Lesson 58: Or: ~(이)나, ~거나

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Vocabulary
Introduction

(Noun) or (Noun): ~(이)나
(Verb) or (Verb): ~거나

 

Vocabulary

Click on the English word to see information and examples of that word in use. 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:
줄거리 = summary, plot

Common Usages:
영화줄거리 = movie summary
소설줄거리 = novel summary

Examples:
이 책을 읽고 줄거리를 짧게 요약하는 게 숙제예요
= The homework is to read this book and shortly summarize the plot

저는 영화를 보기 전에 영화 줄거리를 먼저 알고 보는 것을 좋아해요
= Before I see a movie, I like to first read a summary of the movie and then watch it

체육관 = gymnasium

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “체육꽌”

Examples:
우리 학교 체육관은 아주 넓어요
= Our school’s gymnasium is very big

농구를 체육관이나 야외농구장에서 할래요?
= Shall we play basketball in the gymnasium or on the outdoor court?

오늘 학생들이랑 체육관에서 재미있는 활동이나 게임을 할 거예요
= Today I’m going to do a fun activity or game in the gymnasium with the students

조직 = organization

Common Usages:
조직개편 = to reform (the people within) an organization
조직관리 = organizational management

Examples:
다음 주부터 있을 조직개편 때문에 모든 사람들이 긴장했어요
= From next week, there will be a staff reform so everybody was nervous

조직관리를 하는 부서에 한 명이 일을 그만둬서 새로운 사람을 구해야 돼요
= When one person quits, the department that is in charge of managing the organization has to hire a new person

양식 = a form to fill out

Common Usages:
양식을 작성하다 = to fill out a form

Examples:
펜으로 양식을 작성해 주시기 바랍니다 = Please fill out the form in pen

양식이나 그런 것을 작성 안 해도 돼요? = I don’t need to fill out a form or something like that?

이 양식에 따라 글을 작성 한 후에 사무실에 제출해 주세요 = After writing (the words) according to this form, please submit it to the office

중간 = middle

Common Usages:
중간지점 = midpoint
중간고사 = midterm exam

Examples:
친구를 내일 서울과 안산 중간인 과천에서 만나기로 했어요
= Tomorrow, I decided to meet a friend in Gwacheon, which is in the middle of Seoul and Ansan

저는 공부를 잘하는 것도 아니고 못하는 것도 아닌 딱 중간이에요
= I’m not good at studying, and I’m not bad – I’m right in the middle

중간고사 = midterm exam

Common Usages:
중간고사를 보다 = to take a midterm exam
중간고사를 망치다 = to mess up (do poorly on) the midterm exam

Examples:
학생들은 다음 주에 중간고사를 볼 거에요 = Students will write the midterm next week

저는 공부해야 돼요. 아니면 중간고사를 잘 못 볼 거예요 = I need to study. If not, I won’t be able to do well on the exam

중간지점 = halfway point

Examples:

중간지점에 데려다 주는 게 어때요? = How about I take you to the halfway point

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

기말고사 = final exam

Common Usages:
기말고사를 보다 = to take a final exam
기말고사를 망치다 = to mess up (do poorly on) the final exam

Examples:
학기 말에 학생들이 기말고사를 봐야 돼요
= Students have to write the final exam at the end of the semester

기말고사를 볼 때 말을 하거나 밥을 먹어서는 안 돼요
= You shouldn’t talk or eat while writing the final exam

기말고사를 부지런히 공부하거나 안 하거나 시험을 잘 못 볼 거예요
= If I study diligently for the final exam or not, I’ll still do poorly on the exam

나머지 = the remainder

Common Usages:
나머지 공부 = detention (in school)
나머지를 싸다 = to pack up the rest/remainder
나머지를 버리다 = to throw away the rest/remainder

Examples:
너무 많으면 나머지를 돌려 보내도 돼요
= If it is too much, you can send the rest back

나머지를 먹거나 버리거나 결정해야 돼요
= You need to decide if you’re going to eat the rest or throw it out

