Lesson 22: Asking Questions in Korean: How, What, Which, How Many

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Vocabulary
Introduction

How (어떻게)
어때?

What (뭐/무엇/무슨)
뭐 and 무엇
무슨

Which (어떤/어느)
어떤
어느

How many: 몇
How much, How many: 얼마나

~는/은 and ~이/가 Revisited (again)

 

 

Vocabulary

Hover your mouse over any word to see examples of that word in use (you probably won’t be able to understand the grammar within the sentences at this point, but it is good to see as you progress through your learning).

A PDF file neatly presenting all of these words and example sentences in addition to common usages and specific notes can be found here.

Nouns:
계란 = eggs

Common Usages:
계란찜 = steamed egg
계란 후라이 = fried eggs

계란 한 판 = a carton of eggs (this is also sometimes used as an idiom to say that somebody is thirty years old because there are typically 30 eggs in a carton of eggs in Korea)

Example:
저는 계란 두 개를 그릇에 넣었어요 = I put two eggs into the bowl

자리 = a seat, a place to put something

Common Usages:
자리가 없다 = there is no place/nowhere to sit/no space
자리가 있다 = there is a place/somewhere to sit/space
자리를 잡다 = to save hold onto a seat
일자리 = a position at work
제자리 = the right/proper place
자리를 뜨다 = to get up from a seat
자리를 차지하다 = to occupy a place, seat

Notes: Incredibly common word that is used in very important situations. 자리 is some area of space, but not really 3-dimensional space. It is more space on the ground or something similar to that. For example, if somebody is standing where you are standing, you could say “get out of my place/my spot!” In that case, you can use 자리. In practice, it is very commonly used to have the meaning “seat”:

자리가 없어요 = There are no seats/there is nowhere to sit
그 책을 제자리에 두세요 = Put that book back in its place
자리에 번호가 쓰여 있어요 = There is a number written on each seat

중요성 = importance, emphasis

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “중요썽”

Common Usages:
중요성을 깨닫다 /인식하다 = to realize the importance
중요성을 강조하다 = to stress the importance

Example:
한국 학생들은 영어의 중요성을 깨닫지 못해요 = Korean students don’t realize the importance of English

벌금 = a fine

Common Usages:
벌금을 내다 = to pay a fine
벌금을 부과하다 = to impose a fine on somebody

Example:
벌금은 얼마였어요? = How much was the fine?
경찰관은 강아지의 주인에게 십만 원의 벌금을 물었어요 = The police officers gave the owner of the dog a 100 000원 fine

파일 = file

Common Usages:
첨부파일 = attached file
파일을 보내다 = to send a file
파일을 복사하다 = to copy a file
파일을 삭제하다 = to delete a file

Example:
첨부파일을 확인하세요! = See the attached file
저는 이메일에 파일을 첨부했어요 = I attached a file to the e-mail
저는 파일을 2시쯤 보낼 거예요 = I will send the file at approximately 2:00

로션 = lotion

Common Usages:
로션을 바르다 = to apply lotion

Example:
손이 부드럽지 않아서 로션을 발랐어요 = I put lotion on my hands because they weren’t soft

습관 = customs, habit

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “습꽌”

Common Usages:
식습관 = eating habits
습관을 만들다 = to start a habit

Example:
한국 사람들은 옛날 습관을 아직도 따라요 = Korean people still follow old customs
자기 전에 라면을 먹는 습관이 있어요 = I have the habit of eating ramen before going to bed

치마 = skirt

Common Usages:
짧은 치마 = short skirt
치마를 입다 = to put on a skirt

Example:
어떤 치마를 사고 싶어요? = Which skirt do you want to buy?
중학생들의 치마는 점점 짧아지고 있어요 = Middle school students’ skirts are getting shorter and shorter

단계 = step, phase, stage

Common Usages:
단계적으로 = in stages, step-by-step

Example:
그 학생은 아직 첫 번째 단계에 있어요 = That student is still at the first stage

= some sort of negative act

Common Usages:
뭐 하는 짓이야? = What are you doing? (This is used when somebody is doing something weird, and you want to ask them “What the h*ll are you doing?”)

Example:
그 나쁜 을 왜 했어요? = Why did you do that (bad action)?

Verbs:
차지하다 = to occupy a space

Common Usages:

자리를 차지하다 = to occupy a place, seat

Example:
그 차는 넓은 공간을 차지하고 있어요 = That car takes up a lot of room/space

수거하다 = to collect, to come and pick up

Common Usages:
분리수거 = to separate garbage before collection

Notes: This word is most commonly used to refer to people coming to pick up garbage (garbage collection). You would think that this word wouldn’t be very common (how often do you talk about garbage collection), but it is used fairly often if you live in Korea.

Example:
쓰레기는 월요일마다 수거된다 = Garbage is collected every Monday

첨부하다 = to attach (a file)

Common Usages:
첨부파일 = attached file

Example:
저는 이메일에 파일을 첨부했어요 = I attached a file to the e-mail
그 파일을 첨부했습니까? = Did you attach the file?
첨부파일을 확인하세요! = See/Check the attached file

찢다 = to tear, to rip

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “찓따”

Common Usages:
찢어지다 = to be torn, ripped
옷을 찢다 = to rip one’s clothes
갈기갈기 찢다 = to rip to shreds

Notes: If you want to say that you ripped a hole in your clothes, you can also use the idiom “빵구가 났다”

Example:
누가 이 옷을 찢었어요? = Who ripped the clothes?
저의 여자 친구는 제가 쓴 편지를 찢었어요 = My girlfriend ripped up the letter that I wrote for her

다녀오다 = to go and then come back

Common Usages:
다녀오겠습니다! = Goodbye (Literally, “I will go, and then come back”)
잘 다녀오세요! = Have a good time/trip (Literally, go well, and then come back)

Notes: A combination of the words 다니다 and 오다
This word is often used in greetings, to indicate that one will go, and then come back.

