔어요
= I went to the beach yesterday, and even though I put on a lot of lotion, I got a sun burn

피부를 보호하기 위해 여름에는 자외선 차단제를 발라 야 돼요
= In order to protect your skin, you need to apply sun screen in the summer

저는 아침마다 빵에다가 땅콩버터를 발라서 먹어요
= Every morning, on bread, I put peanut butter on it and eat

샤워를 하고 로션을 바르고 화장을 했다. 오늘은 특별히 내가 아끼는 립스틱을 발랐다
= After showering, I put lotion and makeup on. I also put on the special lipstick that I was saving

Passive Verbs:
고립되다 = to be isolated

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “고립뙤다”

Examples:
이 섬은 육지에서 멀리 떨어진 고립된 섬이에요 = This island is an island isolated far from land
그 아이는 세상에서 고립된 채로 10년간 살아왔어요 = That child lived isolated from the world for ten years

Adjectives:
미끄럽다 = to be slippery

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “미끄럽따”

Common Usages:
길이 미끄럽다 = for a street to be slippery
바위가 미끄럽다 = for a rock to be slippery

Examples:
길이 미끄러워서 저는 넘어졌어요 = I fell over because the road is slippery
낙엽 때문에 산길이 미끄러워요 = The (mountain) path is slippery because of the fallen leaves
바위는 매우 미끄러우니 지나갈 때 주의하세요 = The rocks are very slippery, so when you go by, be careful

시급하다 = to be urgent

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “시그파다”

Common Usages:
도입이 시급하다 = to introduce (into the market or society) urgently/quickly
시급히 = immediately, urgently
시급한 문제 = an urgent problem

Examples:
시급한 일이 생겨서 지금 나갈 수 없어요 = Something urgent came up, so I can’t go out
이 정책은 한국에 매우 필요하므로 국내 도입이 시급합니다 = Korea needs this policy a lot, so the introduction of it in the country is urgent

동일하다 = to be the same as, to be identical to

Examples:
일란성 쌍둥이들은 생김새가 동일해요 = The appearance of identical twins is the same
두 제품을 비교해 본 결과 같은 원료로 만들어졌기 때문에 동일하다고 할 수 있어요 = With the results of (trying to) compare the two products, they are made from the same material, so you can think of them as the same

Adverbs and Other Words:
술술 = smoothly

Examples:
어제 컨디션이 좋아서 어려운 수학문제가 술술 풀렸어요
= Yesterday, my body condition was good so I could easily/smoothly solve math problems

며칠 동안 잘 풀리지 않던 일이 오늘 갑자기 술술 해결됐어요
= The problem/work that we couldn’t fix for a few days was smoothly resolved suddenly today

= etc…

Notes: This sounds ridiculous, but 등 can be used to have seemingly opposite meanings.

More commonly, it can be added after a list to indicate that there are more examples that can be added to that list. This can typically be translated to “etc…” For example:

서울, 부산, 제주도 등 한국에서는 관광을 할 수 있는 많은 지역이 있어요
= There are many places you can travel/tour in Korea, like Seoul, Busan, Jeju, and etc…

계절이 바뀌면서 겨울잠바, 신발 등 사야 할 게 많아요
= When the season changes, there are many things you need to buy, like a winter jumper, shoes, etc…

It can also be added after a list to indicate that the examples on a list are limited to those already mentioned. For example:

저는 2주 동안 대만, 태국, 베트남 등 세 개국을 여행할 거예요 = I will travel to three places during the next two weeks; Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam

The context usually makes it clear which is being used. For example, in the second usage, there is usually some specific indication of the amount of things that are being acted on. As you can see in the example above, the use of “세 개국” indicates that “three countries” will be traveled.

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.

 

 

Introduction

In this lesson, you will learn about the noun “수” in Korean. With this, you will learn how to say “I can” and “I can’t” with the constructions ~ㄹ/을 수 있다 and ~ㄹ/을 수 없다. Let’s get started.

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One can do: ~ㄹ/을 수 있다

By adding ~ㄹ/을 수 있다 to the end of a clause/sentence, you can create the meaning of “one can….”.