빈손 = empty hands

Examples:
누가 자기 집에 초대하면 빈손으로 가면 안 돼요
= If somebody invites you to their house, you shouldn’t go (there) empty-handed

선물을 사거나 파티에 빈손으로 가거나 어떻게 할지 고민 중이에요
= I’m not sure what/how to do it – I might go to the party with a present, or go empty handed

채소 = vegetables

Examples:
채소를 자주 먹는 게 좋아요 = It is good to eat vegetables often

우리는 옛날에 집에서 채소를 가꿨어요
= A long time ago we grew vegetables at our house

균형잡인 식사를 하기 위해서는 많은 채소와 과일을 먹어야 돼요
= In order to eat/make/have a balanced meal, you should eat a lot of fruits and vegetables

Verbs:
기록하다 = to record

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “기로카다”

Common Usages:
의료기록 = health records
기록을 세우다 = to set a record

Examples:
그 선수가 지난 대회에서 새로운 기록을 세웠어요
= That athlete set a new record at the last event

어제 그 선수는 다른 선수의 최고 기록을 넘었어요
= Yesterday, that athlete passed/went over (broke) the best record of other athletes

사고가 나면 경찰관들이 사고가 어떻게 발생했는지를 기록해야 돼요
= When an accident happens, police officers need to record how the accident occurred

등교하다 = to go to school

Common Usages:
등굣길 = the road on the way to school
등교시간 = the time one leaves for school

Examples:
등교를 늦게 하거나 하교를 일찍 하면 안 돼요
= You shouldn’t come to school late or go to school early

제가 제일 좋아하는 것은 아침에 친한 친구와 같이 등교하는 거에요
= My favorite thing is going to school with my close friends in the morning

하교하다 = to leave school

Examples:
등교를 늦게 하거나 하교를 일찍 하면 안 돼요
= You shouldn’t come to school late or go to school early

여러분! 꼭 학교 끝나고 하교를 할 때 다른 데 가지 말고 집에 바로 가세요
= Everyone! When school is over and you go home, don’t go to another place, go straight home

고민하다 = to worry

Common Usages:
고민 중 = to be thinking about something/to be worried about something

Examples:
고민을 괜히 많이 했어! = I was all worried for nothing!

무대 위에서 노래를 부를 때마다 저의 걱정과 고민은 모두 사라져요
= Whenever I sing on stage all of my worries and fears disappear

누군가를 좋아한다면, 고민하지 말고 용기를 가지고 고백해 보세요
= If you like somebody, don’t stress about it, pick up your courage and try confessing

선물을 사거나 파티에 빈손으로 가거나 어떻게 할지 고민 중이에요
= I’m not sure what/how to do it – I might go to the party with a present, or go empty handed

활동하다 = to do an activity

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “활똥하다”

Common Usages:
봉사활동 = volunteer activities (it is usually referred as this by kids in school)
활동적이다 = to be active

Examples:
오늘 학생들이랑 체육관에서 재미있는 활동이나 게임을 할 거예요
= Today I’m going to do a fun activity or game in the gymnasium with the students

매년 초에 각 대학마다 신입생을 모집하기 위해 홍보 활동을 해요
= Every year at the beginning of the year, each university does promotional activities in order to recruit new students

수정하다 = to correct, to modify, to fix

Common Usages:
정책을 수정하다 = to amend a policy

Examples:
정부가 그 정책을 수정하기를 바라요
= I hope the government amends that policy

제가 하는 말에 뭔가를 덧붙이거나 수정하고 싶으면 지금 말씀하세요
= If you want to add something to what I said, or modify it, please tell me now

데려다 주다 = to take a person somewhere

Examples:
집까지 데려다 줄게요 = I’ll take you home
거기까지 데려다 줄까요? = Shall I take you there? (Let me take you there)

우리 엄마나 우리 아빠가 저를 차로 거기까지 데려다 줄 거예요
= Either mom or dad will take me there by car

그 남자랑 영화를 보고 저는 그에게 집까지 데려다 달라고 했어요
= I saw a movie with that man, and then asked him to take me (to my) home