Example:
선생님! 미국에 잘 다녀왔어요? = Teacher! Did you come back well from America? (I know this sounds weird in English, but Korean people will always use this format when asking if somebody had a good time on a trip)

예상하다 = to expect

The noun form of this word translates to “expectation”

Common Usages:
예상대로 = as expected
예상치 = an estimate

Example:
저는 돈을 더 많이 벌 것을 예상했어요 = I expected to make (earn) more money

Adjectives:
올바르다 = to be correct

올바르다 follows the 르 irregular

Common Usages:
올바른 길 = the right path – both figuratively and literally

Example:
저는 올바른 평가를 받지 않았어요 = I didn’t receive the proper evaluation

복잡하다 = to be complicated

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “복짜파다”

Common Usages:
일이 복잡하다 = for work to be complicated
길이 복잡하다 = for a street to be busy (usually with people)

Examples:
설명은 너무 복잡한가요? = Is the explanation too complicated?
한국으로 이민하는 과정은 복잡해요 = The process of immigrating to Korea is complicated
책상이 너무 복잡해서 책을 조금 치워 야 돼요 = I need to clear the books a bit because my desk is very messy/unorganized

짧다 = to be short, to be brief

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “짤따”

Common Usages:
짧은 시간 = a short time
짧은 머리 = short hair
혀가 짧다 = to have a lisp (literally, to have a short tongue)

Example:
학생들은 짧은 영화를 보고 있어요 = The students are watching a short film
머리를 짧게 잘라 주세요 = Cut my hair short, please
손톱을 왜 이렇게 짧게 잘랐어요? = Why did you cut your nails so short (like this)?
중학생들의 치마는 점점 짧아지고 있어요 = Middle school students’ skirts are getting shorter and shorter

Adverbs and Other Words:
얼마나 = how much

Notes: 얼마나 is a very common adverb that means “how” but is very different from 어떻게. 얼마나 is a word that is placed before adjectives and adverbs to mean “how (adjective/adverb). You can also put “얼마” before 이다 to ask “how much does this cost?”

Examples:
한국어를 얼마나 자주 공부해요? = How often do you study Korean?
얼마나 많은 돈을 가져갈 거야? = How much money will you take?
이것은 얼마예요? = How much is this?

= how many ___

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “멷”

Notes: Used before a counter to ask how many of something. Also used to ask about one’s age.

Example:
차가 대 있어요? = How many cars do you have?
친구를 몇 명 만났어요? = How many friends did you meet?
어제 학교에 몇 번 갔어요? = How many times did you go to school yesterday?
살이에요? = How old are you?

= what

Common Usages:
뭐 했어요? = What did you do?
뭐 하고 싶어요? = What do you want to do?
뭐라고? = What did you say?
뭐 먹고 싶어요? = What do you want to eat?

Example:
내일 하고 싶어요? = What do you want to do tomorrow?
전화번호는 에요? = What is your phone number?
지난 주말에 했어요? = What did you do last weekend?
어제 학생들한테 가르쳤어요? = What did you teach the students yesterday?

무슨 = what

Notes: The difference between 어떤, 무슨 and 어느 is discussed at length in this lesson.

Example:
무슨 영화를 보고 싶어요? = What movie do you want to see?
무슨 일을 하고 싶어요? = What work do you want to do?
무슨 생각 해요? = What are you thinking?

무엇 = what

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “무얻”

Example:
내일 무엇을 하고 싶어요? = What do you want to do tomorrow?
아침으로 무엇을 먹었어요? = What did you eat for breakfast?

어떤 = which

Notes: The difference between 어떤, 무슨 and 어느 is discussed at length in this lesson.

Examples:
어제 어떤 남자가 왔어요? = Which man came here yesterday?
어떤 소설을 읽고 있어요? Which novel are you reading?
어떤 종류의 차를 원해요? = What/which type of car do you want?
어떤 것이 더 좋아요? = Which one is better?

어떤= some

Notes: 어떤 can mean “which” as in “which sport do you like best?” But it can also mean “some.” How do you differentiate if “어떤” means some or which? If the sentence is a question, it will usually mean “which.” If the sentence is not a question, it will usually mean “some.”

Examples:
어떤 남자는 어제 여기에 왔어 = Some man came here yesterday
그 학생은 어떤 여자와 지금 사귀고 있어요 = That student is going out with some girl now

어느 = which

Notes: The difference between 어떤, 무슨 and 어느 is discussed at length in this lesson.

Example:
어느 대학교를 다녀요? = Which university do you go to?
어느 집에서 살아요? = Which house do you live in?

어때? = How is/was … ?

Notes: 어때 is placed after a noun to say “how about/what do you think about?”

Example:
점심은 어땠어요? = How was lunch?

대개 = usually

Example:
어린 한국 사람들은 대개 영어로 조금 말할 수 있어요 = Young Korean people can usually speak English a little bit

바깥 = outside

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “바깓”

Notes: This can be placed before a noun to describe it or to refer to the outside in general.

