Lesson 108: Past Perfect: ~었~

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Vocabulary
Introduction

The Past Perfect: ~었~

 

 

Vocabulary

Nouns:
여유 = sufficiency in time/space
지름 = diameter
지름길 = shortcut
시장 = mayor
흉터 = scar
붓 = paint brush
사기 = fraud
사기꾼 = swindler, fraud man
초보 = beginning, beginner
초보자 = beginner (specifically a person)
연꽃 = lily pad, lotus flower
풍경 = landscape
표준 = standard
불꽃 = flame/flare/blaze
불꽃놀이 = fireworks
애교 = charm
제도 = system (electoral, educational, etc)
연금 = pension
멸치 = anchovy

Verbs:
존재하다 = to exist
아첨하다 = to flatter
유혹하다 = to tempt
녹음하다 = to record audio
공격하다 = to attack
수비하다 = to defend

Adjectives:
침묵하다 = to be silence
질기다 = to be tough, leathery
알뜰하다 = to be frugal, thrifty

Adverbs:
정작 = actually, really
아예 = not at all

 

 

 

 

Introduction

In this lesson, you will learn the meaning of a grammatical principle that, by this point, you have probably noticed a few times in your Korean studies. Have you ever seen words in the past tense conjugated with an additional “었”? As in, 했었다 instead of 했다? In this lesson, we will look at the meaning of this additional “었”. Let’s get started.

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The Past Perfect: ~었~

There has probably been many times where you have noticed this additional ~었~ in a verb/adjective conjugated in the past tense. By now, you have undoubtedly become familiar with the usage and meaning of a simple past tense conjugation. For example:

제가 고등학생이었을 때 아주 뚱뚱했어요 = When I was in high school, I was very fat
사람들이 그 학교가 나쁘다고 했어요 = People said that school is bad
일본은 전쟁에서 한국을 공격했어요 = Japan attacked Korea in the war
저는 수업이 매우 재미있다고 매일 선생님께 아부했어요 = I flattered my teacher every day by telling him his class was fun (아첨하다 is an older way to say “아부하다”)
저는 서울에 갔어요 = I went to Seoul

The purpose of adding an additional ~었~ to these past tense conjugations is to indicate that that action has since finished and is no longer occurring in the present. Note that in most situations, when something is conjugated into the past tense (the regular past tense as in the examples above) this could be the case as well. For example, if we look at the first sentence above:

제가 고등학생이었을 때 아주 뚱뚱했어요 = When I was in high school, I was very fat

In this sentence, the speaker is indicating that he/she was fat. Just by the context of the sentence, it can probably be assumed that the speaker is no longer fat. However, this meaning is not specifically indicated and it is only implied from the situation in the sentence. Therefore, the person could technically still be fat… but there is no way of knowing from this one sentence. (You would have to know by either looking at the person or by hearing more information)

The same could be said for the next sentence as well:

사람들이 그 학교가 나쁘다고 했어요 = People said that school is bad

In this sentence, the speaker is indicating that other people said the school was bad. Just by looking at the one sentence and being given no other information – it is possible that people still say ‘the school is bad’… or it could be possible that they no longer say ‘the school is bad’. The only information that is given is the fact that people in the past said the school was bad – and we can’t make any assumptions regarding the present tense without more information.

The purpose of adding the additional ~었~ to a past tense conjugation is to eliminate this ambiguity. For example:

제가 고등학생이었을 때 아주 뚱뚱했었어요 = When I was in high school, I was very fat (and I am no longer fat now)

In this sentence, the use of ~었~ is to indicate that – whatever the situation was in the past, it is not continuing to the future. People with knowledge of English grammar (or grammar in general) often call this the “Past Perfect Tense”… which is simply a fancy name for a sentence that describes that something happened in the past and is no longer happening in the present. Compared to the “Past Tense”, where it is ambiguous as to whether the action has continued to the present tense.

Other examples:
사람들이 그 학교가 나쁘다고 했었어요 = People said that school is bad (but they no longer do)
일본은 전쟁에서 한국을 공격했었어요 = Japan attacked Korea in the war, (but not anymore)
저는 수업이 매우 재미있다고 매일 선생님께 아부했었어요 = I flattered my teacher every day (but now I’m finished school so I don’t do that anymore)

This grammatical principle is often added to 갔다 as well, to indicate that one went somewhere and has since returned. When the speaker is the subject (the person who went) in a sentence like this, the meaning is essentially the same regardless of if you use ~었~ or not. For example:

저는 서울에 갔어요 = I went to Seoul (and it would be obviously assumed from the situation that you are no longer in Seoul).
저는 서울에 갔었어요 = I went to Seoul, (and it is stated that you are no longer in Seoul)

저는 캐나다에 갔어요 = I went to Canada
저는 캐나다에 갔었어요 = I went to Canada (and I returned)

If the speaker is not the subject of the sentence, the effect of ~었~ is more apparent. For example:

아빠가 서울에 갔어요 = Dad went to Seoul (and it is ambiguous if he is still there or not)
아빠가 서울에 갔었어요 = Dad went to Seoul (and he has come back)

It’s really not that hard of a grammatical principle, especially because it almost means the same thing as a simple past tense conjugation. The only difference that it is specifically indicated that the action is not continuing to the present.
One way of conjugating this into English is to use the word “had.” For example:

사람들이 그 학교가 나쁘다고 했었어요 = People had said that school is bad
일본은 전쟁에서 한국을 공격했었어요 = Japan had attacked Korea in the war
저는 수업이 매우 재미있다고 매일 선생님께 아부했었어요 = I had flattered my teacher every day

Other examples from the book I am currently reading:

그는 그때 너무 어렸고 다른 여자들을 만나 본 적이 없었기 때문에 그녀가 좋은 여자라는 사실을 깨닫지 못했었다 = He was too young at that time, and because he didn’t have the experience of meeting other girls, he hadn’t realized that she was a good girl

그 남자는 한때 그녀를 잠깐 사랑했었다 = That man had once loved her for a short period

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