Person 1: 어제 그 여자를 집까지 태워 줬죠?
Person 2: 당연하죠. 너무 어둡고 추워서 안 데려다 줬다면 위험했을 거예요
= You took that girl to her house yesterday, right?
Of course. It was dark and cold, if I hadn’t taken her home, it would have been dangerous

덧붙이다 = to add one more thing on top of

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “덛뿌치다”

Examples:
그 친구는 제가 무슨 말을 할 때마다 덧붙여 말하는 걸 좋아해요
= That friend likes to add things on top of what I say whenever I talk

제가 하는 말에 뭔가를 덧붙이거나 수정하고 싶으면 지금 말씀하세요
= If you want to add something to what I said, or modify it, please tell me now

부장님이 한 말씀에 덧붙여 말하면 이제부터는 절대 사무실에서 흡연을 하면 안 돼요
= To add to what the boss said, from now on, you must never smoke in the office

살피다 = to see, to watch closely

Common Usages:
살펴보다 = to look, to check, to examine
주위를 살피다 = to look around at one’s surroundings

Examples:
사방을 살피고 저쪽으로나 이쪽으로 가세요
= Look both ways (all ways) and then go this way or that way

신호등을 건널 때는 꼭 주위를 살피고 건너야 해요
= When you cross the street (the traffic light), always check one’s surroundings (look both ways) and then cross

밤에 집에 가는 길에 누군가 뒤에서 따라오는 것 같아서 주위를 살폈지만 아무도 없었어요
= When I was on my way walking home at night, it was like somebody was following me (from behind) so I looked back but there was nobody there

차다 = to kick

Notes: Literally, “남자/여자 친구를 차다” translates to “I kicked my boy/girlfriend.” However, this is the Korean way of expressing that one “dumps” somebody.

Common Usages:
공을 차다 = to kick a ball

Examples:
제가 제일 좋아하는 스포츠는 자유롭게 공을 차는 축구예요
= My favorite sport is soccer, which you can freely kick a ball

게임을 하다가 실수로 친구의 종아리를 차서 친구에게 매우 미안했어요
= I was very sorry to my friend because, which playing a game, I accidentally kicked his calf

고치다 = to fix, to repair

Examples:
이것을 고칠 수 있어요? = Can you fix this?

여기가 컴퓨터를 고치는 가게인가요? = Is this the store that fixes computers?

오래된 차를 고치거나 새로운 차를 사야 돼요 = I need to fix my old car or buy a new one

(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

처음에 그를 봤을 때 나는 첫눈에 반했다. 하지만 그는 매우 인기가 많았기 때문에 그에게 말을 하기 어려웠다.
= When I first saw him, I fell in love at first sight. However, because he was very popular, it was difficult to talk to him.

Adjectives:
부지런하다 = to be diligent

Examples:
저의 남자친구도 그렇게 부지런했으면 좋겠어요
= I wish my boyfriend was that diligent too

우리 사위가 아주 부지런해서 무슨 일을 해도 잘해요
= Our son-in-law is so diligent, it doesn’t matter what he does, he does it well

기말고사를 부지런히 공부하거나 안 하거나 시험을 잘 못 볼 거예요
= If I study diligently for the final exam or not, I’ll still do poorly (on it)

희미하다 = to be dim, to be faint, to be vague

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “히미하다”

Examples:
희미한 빛이나 소리도 없었어요
= There wasn’t even a glimmer of light or sound

어느 순간부터 칠판에 글씨가 희미하게 보여서 안과에 갔어요
= I went to the eye doctor because, all of a sudden (from some moment), the words on the blackboard looked blurry

옛날 일을 떠올려 보려고 노력했지만 기억이 너무 희미해서 아무것도 생각이 나지 않았어요
= I tried thinking about a job/work/task from a long time ago, but my memory was very blurry so I couldn’t think of anything

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

 

Introduction

In this lesson, you will learn about the grammatical principles ~(이)나, and ~거나. Both of these can be used in sentences to have similar meanings, but their usages are different. Let’s get started.