Examples:
미친 사람이 바깥에서 춤을 췄어요= A crazy man was dancing outside
바깥
날씨가 추워요 = The weather outside is cold

= approximately

Common Usages: Usually used after nouns and numbers (very commonly time) to have the meaning “approximately.”
언제쯤 = Around when? Around what time?
몇 시쯤? = Around what time?

Example:
저는 파일을 2시쯤 보낼 거예요 = I will send the file at approximately 2:00
수업이 4시에 시작될 예정이에요 = The class is scheduled to start at about 4:00pm

서로= reciprocally

Notes: When you have two nouns as the subject, you can indicate that something was done to each other (reciprocally)

Example:
우리는 서로 편지를 줬어요 = We gave letters to each other

필독 = must read

Notes: Technically a noun, but usually the translation makes it sound like it is a verb with an emphasis attached to it.

Example: This word is usually used by itself at the top of messages (or as the subject of an e-mail) to indicate that the message is a “must read”

며칠 = how many days

Common Usages: This word has three main usages:

  • When asking somebody how many days they will do something
  • When asking what day it is
  • To say “a few days ago”

Examples:
한국에서 며칠 있었어요? = How many days were you in Korea?
오늘은 며칠이에요? = What day is it today?
우리는 며칠 전에 만났어요 = We met a few days ago

퍼센트 = percent

Common Usages:

백 퍼센트 = 100 percent

Example:
학생들의 20퍼센트만 시험을 합격했어요 = Only 20 percent of the students passed the exam

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

 

Introduction

In the previous lesson, you learned about how to make questions sentences in Korean. In this lesson, you will build on what you learned in Lesson 21 by learning more ways to ask questions in Korean. Specifically, you will learn how to ask questions using the following words: how, what, which and how many.

 

How (어떻게)

어떻게 is the easiest of the words that you will learn today. The word 어떻게 is actually 어떻다 (a word you don’t know yet) turned into an adverb by adding ~게 to the stem (어떻 + 게). Though 어떻다 and 어떻게 are technically the same word, don’t think of them that way. Just remember that 어떻게 means “how.” You can use 어떻게 to ask how somebody does a verb, but it can not be placed before an adjective or adverb in Korean to mean “how (adjective/adverb).” For example:

“Learn” is a verb, so you can use 어떻게 in the following sentence:
How
did you learn?

“Beautiful” is an adjective. “Often” is an adverb. Which means you can not use 어떻게 in the following sentences:
How
beautiful is your girlfriend?
How
often do you go to school?

You will learn another word (얼마나) later in this lesson to use in those sentences.

어떻게 is an adverb, so you can place it in sentences very freely. You can use it to ask questions in the past, present or future. For example:

그것을 어떻게 해요? = How do you do that?
한국어를 어떻게 배웠어요? = How did you learn Korean?
그 자리를 어떻게 찾았어요? = How did you find that seat?
그 파일을 어떻게 보낼 거예요? = How are you going to send that file?

One thing that is different between English and Korean is when you ask “what do you think about…” If you want to say that in Korean, you have to use the equivalent of “how do you think about…”:

그 여자에 대해 어떻게 생각해요? = What do you think about that girl?

That’s pretty much all you need to know with regards to ‘어떻게,’ but there is still more that you should know about the word 어떻다.

 

어때?
The word 어떻다 is rarely used as 어떻다 in sentences. Actually, if you asked Korean people if they thought that ‘어떻다’ and 어떻게’ are the same word, they would probably say that the two are completely different words.

In addition to 어떻게, there is another way that you can use 어떻다 in sentences. Through conjugation,  어떻다 can change to ‘어때.” I’ll show you how 어떻다 changes to 어때, but you really don’t need to worry about how it is changed (there are only a few other words in Korean that can take on a similar transformation).

  1. 어떻다 is an adjective
  2. ~아/어하다 can be added to some adjectives (You already know about 좋다 + ~아/어하다 = 좋아하다)
  3. The addition of ~아/어하다 causes the ㅎ to drop (you will learn more about this in the next lesson)
  4. 어떠하다 can conjugate to 어떠해
  5. Say 어떠해 fast enough and it comes out as “어때”

어때 is used to say “how is/was the…?” or “what do/did you think about…?” It is used when you want to ask somebody’s opinion/evaluation of something. It sounds more natural in Korean for the thing you are asking about with “어때”  to not have a particle. For example:

남자 친구 어때? = How is your boyfriend? (is he good/bad/handsome/etc..?)

It is also very commonly used in the present tense to say “how about… ?/what do you think of…?” For example:

점심 어때? = How about lunch? / What do you think about lunch?

Think of this example. You and I are searching through a bunch of pictures, trying to find the best one for my profile picture on Facebook. I find one that I like, but I want to ask you “what do you think about this picture/how about this picture?” In that case, I can say:

이 사진(이) 어때? = How about this picture?

In fact, 어때 is probably the most commonly miss-translated word by Korean speakers learning English. If you ask a Korean person what ‘어때’ means, they will all say it means “how about.” Sometimes, this is true, but 어때 can only be used as “how about” in a limited number of cases. In the example I just gave about choosing a good picture, 어때 can be translated to “how about.” But what about in example with the boyfriend?:

How about your boyfriend?

Sounds weird, and most English people probably couldn’t even understand the meaning of this sentence.

Try it sometimes. If you have a Korean friend (one that can’t speak 100% perfect English), ask him how to say “한국 어때?” in English. I guarantee he will say “How about Korea?” But really, this should be translated to “what do you think about Korea?/How is Korea?”

