Lesson 69: Nothing but: 밖에 (~ㄹ/을 수밖에 없다)

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Nothing but/only: ~밖에
There is nothing I can do but…: ~ㄹ/을 수밖에 없다



배추 = Korean cabbage (the vegetable used to make kimchi)
유행 = trend, fashion trend
분야 = field, area of interest, branch, realm
= Korean drum
연극 = a play
답안지 = answer sheet
겨드랑이 = armpit
사유 = reason, cause
청중 = audience
충고 = advice
소모품 = supplies
해변 = beach

참관하다 = to visit, to observe
예방하다 = to prevent
연출하다 = to direct
소모하다 = to consume, to use up
밟다 = to step on

Passive Verbs:
해당되다 = to be applicable, to correspond to

Adverbs and Other Words:
= an adverb that describes that something is completely cleaned or emptied
연속으로 = in a row/consecutively

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



In the previous lesson, you learned how to use the word “유일하다,” which has the meaning of “only” or “unique/sole.” In this lesson, you will learn another grammatical principle that can be translated to “only.” In this lesson, you will learn how to use the particle ~밖에. Let’s get started.



Nothing but/only: ~밖에

In Lesson 26, you learned the word “밖,” which has the meaning “outside.” It is often used as a place in a sentence to refer to the outdoors. For example:

나는 9시에 밖에 나갈 거야 = I’m going outside at 9 o’clock
혹시 밖에 비가 와요? = Is it raining outside?
북을 밖에서 치면 안 돼요? = Can you (please) play the drum outside?
배추를 밖에 다 놓았어요 = I put all the (Korean) cabbage outside

It can also be used to describe that something is “outside” of a specific area – much like how “안” can refer to the inside of an area. For example:

우리는 집 안에 있어요 = We are inside the house
우리는 집 밖에 있어요 = We are outside the house
답안지에 답을 쓰면 그 문제에 해당되는 박스 밖에 아무 글도 쓰지 마세요 = When you write your answer on the answer sheet, don’t write any (writing) outside of the applicable box for that question

It is also possible to attach ~밖에 to nouns as a particle. This new construction may translate to something different, but the meaning when used as a particle like this is actually quite similar to the meaning when used as a noun.

By attaching the particle ~밖에 to a noun, the speaker indicates that only that noun – and nothing but that noun – is acted on. The common translation for “~밖에” is “nothing but.” For example:

친구밖에… = nothing but friend(s)
밥밖에… = nothing but rice
청소년들밖에… = nothing but young people (youth)
만 원밖에… = nothing but 10,000 won

This meaning is similar to the particle ~만, which simply means “only.” For example:

친구만 = only friend(s)
밥만 = only rice
청소년들밖에… = only young people (youth)
만 원만 = only 10,000 won

However, when ~밖에is used, the speaker is emphasizing that “nothing but” a particular noun is acted on.

When ~밖에 is attached to a noun to have this meaning, the final verb should be a negative word. It is common for these types of sentences to end in 없다 to indicate that one has “nothing but” something. For example:

저는 친구밖에 없어요
= I have nothing but friends

우리가 먹을 것은 밥밖에 없어요
= We have nothing but rice to eat

유행을 따라가는 사람들이 청소년들밖에 없어요
= The only people who follow trends are young people

그거를 사고 싶지만 만 원밖에 없어서 못 사요
= I want to buy that, but I only have 10,000 won, so I can’t buy it

You can see the similarity with the meaning of “outside” if you translate those sentences slightly differently. For example:

저는 친구밖에 없어요
= Outside of friends, I have nothing

우리가 먹을 것은 밥밖에 없어요
= Outside of rice, we have nothing to eat

유행을 따라가는 사람들이 청소년들밖에 없어요
= Outside of young people, nobody follows trends

그거를 사고 싶지만 만원밖에 없어서 못 사요
= I want to buy that, but outside of 10,000 won I have nothing, so I can’t buy it

~밖에 is also commonly attached to counters or to the word “하나.” For example:

저는 친구가 세 명밖에 없어요 = I have nothing but three friends
저는 신용카드가 하나밖에 없어요 = I have nothing but one credit card
저는 핸드폰이 한 개밖에 없어요 = I only have nothing but one cell-phone

The examples above all show sentences ending in 없다, but it is possible to end a sentence with other verbs. Even though the (noun)밖에 construction translates to “nothing but (noun),” the sentence should end with a negative conjugation. This often makes it look like there is a double negative in the sentence for English speakers. For example:

코치가 우리 팀에게 충고를 하나밖에 안 했었어요
= The coach gave us nothing by one piece of advice

Notice how this would be awkward in English if it translated to “The coach didn’t give us nothing but one piece of advice.”

Below are many more examples:

남자 친구가 너한테 돈밖에 안 줬다고?
= (You say that…) Your boyfriend gave you nothing but money?