 

 

(Noun) or (Noun): ~()

~(이)나 can be attached to words to create a few different meanings depending on the usage. A common usage of ~(이)나 is to indicate that it hasn’t been decided which noun/object will be acted on. Let’s look at a simple example:

저는 빵이나 밥을 먹고 싶어요

Here, the speaker hasn’t decided if he/she wants to eat bread or rice. The typical English translation for ~(이)나 is “or.” For example:

저는 빵이나 밥을 먹고 싶어요 = I want to eat bread or rice

Below are some examples:

저는 술이나 콜라를 마시고 싶어요 = I want to drink alcohol or a soft drink (cola)
딸이나 아들을 낳고 싶어요? = Do you want to have (give birth to) a daughter or a son?
저는 저 남자나 저 여자를 뽑을 거예요 = I’m going to choose/hire that man or that woman
양식이나 그런 것을 작성 안 해도 돼요? = I don’t need to fill out a form or something like that?

대학교에서 철학이나 화학을 공부하고 싶어요?
= In University, do you want to study philosophy or chemistry?

오늘 학생들이랑 체육관에서 재미있는 활동이나 게임을 할 거예요
= Today I’m going to do a fun activity or game in the gymnasium with the students

In those examples, ~(이)나 is attached to the object of the sentence. It is also possible to attach ~(이)나 to the subject in order to indicate that it hasn’t been decided which subject will perform the action. The translation of “or” is still appropriate. For example:

우리 엄마나 우리 아빠가 저를 차로 거기까지 데려다 줄 거예요
= Either mom or dad will take me there by car

저 선수나 이 선수가 오늘 새로운 기록을 세울 것 같아요
= Either that athlete or this athlete will probably set a new record today

In all the examples so far, the sentences show ~(이)나 being used when some sort of a decision is made between two nouns. It is also possible to attach ~(이)나 to one word in a sentence, and to not have it followed by another word that needs to be decided on. For example:

밥이나 먹을래?

In these cases, the speaker would rather do something else, but is choosing the thing specified as a last resort. Here, ~(이)나 is expressing that the option specified is the best choice among all remaining options. For example:

밥이나 먹을래? = Well… I guess we could eat rice?

The sentence above could be said in a variety of situations. One example could be if you wanted to eat pizza or a hamburgers, but maybe it is too late and can’t get a delivery at this time. As a last resort, you could say “well, shall we just eat rice?” It’s not the best option, but it’s the best among the remaining options.

It’s hard to come up with a simple English translation that I can use in my examples to illustrate this meaning. In the examples below, I put “(Well…)” in the English translations, but try to focus more on the Korean sentences:

저는 공부나 할 거예요 = (Well…) I’m going to study
산책이나 할래요? = (Well…) Shall we go for a walk?
영화나 보자 = (Well…) Let’s go see a movie
그냥 줄거리나 설명해 주세요 = (Well…) Just explain the plot to me
운동이나 할래? = (Well…) Shall we exercise?
돈이나 주세요 = (Well…) Give me money

Actually, you already learned about ~(으)나 in Lesson 25. In that lesson, you learned about the following constructions (which I often refer to as “words” for simplicity):

아무 거나
아무 데나
아무 때나

In these words, ~(이)나 is attached to the nouns 거 (thing), 데 (place), and 때 (time) to create the following meanings:

아무 거나 = anything
아무 데나 = anywhere (any place)
아무 때나 = anytime

With your new-found understanding of ~(이)나 and the meaning it can create, I think it is worthwhile to review these words to see where their meanings come from. Essentially, the words above could be translated to;

아무 거나 = there’s no specific thing, but “any” thing would be okay I guess
아무 데나 = there’s no specific place, but “any” place would be okay I guess
아무 때나 = there’s no specific time, but “any” time would be okay I guess

Here are some sentences from Lesson 25, but this time I have provided an additional translation:

저는 아무 거나 먹고 싶어요 = I want to eat anything (I’d eat anything)
This could also be translated to “there’s no specific thing I’d like to eat – I’d eat anything”

저는 아무 데나 가고 싶어요 = I want to go anywhere (I’d go anywhere)
This could also be translated to “there’s no specific place I’d like to go, I’d go anywhere”

아무 때나 좋아요 = Anytime is good
This could also be translated to “there’s no specific time, anytime is good”

So far, you’ve seen ~(이)나 and how it can be attached to nouns. It is also possible to attach ~나 to adverbs, or on-top of other grammatical principles that change words into adverbs.