~요 can be added to 어때 to make it more formal. Also, 어때 can be put into the past-tense to ask about something in the past. But note that even if you are asking about the past, it is not 100% necessary to use 어때 in the past tense:

시험 어땠어요? = How was the exam?/What did you think about the exam? (was it hard/easy?)
점심 어땠어요? = How was the lunch?/What did you think about the lunch? (was it delicious?)

 

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What (/무엇/무슨)

Now that you’ve learned all the easy ways to ask questions, let’s work on the hard ways. Figuring out how to ask “what” in Korean is probably the hardest thing you will come across (grammatically) for a while. Essentially, there are three ways to say “what:”

뭐 – which is a pronoun
무엇 – which is a pronoun
무슨 – which is a word that can be placed before nouns to describe them

Let me explain how each one is used.

 

 

and 무엇

These two essentially have the same meaning and function. Let me introduce 뭐 first.

뭐 can be used similar to 언제, 어디 and 누구. That is, to represent an unknown thing in a sentence. For example:

밥을 먹었어 = I ate rice
뭐 먹었어요? = What did you eat?

계란을 샀어요 = I bought eggs
뭐 샀어요? = What did you buy?

Like 누구 (as you learned in the previous lesson), “뭐” and “what” act as a pronouns in their respective sentences. More examples:

파일을 첨부했어요 = I attached the file
뭐 첨부했어요? = What did you attach?

치마를 입었어요 = I put on a skirt
뭐 입었어요? = What did you put on/wear?

Particles are not usually attached to 뭐 when asking a question like this. For example, these would be unnatural:

뭐를 먹었어요?
뭐를 첨부했어요?
뭐를 입었어요?

One of the times it is possible to attach a particle to 뭐 is when asking somebody what they are referring to in a previous sentence where a noun was omitted. For example, if you look at this dialogue:

Person 1: 저는 많이 먹었어요 = I ate a lot
Person 2: 뭐를? = what? (you ate a lot of what?)

Here, the first person didn’t specifically indicate what he/she ate. The second person is asking for clarification of what was eaten, and can use “뭐를.” Here, “뭐” essentially acts as the noun that was omitted in the previous sentence.

무엇 is very similar to 뭐. However, it is more common to attach ~을 to 무엇 than with 뭐. For example:

점심을 먹었어? = Did you eat lunch?
무엇을 먹었어? = What did you eat?
무엇을 입었어요? = What did you put on/wear?
무엇을 샀어요? = What did you buy?

When used before 이다 to ask what something “is,” it is more common to use 뭐 than to use 무엇. For example:

이것이 뭐야? = What is this?
이름이 뭐예요? = What is your name?
점심이 뭐야? = What is (for) lunch?

Instead of:
이것이 무엇이야?
이름이 무엇이야?
점심이 무엇이야?

 

무슨

무슨 also translates to “what” but it is instead placed before nouns to describe them.

For example:

그 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see that movie?
무서운 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see a scary movie?
무슨 영화를 보고 싶어요? = What movie do you want to see?

The dictionary form of 무슨 is 무슨. Although it looks like an adjective with ~ㄴ/은 attached to it, the word itself is 무슨, and thus, is not actually an adjective. However, it looks and feels like an adjective because of how it is used in sentences.

무슨 is used when the speaker doesn’t know what an object is, and is asking about what it may be. The most common situations you will see 무슨 used are the following:

그것이 무슨 냄새야? = What is that smell?
무슨 생각(을) 해? = What are you thinking?
그것이 무슨 소리야? = What is that sound?
무슨 말이야? = What do you mean?
(The last two examples are often used to ask “what do you mean” or “I can’t understand what you are trying to say”)

One way I like to think of 무슨 and how it can be distinguished from 어떤 and 어느 (which you will learn next in the lesson), is that 무슨 is used when the speaker is asking a question and has no idea what the answer will be. The answer could be almost an unlimited choice of options. For example, if I ask:

무슨 냄새야? = What is that smell?

I might use that if I just walk into a room and smell something for the first time. Because of this, I would not know the source of the smell and would have no idea what the answer to my question might be. The answer could be anywhere from “my fart” to “the toaster.”

Likewise, if I ask:

무슨 생각(을) 해? = What are you thinking?

I might be looking at somebody and seeing them staring into space. In this case, I would not be able to even guess what that person is thinking, so I have no idea what the answer to my question might be. The answer could be anywhere from “my future” to “eating pizza.”

Sounds simple enough, right? Let’s talk about other words that are often confused with 무슨.

 

 

 

Which (어떤/어느)

어떤

어떤 is another one of these words that, although not an adjective, we can place before a noun to describe it. For example:

그 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see that movie?
무서운 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see a scary movie?
무슨 영화를 보고 싶어요? = What movie do you want to see?
어떤 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Which movie do you want to see?

Or

그 차를 사고 싶어요? = Do you want to buy that car?
비싼 차를 사고 싶어요? = Do you want to buy an expensive car?
무슨 차를 사고 싶어요? = What car do you want to buy?
어떤 차를 사고 싶어요? = Which car do you want to buy?

The first question every learner has when learning about 어떤 is how it can be differentiated from 무슨. 어떤 usually translates to “which” and 무슨 usually translates to “what.” Their meanings are very similar and their respective English translations don’t really give any hints as to what the differences between the two are.

The difference is subtle, and at this point you don’t really need to fully understand how they are different. The difference is even hard for Korean people to understand, and using one of them in place of the other usually creates a sentence with essentially the exact same meaning. That being said, let me give you a brief introduction of how they are different.

