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Lesson 110: 어쩔 수 없다

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There is nothing one can do about something: 어쩔 수 없다




겹 = layer
밀 = wheat
분기 = a quarter (of a year)
정의 = definition
장비 = equipment, apparatus
체면 = one’s reputation
명성 = one’s reputation
은어 = slang
검 = sword
성숙기 = puberty
강철 = steel
흔적 = trace, evidence
응급 = emergency
응급처치 = first aid (emergency medical treatment)
고대 = ancient
중동 = the Middle East

치우다 = to tidy, to clear up, to remove
혼내다 = to be mad at somebody, to yell at somebody
깎아내다 = to put somebody down
구기다 = to wrinkle, to crumple
삐치다 = to sulk
벗어나다 = to get out of/break away from

Passive Verbs:
혼나다 = to be scolded, to be yelled at
깎이다 = to be disgraced
깎이다 = to be peeled, to be sharpened

거칠다 = to be rough/course/uneven
소심하다 = to be timid
기특하다 = to be admirable, commendable






In this lesson, you will learn how to use 어쩔 수 없다 and its various forms in sentences. Though not quite a grammatical principle (it’s more of a word combined with “~ㄹ/을 수 없다” it’s usage is fairly common and quite difficult – enough to warrant me to write a lesson about it. Let’s get started.




There is nothing one can do about something: 어쩔 수 없다

In Lesson 94 you learned about the word 어쩌다 and how it is used in sentences to indicate that something happened by chance (or, in effect, was not under the control of the acting agent in a sentence). You learned that this word is most commonly found in sentences that end in the grammatical principle ~게 되다. For example:

어쩌다 그녀를 버스에서 보게 되었어요 = I ended up seeing her on the bus

Because “어쩌다” ends in “~다”, people often assume that it is a verb or an adjective. However, if either of these were the case, there would be no way that 어쩌다could be placed unconjugated at the beginning of a sentence like we see above. Therefore, 어쩌다 when used this way is an adverb. (Not that it really matters, I’m just saying…).

Korean dictionaries also have an entry for 어쩌다 as a verb. Because of the slight similarities in meaning with the adverb and verb form of 어쩌다, you might think that they are actually the same word, but just different forms of the same word. All the sources I have tell me that each of them come from contractions of different words and technically aren’t related. Either way, this discussion is nonsense and doesn’t really affect your understanding of what I would like to present in this lesson.

어쩌다 (in its verb form) is most commonly used by combining it with the ~ㄹ 수 없다 grammatical principle to create 어쩔 수 없다. The whole construction (which I suggest you treat as one unit) is used when one wants to express that there is nothing he/she can do in a situation.

In its most simple form, it can be used by itself:

어쩔 수 없어요 = There’s nothing I/we/you can do…

You can make it more complicated (and natural) by putting a clause before 어쩔 수 없다 to give more information to the listener/reader as to what you are talking about. For example:

시험을 또 볼 수 있었으면 좋겠지만 어쩔 수 없어요 = I wish I could write the exam again, but there is nothing I can do (about it)

우리 친구가 이미 가서 어쩔 수 없어요 = Our friend already left, so there is nothing we can do (about it)

상황이 조금 안타깝지만 어쩔 수 없다 = The situation is unfortunate, but there is nothing we can do (about it)

In the examples above, no information is given as to what situation is being talked about. They all just generally said “there is nothing we can do (about it)”.
It is also possible to describe that there is nothing a person can do about a specific situation. Any situation can just be turned into a noun using the ~는 것 principle and can then be described by “어쩔 수 없다”. For example:

학생들이 저를 싫어하는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요 = There’s nothing I can do about the students not liking me (it’s inevitable that the students won’t like me)

명성이 깎이는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요 = There’s nothing I can do about my fame being tarnished

컴퓨터를 고장 내고 아빠한테 혼나는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요 = After breaking the computer, there is nothing I can do about dad scolding me (it is inevitable that dad will scold me)

It’s also possible to apply the ~는 것 principle to 어쩔 수 없다 (어쩔 수 없는) to turn it into a clause that can describe an upcoming noun. The noun that is being described then changes to a noun that one cannot do anything about. For example:

(Note that it is often hard to translate these sentences directly into English. What might sound natural in Korean might not sound natural in English if it is translated directly).

사람들이 언젠가 죽는 것은 어쩔 수 없는 운명이다 = The fact that people die someday is an inevitable fate/destiny

우리가 어쩔 수 없는 문제에 도달했다 = We arrived at the problem that we can’t do anything about

이게 어쩔 수 없는 상황이니 다른 생각을 해봅시다 = Because this is a situation we can’t control (can’t do anything about) let’s think about something else

부장님을 싫어하는 것은 어쩔 수 없는 일이다 = Hating your boss is inevitable

비행기 사고가 나면 사람들이 많이 죽는 것은 어쩔 수 없는 일이다 = When an airplane crashes, it is inevitable that many people will die

Finally, it’s also possible to change 어쩔 수 없다 to 어쩔 수 없이 to act as an adverb. 어쩔 수 없이 can then be placed in sentences to indicate that one does an action “unavoidably” or because he/she had no (figurative) choice in the matter. For example:

저는 아내한테 바람을 피웠다고 어쩔 수 없이 말했어요 = I had no choice but to tell my wife that I cheated on her

부모님께 어쩔 수 없이 진실을 알려줬어요 = I had no choice but to tell my parents the truth

부장님이 저를 매일 혼내서 저는 일을 어쩔 수 없이 그만두었어요 = Because the boss would get mad at me every day, I had no choice but to quit

가장 친한 친구의 여자 친구에게 키스를 해서 그 친구에게 어쩔 수 없이 거짓말을 했어요 = After kissing my best friend’s girlfriend, I had no choice but to lie to him

우리가 너무 빨리 가고 있었기 때문에 어쩔 수 없이 발생한 사고였어요 = Because we were going so fast, the accident was unavoidable (we couldn’t do anything about the accident)

That’s it for this Lesson!

Click here for a Workbook to go along with this lesson.

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