Also, notice that this sentence is an indirect quote. You learned in Lesson 52 that it is possible to omit the word 하다 or 말하다 after these types of sentences. It is common to finish a sentence like this when somebody says something, and you can’t believe (or hear) what they say. Before the sentence above was uttered, another person would probably have said “나의 남자친구가 나한테 돈밖에 안 줬어”

아빠가 배추를 하나밖에 주문하지 않았어요 = Dad ordered nothing but one (head of) cabbage

Also, you might be thinking that this is probably a sentence that would never be uttered. However, Korean people make kimchi every year (out of 배추) and store it in their houses all winter. This means that they have to make a ton of kimchi and order a ton of 배추. Ordering 100 heads of it isn’t uncommon.

In all of the examples so far, I tried to translate ~밖에 to “nothing but.” I usually find those sentences unnatural in English. I find it much natural to simply use “only.” As always, pay more attention to the Korean sentence than the English translation.

제가 아는 공연 종류는 연극밖에 없어요
= The only type of performance I know about is plays
((Of) the types of performances I know about, I know about nothing but plays)

선생님! 저에게 답안지밖에 안 주셨어요
= Teacher! You only gave me an answer sheet
(Teacher, you gave me nothing but an answer sheet)

그 선생님의 수업을 한번밖에 참관하지 않았어요
= I only attended that teacher’s class once
(Outside of one time, I didn’t attend that teacher’s class)

저는 평생 동안 오렌지를 세 번밖에 안 먹어 봤어요
= I have only eaten oranges three times in my life
(I have eaten oranges nothing but three times in my life)

그 사람이 지금까지 영화를 하나밖에 연출을 안 했어요
= That person has only directed one movie until now
(Outside of one movie, that person hasn’t directed a movie until now)

~밖에 is also commonly used to emphasize that an action will take a short amount of time. For example:

30 분밖에 안 걸려요! = It only takes 30 minutes (It takes nothing but 30 minutes)
한 시간밖에 안 걸려요 = It only takes 1 hour (It takes nothing but 1 hour)

In order to create more complicated sentences that describe “It only takes 30 minutes to get from Seoul to Incheon,” you need to learn how to use ~는 데, which will be introduced in Lesson 76 and Lesson 77.

Before you move on, let’s look at another practical usage of ~밖에.



There is nothing I can do but…: ~/수밖에 없다

In Lesson 45 you learned about the endings ~ㄹ/을 수 있다 and ~ㄹ/을 수 없다. In that lesson, I explained that “수” is a noun. This means that particles, including ~밖에, can be attached to 수. By attaching ~밖에 to 수 in “~할 수 없다” you describe that the best/only option is to do the specified action. For example:

우리가 밥을 먹을 수밖에 없어요 = We have nothing to do but eat

This commonly translates to “to have no choice but to…” For example

우리가 밥을 먹을 수밖에 없어요 = We have no choice but to eat

Below are many more examples:

우리가 연극을 다른 데에서 할 수밖에 없어요
= We have no choice but to do the play in a different place

죄송하지만 나는 당신을 해고할 수밖에 없어요
= I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything but fire you

쓰레기가 많아서 방을 싹 청소할 수밖에 없어요
= I have no choice but to completely clean the room because it is so dirty

일이 너무 심심해서 다른 분야로 옮길 수밖에 없어요
= I have no choice but to move/switch fields because my work is so boring

시험을 네 번 연속으로 못 봐서 포기할 수밖에 없어요
= I have no choice but to give up because I didn’t write the exam well four times in a row

내일도 비가 올 거라서 연극을 또 취소할 수밖에 없어요
= It will rain again tomorrow, so we have no choice but to chancel the play

친구가 늦게 올 거라고 해서 우리는 기다릴 수밖에 없어요
= Our friend said he will come late, so we have nothing to do but wait for him

내일 해변에 갈 거라서 겨드랑이 털을 면도할 수밖에 없어요
= I am going to the beach tomorrow, so I have no choice but to shave my armpits

오늘도 수업을 못 해서 내일부터 3일 연속으로 할 수밖에 없어요
= We couldn’t do class again today, so we have no choice but to do class for three days in a row starting from tomorrow

오랫동안 운동해서 에너지를 다 소모해서 밥을 많이 먹을 수밖에 없어요
= I exercised for a long time and used up all of my energy, so I have no choice but to eat a lot of food

그 커플이 매일 싸워서 사람들이 그 커플의 이혼사유를 알 수밖에 없어요
= That couple fights every day, so there is no way for people to not know the reason why they got a divorce

소모품이 아직 사무실에 와서 않아서 올 때까지 기다릴 수밖에 없어요
= The supplies still haven’t arrived/come to the office yet, so we have no choice but to wait until they come

그 문제를 예방할 수 없어서 또 문제가 생기면 그때 해결할 수밖에 없을 거예요
= We can’t prevent that problem, so if it comes up again, we have no choice but to deal with it/fix it then

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