In the case of asking questions, 어떤 is used for two main reasons.

  • To choose from a selection of options
    For example, in: “어떤 차를 사고 싶어요?” Maybe you are selling cars and giving a person a selection of cars to choose from. Here, although you technically don’t know the answer to the question, you can assume that it will be from a limited number of choices given.
  • To ask about the type of properties or characteristics related to a person/object
    For example, in: “어떤 차를 사고 싶어요?” Maybe you are asking your friend about the type of car he wants to buy based on the characteristics of it. Here, you could be asking if he wants to buy a van, an SUV, a truck, etc…

By looking at those two main usages, you can see how 어떤 should not be used to replace 무슨 in most situations. For example, in the examples earlier with 무슨, I showed you this sentence:

무슨 냄새야? = What is that smell?

Here, “무슨 냄새야?” would be used when the person doesn’t know the source of the smell, and has no idea what the smell could be. Like I said earlier, the answer to the question would likely indicate the source of the smell and could literally be anything from “farts” to “the toaster.”

However saying “어떤 냄새야?” in most situations would be ridiculous. It could only really be used if you are asking a person to tell you about the characteristics of a smell they are smelling. For example, imagine if you had a bouquet of flowers and put the flowers to your friend’s nose. In this case, you want your friend to describe the characteristics of the smell – “Is it is nice smell? A fresh smell? A rosy smell?” The answer to this question would likely be describing (the characteristics) of the smell

Despite this distinction, there are many situations where 어떤 and 무슨 could basically be used interchangeably. For example, ask a Korean person if they can describe the differences between the two sentences:

무슨 영화를 보고 싶어요? = What movie do you want to see?
(In theory, the speaker would have no idea what the answer to the question would be)

어떤 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Which movie do you want to see?
(In theory, the speaker would have given the listener a choice to choose from, or would be asking about the type of movie the listener wants to see [for example, a comedy, a horror movie, or a love story]).


Another usage of 어떤 that is completely unrelated to asking questions can be seen in this sentence:

어떤 남자는 어제 여기에 왔어 = Some man came here yesterday

Here, 어떤 is used to show that the speaker knew a man came, but is unsure of specifically who he was. This can be applied to other nouns as well when the speaker is aware of some object, but is unsure of what specific object is in question. For example

저는 어떤 책을 읽고 있었어요 = I was reading some book
(the speaker doesn’t know exactly what book he was reading)

저는 어떤 건물에 들어갔어요 = I went into some building
(the speaker doesn’t know exactly what building he went into)


 

Just when you thought you might actually be understanding this confusion, we have to look at another word with a similar meaning.

 

어느

Another way you can ask this type of question is with the word 어느. Like 무슨 and 어떤, 어느 is placed immediately before nouns.

Unfortunately for your brain, 어느 translates to “which.” For example:

그 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see that movie?
무서운 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Do you want to see a scary movie?
무슨 영화를 보고 싶어요? = What movie do you want to see?
어떤 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Which movie do you want to see?
어느 영화를 보고 싶어요? = Which movie do you want to see?

In the case of asking questions, 어느is used in a similar way to the first explanation I gave of 어떤 from above. That is, “to choose from a selection of options.” It would not be used to refer to the type of characteristics or properties of an object, and it would not be used to refer to something unknown.

Here, you can see that the usages of 무슨, 어떤 and 어느 overlap on multiple levels. Although this overlap leads to confusion, it also allows each word to be used interchangeably in most cases, which makes using them easier than you think. In my opinion, it is just as important to realize how not to use each of these words when asking a question. Let me brief that for you:

무슨:
Don’t use this when asking about the type of characteristics or properties of something
Don’t use this when giving somebody options to choose from

However,
Do use this when you can’t expect what the answer will be at all

어떤:
Don’t use this when asking about something that you can’t expect the answer for

However,
Do use this when asking about the type of characteristics or properties of something
Do use this when giving somebody options to choose from

어느:
Don’t use this when asking about the type of characteristics or properties of something
Don’t use this when asking about something that you can’t expect the answer for

However,
Do use this when giving somebody options to choose from

Here are a bunch of similar examples which each word being used:

무슨 집에서 살아요? = What house do you live in?
어떤 집에서 살아요? = Which house do you live in?
어느 집에서 살아요? = Which house do you live in?

무슨 대학교를 다녀요? = What university do you go to?
어떤 대학교를 다녀요? = Which university do you go to?
어느 대학교를 다녀요? = Which university do you go to?

무슨 쪽으로 가고 싶어요? – This would generally not be said in Korean. You would most likely say this when standing on a street (or somewhere similar), where you have a selection of options to choose from. Therefore, one of the following would be used instead:
어떤 쪽으로 가고 싶어요? = Which way do you want to go?
어느 쪽으로 가고 싶어요? = Which way do you want to go?

무슨 치마를 샀어요? = What skirt did you buy?
어떤 치마를 샀어요? = Which skirt did you buy?
어느 치마를 샀어요? = Which skirt did you buy?

This table is equally confusing, but it helped me organize my thoughts, so I thought I would present it here as well. I have attempted to organize the main usages of 무슨, 어떤 and 어느.