A simple definition of an adverb is a word that identifies where something happens, when it happens, how it happens, or to what degree it happens. The word “” is a noun, but when ~에서 is attached to it, the whole construction is referred to as an adverb in Korean (because it can tell us that an action occurred in the house). This isn’t exactly how it is done in English because in English we don’t attach particles to nouns like that. Annnyways…

When only one option is indicated (and not two), you can commonly see ~(이)나 attached to other grammatical principles that change words into adverbs. For example:

중간지점에나 데려다 주는 게 어때요? = Well, how about I take you to the halfway point

However, if two options are given, it is more natural to add ~(이)나 directly to the first option without the extra grammatical principle in between. For example, if we look at the following two sentences:

In the first example you can see ~(이)나 attached to ~에서, which in turn is attached to “캐나다.” Notice how ~에서 is also indicated in the second option (미국). It is not necessary to add ~에서 twice, and it can be omitted from the first option.

Therefore, both examples above can be seen as grammatical correct, but all Korean people would prefer to say the second example. It is much more natural to omit the grammatical principle between the noun and ~(이)나 if it is going to be attached to the upcoming noun anyways.

Here is another example:

저는 버스로나 택시로 갈 거예요

Here, the speaker is indicating that he will go “by bus” or “by taxi.” In the example above, ~(이)나 is attached to both “버스로” and “택시로.” It is not necessary to add ~(으)로 twice, and it can be omitted from the first option. The following sentence is much more natural:

저는 버스나 택시로 갈 거예요 = I will go by bus or by taxi

Below are some other examples:

농구를 체육관이나 밖에서 하고 싶어?
= Do you want to play basketball in the gymnasium our outside?

선생님! 시험을 어렵게나 길게 만들지 말아 주세요!
= Teacher, please don’t make the exam long or hard

사방을 살피고 저쪽으로나 이쪽으로 가세요
= Look both ways (all ways) and then go this way or that way

 

 

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(Verb) or (Verb): ~거나

In the examples you have seen so far, ~(이)나 has been attached to nouns or adverbs. With ~(이)나, the speaker can indicate that something hasn’t been decided between two nouns or adverbs. By attaching ~거나 to a verb, the speaker can indicate that it hasn’t been decided which action will be completed. Here is a very simple example:

여자 친구를 위해 편지를 쓰거나 선물을 사 줄 거예요
= I will write a letter, or buy a present for my girlfriend

When using ~(이)나, the focus is on which of the two nouns (or adverbs) will be acted on. When using ~거나, the focus is on which action will take place. For example, if we look at our simple sentence from before:

저는 빵이나 밥을 먹고 싶어요 = I want to eat bread or rice

In this sentence, it has probably already been decided that you will eat. The focus is now on what you will eat, and the decision is between “bread” or “rice.” However, when ~거나 is used, it hasn’t been decided which action will be done. For example, our sentence from above:

여자 친구를 위해 편지를 쓰거나 선물을 사 줄 거예요
= I will write a letter, or buy a present for my girlfriend

In this sentence, you are not deciding between two objects, but rather two different actions. Below are many other examples:

신발끈을 묶거나 신발을 벗으세요 = Tie your shoes or take them off
오래된 차를 고치거나 새로운 차를 사야 돼요 = I need to fix my old car or buy a new one
제가 하는 말에 뭔가를 덧붙이거나 수정하고 싶으면 지금 말씀하세요 = If you want to add something to what I said, or modify it, please tell me now

I kept saying that ~거나 can be attached to verbs, but it can also be used with adjectives as well. For example:

이 문제가 너무 어렵거나 도움이 필요하면 교무실로 오세요
= If this question/problem is too difficult or you need help, come to the office

고객님이 호텔에 계실 때 불편하거나 필요한 것이 있으면 이 번호로 연락하면 됩니다
= When you (the customer) are at the hotel, if you are uncomfortable or need something, you can contact us using this number

A lot of the signs on buses in Korea have a warning message on them, and the warning message has this ~거나 grammatical principle in the sentence. It says something like this:

문이 완전히 열릴 때까지 버스에서 내리거나 문에 기대지 마세요
= Until the door is completely opened, don’t get off the bus or lean on the door

 

I’d like to discuss two trends that I’ve noticed regarding the use of ~거나. You can find these discussions below

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In the examples used so far, ~거나 (and ~(이)나) is used once in each sentence. As you have seen, it is generally used to separate two actions that could be completed.

It is also possible to include ~거나 (or ~(이)나) twice in the same sentence – attached to both possible actions (or options). For example:

비가 오거나 안 오거나 중요하지 않아요
= It’s not important if it rains or not (doesn’t rain)

I thought long and hard to try to come up with an explanation as to why ~거나 is used twice in this sentence, but only once in other sentences. I literally sat in my chair for an hour to try to wrap my head around a simple way to explain it. I think I’ve got it.

~거나 is used once in a sentence to indicate that one action will occur, or the other. For example:

여자 친구를 위해 편지를 쓰거나 선물을 사 줄 거예요
Here, either you will write a letter, or you will buy a present

~거나 is used twice in a sentence (attached to both verbs) when the speaker wants to discuss the choice in and within itself. It is still possible that one action might occur or the other, but the speaker is focused more on describing the choice itself, and how he/she might react/feel/act as a result of this choice. For example:

(비가 오거나 안 오거나) 중요하지 않아요

The part of the sentence in parentheses is the part of the sentence that the speaker wants to talk about. By putting ~거나 on both verbs, the speaker isn’t saying that one action will occur and another won’t, but rather wants to discuss what will happen as a result of either action occurring. Below are many other examples. I have included the sentence twice (one with parentheses and the other without) to make it easier to identify that the speaker is discussing the two options outlined in the parentheses.

I use the word “discuss” to broadly mean that the speaker could really say anything about the choices outlined. The speaker might say that the two options “are not important,” that he “doesn’t care about either of them,” that he “is worried” about them, and so on…

나한테 선물을 주거나 아무 것도 안 해 주거나 나는 행복해 보여야 돼
(나한테 선물을 주거나 아무 것도 안 해 주거나) 나는 행복해 보여야 돼
= If they give me a present or don’t do anything, I need to look happy

학생들이 수업 시간에 자거나 열심히 공부하거나 선생님들이 수업을 해야 돼요
(학생들이 수업 시간에 자거나 열심히 공부하거나) 선생님들이 수업을 해야 돼요
= If students sleep or study during class time, teachers (still) need to do classes

나머지를 먹거나 버리거나 결정해야 돼요
(나머지를 먹거나 버리거나) 결정해야 돼요
= You need to decide if you’re going to eat the rest or throw it out

선물을 사거나 파티에 빈손으로 들어가거나 어떻게 할지 고민 중이에요
(선물을 사거나 파티에 빈손으로 들어가거나) 어떻게 할지 고민 중이에요
= I’m not sure what/how to do it – I might go to the party with a present, or go empty handed

생선이나 고기나 모두 좋아할 거예요
(생선이나 고기나) 모두 좋아할 거예요
= It doesn’t matter if it is fish or meet, everybody will like it

이 영화나 저 영화나 둘 다 괜찮아요
(이 영화나 저 영화나) 둘 다 괜찮아요
= Either this movie or that movie, both are fine

기말고사를 부지런히 공부하거나 안 하거나 시험을 잘 못 볼 거예요
(기말고사를 부지런히 공부하거나 안 하거나) 시험을 잘 못 볼 거예요
= If I study diligently for the final exam or not, I’ll still do poorly on the exam

반말을 쓰거나 존댓말을 쓰거나 모든 한국 사람들이 이해할 수 있을 거예요
(반말을 쓰거나 존댓말을 쓰거나 모든 한국 사람들이) 이해할 수 있을 거예요
= Regardless of if you use informal speech or honorific speech, all Korean people will be able to understand you

In most of these types of sentences, it would be very natural to use the phrases “I don’t care if…” or “it doesn’t matter if…”. I will show you more examples of ~거나 and ~(이)나 in Lesson 74 and Lesson 75 where you learn how to create these types of sentences in Korean.