“수” is what I like to call a ‘pseudo-noun.’ You have already learned a few of these pseudo-nouns in other lessons. For example in Lesson 30 you learned about “지” and how it can be used in sentences like this:

제가 한국에서 산 지 2년 됐어요 = I have been living in Korea for 2 years

In Lesson 32, you learned about “적” and how it can be used in sentences like this:

김치를 먹은 적이 없어요 = I have never eaten kimchi

In both of the sentences above, the pseudo-noun follows a descriptive word, and thus, must be a noun. However, these ‘pseudo-nouns’ cannot be placed anywhere but these specific locations, and therefore, are not true nouns. ‘수’ in ‘~ㄹ 수 있다’ is also a pseudo-noun. If you look up “수” in the dictionary, the definition will be something similar to “ability” or “capability” but it is not used as a stand-alone noun. Like “지” and “적,” it needs to be described by something.

If we describe “수” with the verb “to study” (공부하다), we can get:

공부할 수: the ability to study

You can now finish the construction by placing “있다” or “없다” after 수 to indicate that one “has” or “does not have” the ability to study. For example:

공부할 수 있다 = I have the ability to study
공부할 수 없다 = I do not have the ability to study

The translations of “one can” and “one cannot” are usually used in these types of sentences. For example:

공부할 수 있다 = I can study
공부할 수 없다 = I can’t study

Below are many more examples that express that something “can” be done using ~ㄹ/을 수 있다:

저도 그것을 할 수 있어요 = I can do that too
저는 그 지점에서 만날 수 있어요 = I can meet at that point
이 로션을 온몸에 바를 수 있어요 = You can apply this lotion all over your body
저는 세탁을 집에서 할 수 있어요 = I can do laundry at home
저는 이 수학문제를 술술 풀 수 있어요 = I can solve this math question without any issue

저는 몇몇 한국사람들보다 한국어를 더 잘 말할 수 있어요
= I can speak Korean better than some Korean people

선생님이 원하시면 윤리 교과 과정을 바꿀 수 있어요
= If you want, you can change the ethics curriculum

그 문제를 기한 안에 해결한다면 우리는 지금부터 선거를 실시할 수 있어요
= If you solve that problem within the time period, the election can run from now on

그런 일을 하면 장기 휴가를 갈 수 없어요
= If you do that kind of work/job, you can’t go on any long/extended holidays

이번 선거로 인권 문제를 해결할 수 있어요
= We can solve the problem of human rights through this election

You can also use this form to ask another person if he/she is “able” or “capable” of doing something. For example:

오늘 밤에 만날 수 있어요? = Can you meet tonight?
그것을 빨리 할 수 있어요? = Can you do it quickly?
기한 안에 다 할 수 있어요? = Can you do it all within the time limit?
여기서 자습할 수 있어요? = Are you able to (self-)study here?

Anytime an action is being done for the speaker, it would also be appropriate to attach ~아/어 주다 to the verb before ~ㄹ/을 수 있다. For example:

그것을 빨리 해 줄 수 있어요? = Can you do it a little bit faster (for me)?
문을 열어 줄 수 있어요? = Can you open the door (for me)?
TV가 안 보여서 비켜 줄 수 있어요? = Can you move a bit (for me), I can’t see the TV

As mentioned in Lesson 41, it would also be acceptable to use the word “좀” in these types of sentences because the speaker is asking for some kind of a favor. For example:

그것을 좀 빨리 해 줄 수 있어요? = Can you do it a little bit faster (for me)?
문을 좀 열어 줄 수 있어요? = Can you open the door (for me)?
TV가 안 보여서 좀 비켜 줄 수 있어요? = Can you move a bit (for me), I can’t see the TV

 

Below are many examples that express that something “cannot” be done using ~ㄹ/을 수 없다:

제가 너무 아파서 많이 먹을 수 없어요 = I can’t eat much because I am very sick
저 사람은 한국어를 말할 수 없어요 = The person can’t speak Korean
이 독을 마시면 치료할 수 없어요 = If you drink this poison, you cannot cure/treat it
그런 시끄러운 방에서 저는 자습할 수 없어요 = I can’t (self)-study in such a loud room
시급한 일이 생겨서 지금 나갈 수 없어요 = Something urgent came up, so I can’t go out
저는 그 사실을 믿을 수 없어요 = I can’t believe that fact

여기가 너무 시끄러워서 저는 집중할 수 없어요
= I can’t concentrate here because it is too loud

살이 많이 빠져서 지금 정장을 편히 입을 수 있어요
= I can wear a suit comfortably now because I lost a lot of weight