무슨 어떤 어느
Object is unknown 무슨 냄새야?
What is that smell?
어떤 냄새야?
Could be okay, but it would be referring to the characteristics of the smell, not the source.
어느 소리야?
Awkward
Characteristics 사람이 무슨 사람이야?
Awkward
그는 어떤 사람이야?
What type of person is he?
사람이 어느 사람이야?
Awkward
Choosing among options
More in Lesson 33
무슨 차를 사고 싶어요?
What car do you want to buy?
(This fits in with the “object is unknown” usage)
어떤 차를 사고 싶어요?
Which car do you want to buy?
(This could also be referring to the characteristics/type of car)
어느 차를 사고 싶어요?
Which car do you want to buy?
Unsure of specifics 나는 무슨 책을 읽었어
Awkward
나는 어떤 책을 읽었어
I read some book
나는 어느 책을 읽었어
Awkward

This is a good start, but there are other specific situations when you might use one of these words. For example, 어느 has other usages as well. You will learn about some of the other usages of 어느 in Lesson 25 and Lesson 72.

In addition, as 어떤 and 어느 are used when options are given, we will continue to talk about these words in Lesson 33 when you learn how to give options to people.

 

How many ()___ (words with counters)

Before I explain how to ask somebody “how many ____?” as in “how many cars do you have?” let’s review how to say “I have # cars.” Remember that you need to use counters in these types of sentences:

저는 차 두 대가 있어요 = I have 2 cars
나는 어제 친구 다섯 명을 만났어 = I met five friends yesterday
저는 그 영화를 다섯 번 봤어요 = I saw that movie five times

If you want to ask “how many ___?” you must include “몇” before the counter:

차가 몇 대 있어요? = How many cars do you have?
친구를 몇 명 만났어요? = How many friends did you meet?
어제 학교에 몇 번 갔어요? = How many times did you go to school yesterday?
파일을 몇 개 보냈어요? = How many files did you send?
치마를 몇 개 샀어요? = How many skirts did you buy?
그 종이를 몇 번 찢었어요? = How many times did you rip that paper?

Notice the difference in the placement of the particles. When you say “몇 번” or “몇 대” or “몇 명” you have essentially created a question word. Just like most other question words, particles are not typically attached. Nonetheless, if you placed the particles after “몇 ___”, your questions would still be understood, but to me it is more natural to place them after the noun that you are asking about, and not after the counter. Just to show you, these would be understandable, and it probably just depends on the speaker who says them:

차가 몇 대가 있어요? = How many cars do you have?
친구 몇 명을 만났어요? = How many friends did you meet?

Also make sure not to confuse these types of sentences with these similar sentences you learned in a previous lesson:
(저는) 차 몇 대가 있어요 = I have some cars
(저는) 어제 학교에 몇 번 갔어요 = I went to school some times (a few times) yesterday
(저는) 친구를 몇 명 만났어요 = I met some friends

The difference between the first three sentences and the last three sentences is the first three are questions and last three are statements. Remember when you are asking a question that the intonation needs to rise at the end of the sentence.

By using 몇 ___ you can also ask “how old are you?” and “what time is it?”:

몇 시예요? = What time is it?
몇 살이에요? = How old are you?
너의 남동생은 몇 살이야? = How old is your younger brother?

 

How much, How many: 얼마나

The word “얼마나” can be placed before adjectives and adverbs to mean “how.” In these cases, the speaker is asking to what extent something occurs. For example:

Adjectives
얼마나 짧다 = how short
얼마나 예쁘다 = how pretty
얼마나 많다 = how much/many

Adverbs
얼마나 자주 = how often
얼마나 빨리 = how quickly
얼마나 잘 = how well

For example:

한국어를 얼마나 자주 공부해요? = How often do you study Korean?
여자 친구는 얼마나 예뻐요? = How pretty is your girlfriend?
축구를 얼마나 잘 해요? = How well do you play soccer?

It can also be used before verbs when the speaker is not making a distinction between countable objects in his/her question. Instead, the speaker’s inquiry falls within an uncountable continuum. For example, notice the difference between these two questions:

How many pieces did you eat?
Speaker is making a distinction between countable objects

How much did you eat?
Speaker is not making a distinction between countable objects. Here, the speaker’s inquiry falls within an uncountable continuum.

When used like this with a verb, the most common translation for “얼마나” is “how much.” For example:

빵을 얼마나 먹었어요? = How much bread did you eat?
그 여자를 얼마나 사랑해요? = How much do you love that girl?
돈을 얼마나 가져갈 거예요? = How much money will you take?
물을 얼마나 마셨어요? = How much water did you drink?
그 책상은 자리를 얼마나 차지해요? = How much space does that desk take up?

The adverb 많이 is sometimes used in these sentences, and creates essentially the same meaning. In fact, the translation usually would not change when using 많이 in these types of sentences. For example:

빵을 얼마나 많이 먹었어요? = How much bread did you eat?
그 여자를 얼마나 많이 사랑해요? = How much do you love that girl?
돈을 얼마나 많이 가져갈 거예요? = How much money will you take?
물을 얼마나 많이 마셨어요? = How much water did you drink?
그 책상은 자리를 얼마나 많이 차지해요? = How much space does that desk take up?

Using 많이 in the sentences above just stresses that the speaker knows that the answer is “a lot” (remember, the meaning of 많이 is “a lot” or “many”), and is sort of asking “okay, I know it is a lot, but how much a lot?” (I realize that sentence is grammatically incorrect).

많이 (the adverb) can also be used as 많다 (the adjective) in these sentences. The meaning is still the same, but the structure of the sentence changes so 많다 describes the noun in question:

얼마나 많은 빵을 먹었어요? = How much bread did you eat?
얼마나 많은 여자를 사랑해요? = How many girls do you love?
얼마나 많은 돈을 가져갈 거예요? = How much money will you take?
얼마나 많은 물을 마셨어요? = How much water did you drink?