Using ~거나 twice in a sentence like this is commonly done with the verb 말다 (which was first introduced in Lesson 40). When the speaker wants to discuss the choices of doing an action and not doing an action, the positive action is commonly used, followed by 말다 to indicate the negative action. For example:

A personal note about ~거나 말거나: This is more likely to be used when the outcome of doing the action or not doing the action is irrelevant (or doesn’t matter), as you can see below. It’s typically not used to say that one is thinking about doing one action, or not doing that action. This would more likely be used with ~ㄹ/을까 말까, which will be discussed in a later lesson.  

대학교에 가거나 말거나 공부를 해야 돼요
= You need to study if you go to University or not

네가 나를 사랑하거나 말거나 나는 떠날 거야
= Regardless of if you love me or not, I’m leaving

기말고사를 부지런히 공부하거나 말거나 시험을 잘 못 볼 거예요
= If I study diligently for the final exam or not, I’ll still do poorly on the exam

I hope you liked this observation I’ve made. I’d like to discuss another observation I’ve made.

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Every time I write a lesson, I try to organize sentences/examples into different usages or categories. When trying to organize this lesson, I kept creating examples that wouldn’t fit into the different usages I created based on Korean dictionaries.

I taught you that (one of) the general meanings of ~(이)나 and ~거나 is to indicate that it hasn’t been decided which noun will be acted on, or which action will be performed. For example, let’s look at the first sentence I showed you in this lesson:

저는 빵이나 밥을 먹고 싶어요 = I want to eat bread or rice
Here, the speaker hasn’t decided if he/she wants to eat bread or rice.

I tried to make another example:

무기나 칼이 없어요 = I don’t have a weapon or a knife
Here, it’s not a decision between two objects, but rather that you don’t have either object.

I saw a similar phenomenon with ~거나 when applied to verbs. For example, let’s look at the first sentence I showed you with ~거나:

여자 친구를 위해 편지를 쓰거나 선물을 사 줄 거예요
= I will write a letter, or buy a present for my girlfriend
Here, the speaker hasn’t decided if he wants to write a letter or buy a present

I tried to make another example:
저는 눕거나 앉을 수 없어요 = I can’t lay down or sit down
Here, it’s not a decision between two actions, but rather that both actions can’t happen

It might seem obvious to you now that I’ve presented it, but I really meddled with this in my head for a while. It seems that when ~(이)나 and ~거나 are used with negative ending sentences, the speaker is not deciding between two things/actions, but rather stating that neither of them are chosen/performed. Here are a bunch of examples (using both ~(이)나 and ~거나) with various negative endings you’ve learned so far:

희미한 빛이나 소리도 없었어요
= There wasn’t even a glimmer of light or sound
Here, it’s not a decision between light or sound. Neither of them exist.

기말고사를 볼 때 말을 하거나 밥을 먹어서는 안 돼요
= You shouldn’t talk or eat while writing the final exam
Here, it’s not a decision between speaking or eating. Both actions shouldn’t happen.

등교를 늦게 하거나 하교를 일찍 하면 안 돼요
= You shouldn’t come to school late or go to school early
Here, it’s not a decision between going to school late or leaving early. Both actions shouldn’t happen.

저는 그 남자를 보거나 생각하지 않을 거예요
= I’m not going to look at that man or think about him
Here, it’s not a decision between looking at the man or thinking about him. Both actions won’t happen.

Again, I hope you found this observation helpful.

That’s it for this lesson!

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