기한이 이미 지나서 선거를 실시할 수 없어요
= You can’t hold an election because the time limit has already passed

Both ~ㄹ/을 수 있다 and ~ㄹ/을 수 없다 can be expressed in the past and future tenses. When conjugating to the past or future tenses, only 있다 or 없다 should be conjugated. For example:

어렸을 때 저는 햄버거 다섯 개를 먹을 수 있었어요 = When I was younger, I could eat five hamburgers
저는 다음 번에 더 잘 할 수 있을 거예요 = I will be able to do better next time
저는 그 여자를 볼 수 없었어요 = I couldn’t see that girl
내년에 캐나다에 갈 수 없을 거예요 = I won’t be able to go to Canada next year

One specific phrase that is difficult to translate directly to English is:

I don’t understand, or
I can’t understand

In English, those two phrases essentially mean the same thing – however, there is a subtle difference. We would use “I can’t understand” when you are talking about a general topic – specifically something that you don’t get at all and will never understand. For example:

I can’t understand Chemistry
I can’t understand Korean

To say those in Korean, you can use the ~ㄹ 수 없다 form. For example:

나는 화학을 이해할 수 없어 = I can’t understand Chemistry
나는 한국어를 이해할 수 없어 = I can’t understand Korean

However, if we say “I don’t understand”, it could mean that – although you cannot understand something right now – you will probably be able to understand it if somebody (depending on the situation) explains it to you better. This is more likely to be used in specific things that somebody can teach you over a short period of time – or something that you can grasp if somebody explains it to you quickly. In order to create this meaning, you should attach ~지 못하다 to “이해하다.”

For example:

이 문제를 이해하지 못하겠어요 = I don’t understand that question/problem
네가 무슨 말을 하고 있는지 이해하지 못하겠어 = I don’t understand what you are trying to say (like, “I don’t understand the point you are trying to make”)

Notice that the future tense conjugation of ~겠다 is used when talking about something you currently don’t understand.

이 문제를 이해하지 못했어요 = I didn’t understand this question/problem

They’re essentially the same thing (이해할 수 없다 vs. 이해하지 못하겠다), and you don’t really need to worry about distinguishing them too much. However, it is something that I learned when I was studying, so it might be something that you should consider as well.

 

 

Adding particles to 수

Because 수 is a noun, particles can be attached to it. The three most common particles that are attached to “수” are ~가, ~는 and ~도.

I have discussed the purpose of adding ~가 to “수” with Korean teachers (who teach Korean grammar to Korean people). All of them say that ~가 creates no additional meaning to these types of sentences. For example, each pair of sentences would be the same:

우리는 그것을 정확이 알 수 없어요
우리는 그것을 정확이 알 수가 없어요
= We can’t know that for sure

이 사진을 보여줄 수 없어요
이 사진을 보여줄 수가 없어요
= I can’t show you that picture

동생의 눈을 볼 수 없어요
동생의 눈을 볼 수가 없어요
= I can’t look at my brother’s eyes

그것을 어떻게 할 수 있어요?
그것을 어떻게 할 수가 있어요?
= How can you do that?

Even though Korean people say those pairs of sentences are identical, my experience with Korean makes me feel that using ~가 is more likely to happen when the situation is being emphasized. Notice the translations below, which I feel more accurately describe the subtleties of using ~가 with ~ㄹ/을 수 있다:

우리는 그것을 정확이 알 수가 없어요 = There’s no way we can even know that for sure
이 사진을 보여줄 수가 없어요 = There’s no way I can even show you the picture
동생의 눈을 볼 수가 없어요 = There’s no way I can even look at my brother in the eyes
그것을 어떻게 할 수가 있어요? = How can you possibly do that?

Your understanding of this nuance can only really develop with exposure to the language. As you have deeper conversations with Korean people, I hope you might discover this same nuance that I feel.

Explaining the nuance of using ~는 and ~도 with “수” is complex and will be discussed in later lessons. For now, I suggest not going ahead and studying these complex usages. Instead, I suggest sticking to the order of the lessons that I have them presented. If you are dying to see how these particles can be used with “수”, you can check out Lesson 104 and Lesson 107.

That’s it for this lesson!

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