When the speaker is making a distinction between countable objects, the counter should be used as you learned in the previous section. For example:

빵을 몇 개 먹었어요? = How many pieces of bread did you eat?
몇 명의 여자를 사랑해요? = How many girls do you love?

Note that although “얼마나” translates to “how” in all of these usages above. This is different from the usage of 어떻게 which also translates to “how” in English.

Notice the difference between the use of “how” in the sentences below:

한국어를 얼마나 자주 공부해요? = How often do you study Korean?
한국어를 어떻게 배웠어요? = How did you learn Korean?

The word “얼마” can be used to ask how much something costs.
얼마나 and 얼마 are technically not the same word. However, I am presenting 얼마 in this form here because it is very common and it is in the form of a question.

For example:

그 로션이 얼마예요? = How much is that lotion?
저 바지가 얼마예요? = How much are those pants?
벌금은 얼마였어요? = How much was the fine?
이게 얼마예요? = How much is this?

Remember, 이게, 그게 and 저게 are contractions of 이것이, 그것이 and 저것이 respectively.

———————-

I just want to point out that it is possible to use most of these question words by themselves to ask for more information about a situation. If somebody is talking, and you want more information about who, what, when, where, why or how or something occurs, you can use 누구, 뭐, 언제, 어디, 왜 or 어떻게 by themselves as questions. I don’t show this, but you can also add “요” after any of these words if you are speaking in a more formal situation. For example:


In Lesson 21, you saw that you can use this when somebody calls you, for example:

Person 1: 슬기야! = Seulgi!
Person 2: 왜? = Why/what do you want?

It can also be used by itself to ask “why” something occurs. For example:

Person 1: 저는 내일 캐나다에 갈 거예요 = Tomorrow, I will go to Canada
Person 2: 왜? = Why (will you go to Canada tomorrow)?

언제
Person 1: 저는 캐나다에 갈 거예요 = I will go to Canada
Person 2: 언제? = When (will you go to Canada)?

어디
Person 1: 저는 내일 갈 거예요 = I will go tomorrow
Person 2: 어디? = Where (will you go tomorrow)?

누구
Person 1: 내일 그 사람을 만날 거예요 = I will meet that person tomorrow
Person 2: 누구(를)? = Who(m) (will you meet)?

You can use 누가 by itself when asking about the acting agent of a sentence. For example:

Person 1: 내일 어떤 사람이 여기 올 거예요 = Tomorrow, some person will come here
Person 2: 누가? = Who (will come here)?

어떻게
Person 1: 저는 공항에 갈 거예요 = I will go to the airport
Person 2: 어떻게? = How (will you go to the airport)?


You saw this already in this lesson:

Person 1: 저는 많이 먹었어요 = I ate a lot
Person 2: 뭐(를)? = what? (you ate a lot of what?)

———————-

That’s it for asking questions in Korean! There was a lot of content in this lesson and the one before it (Lesson 21). Make sure you review those concepts a lot, because they are very important!

Before we move on to the next lesson, though, we need to revisit ~는/은 and ~이/가 again.

 

 

 

~는/은 and ~이/가 Revisited (again)

Now that you have continued to increase your understanding of Korean grammar over the past few lessons – and specifically learned how to ask questions in Korean, I can continue to explain the nuances between ~이/가 and ~는/은.

Assuming that the situation is not set up in a way that would be grammatically appropriate to compare yourself with somebody else, it would be very awkward for you to say the following:

내가 밥을 먹었어

If you just walked into a room without anybody saying anything to you, or without any prior back-story, and simply said “내가 밥을 먹었어” (despite being able to understand you perfectly) it would sound very awkward to Korean people.

When you use ~이/가 over ~는/은, the speaker is putting an enormous amount of stress on the fact that it was that particular subject that did the action. The speaker isn’t comparing anything, but specifically stressing that it was the subject who/that does the action in the sentence (or has the properties described by the adjective, or “is” the thing attached to 이다). Again, this is just a nuance, and cannot be expressed in translation to English. The only way it can be explained is through descriptions.

The reason why “내가 밥을 먹었어” sounds weird is because it is just like walking into a room and saying:

“I am the one who ate rice!”
Note here that I wouldn’t actually translate “내가 밥을 먹었어” to “I am the one who ate rice.” I would still translate it to “I ate.” I am using the translation “I am the one who ate” to show how the stress can be on the subject.
Nobody would ever say that without anything prompting a person to say it. Instead, you would just say:

나는 밥을 먹었어 = I ate rice
Note that here, you are not comparing anything. You are also not stating a general fact. You are just indicating the subject of the sentence. How can I know that nothing is being compared? How can I know that this isn’t just a general fact? How can I know that ~는/은 is just acting as a plain old subject marker?

I am going to reiterate what I said in Lesson 17:
This is precisely what causes the confusion amongst foreigners when trying to distinguish the difference between ~이/가 and ~는/은. Both of them can be used to express more than one nuance. The only way you can distinguish between the particular nuances being used is by understanding the situation in which they are used.

The whole process of distinguishing ~이/가 from ~는/은 is incredibly confusing. I want to share an important phrase that I came up with that you should always think about when trying to learn the purposes of these particles:
“It’s not about understanding them – it’s about understanding when to use them.”

At this point I would like to dive a little bit deeper into this purpose of stressing the subject of a sentence. Like I said, to have this purpose, it would need some sort of back-story indicating why the speaker would need to stress the subject.

It would be weird in most situations to just say the following as a one-off sentence:

내가 학생이야
… this is just like walking into a room and saying “It is me who is a/the student!”

However, imagine two students in a class arguing about who gets to sit in the front row (the best seats in the class). After arguing for a few minutes, the class president can come in and say:

내가 반장이야! = I am the class president! (반장 = class president)

In this situation, the speaker is stressing that it is he/she that is the class president, and therefore has the power to solve the situation.

I waited until Lesson 22 to talk about this usage because now you know how to ask questions. The particle ~이/가, in its usage as a subject stressor, is used when somebody specifically asks “who” did a particular action.

For example, in the following dialogue:

누가 밥을 먹었어? = Who ate the rice?
내가 밥을 먹었어 = I ate the rice
This could also be shortened to only include the subject:
내가 = “I did”, or “me

Another example:
누가 피자를 만들었어? = Who made the pizza?
내가 만들었어 = I made it (me)

Notice here that just because (in English) somebody asks a “who” question doesn’t mean that ~이/가 must be used on the subject. This is only relevant when the speaker is asking “who” the subject was – and not who the object was (in effect, when “who” translates to 누가 and not to 누구”).

누가 그녀를 좋아해? = Who likes her?
내가 그녀를 좋아해 = I like her
Notice above the question is asking who the subject is

너는 누구를 좋아해? = Who do you like?
나는 그녀를 좋아해 = I like her
Notice above the question is asking who the object is. The use of “는” on the subject takes the stress off of the subject and “는” just acts as a subject marker.

The same thing can be done with other question words, as long as the question is asking for the subject. For example:

어떤 것이 더 좋아요? = Which one is better?
이것이 더 좋아요 = This one is better

I can’t stress enough that all of these nuances are all situational.
A particular sentence with ~는/은 can make sense in one situation, but could be awkward in another situation. That same sentence might be awkward with ~이/가 in one situation, but appropriate in another situation. In some situations, they could be exactly the same. Ask a Korean person to distinguish between the following:

내 친구가 밥을 먹었다
내 친구는 밥을 먹었다

They will tell you that – depending on the situation – they could be exactly the same. It entirely depends on the nuance that the speaker is trying to make.

Before we finish, I would like to organize everything that we’ve done and try to describe the usages of ~는/은 and ~이/가 very quickly. Notice that I say “try.” It is almost impossible to do this in any form, let alone in just a few sentences. Korean people literally write their doctoral theses on this topic. Nonetheless, here we go:

~는/은:

  • 1)    To denote a subject of a sentence. For example:
    나는 밥을 먹었다 = I ate rice
    내 친구는 밥을 먹었다 = My friend ate rice
    나는 그녀를 좋아해 = I like her
    This may or may not have an overlapped meaning with the following purposes:
  • 2)    To compare something. For example:
    이 산은 높다 = This mountain is high (but maybe another mountain is low)
    사과는 빨갛다. 바나나는 노랗다 = Apples are red. Bananas are yellow.
  • 3)    To state a general fact. For example:
    로키산은 높다 = The Rocky Mountains are high
    여름 날씨는 좋다 = Summer weather is good (nice)
    다이아몬드는 딱딱하다 = Diamonds are hard
    사과는 빨갛다 = Apples are red

~이/가:

  • 1)    To denote a subject of a sentence. For example:
    고양이가 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house
    This may or may not have an overlapped meaning with the following purposes:
  • 2)    To indicate something based on a recent experience/observation. For example:
    날씨가 좋다 = The weather is nice!
    비가 와요 = It’s raining!
    사과가 파랗다 = The apple is blue
  • 3)    To stress that the subject does the action (or is the adjective). For example:
    누가 그녀를 좋아해? = Who likes her?
    – 내가 그녀를 좋아해 = I like her
    내가 반장이야! = I am the class president!
  • 4)    Placed on objects in sentences that are predicated by adjectives. For example:
    나는 학교가 싫다 = I don’t like school
    나는 그것이 좋다 = I like that
    나는 펜이 있다 = I have a pen
  • 5)    Placed on the object before 아니다 to indicate what something is not. For example:
    나는 학생이 아니다 = I am not a student
    나는 의사가 아니다 = I am not a doctor
  • 6)    Placed on the object predicated by “되다” to indicate what something becomes. For example:
    나는 의사가 되고 싶다 = I want to become a doctor
    나는 선생님이 되고 싶다 = I want to become a teacher

In Lesson 14 you also learned about creating passive sentences with verbs that act in the “state” of something. For example:

문이 열려 있다 = The door is open

In that lesson, I told you that you should use ~이/가 on the object that is in the state of something. I can only assume that the purpose of this is what is described in number 2) above. That is, “the door being open” is not some general statement because (obviously) not all doors are open. Rather, the speaker is referring to a particular door in a particular situation that is open, and thus, requires the use of ~이/가. Adding ~는/은 to “문” (or any other object in that situation) would only be acceptable in a comparison situation.

One last time before we put this to bed for a while:
Your understanding of this will progress along with your understanding of Korean in general. Through Lesson 2, 17 and 22 I hope you have a better understanding of this. However, I know that you will still be confused. Don’t worry, that is normal, and I promise your understanding will evolve as you keep progressing with your Korean.

In our later lessons, you will continue to be introduced to when it is more appropriate to use either ~는/은 or ~이/가. For now, focus on what we have learned so far.

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