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Lesson 110: 어쩔 수 없다

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




검 = sword
겹 = layer
밀 = wheat
고대 = ancient
수익 = profit
분기 = a quarter (of a year)
정의 = definition
장비 = equipment, apparatus
체면 = one’s reputation
명성 = one’s reputation
은어 = slang
강철 = steel
흔적 = trace, evidence
응급 = emergency
음급실 = emergency room
사춘기 = puberty

혼내다 = to be mad at somebody, to yell at somebody
혼나다 = to be scolded, to be yelled at
구기다 = to wrinkle, to crumple
삐지다 = to sulk
깎이다 = to be disgraced
깎이다 = to be peeled, to be sharpened
벗어나다 = to get out of/break away from

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) its 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 응급실에 가게 되었어요 = I ended up going to the emergency room

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 어쩌다 could be placed unconjugated at the beginning of a sentence like we see above. Therefore, 어쩌다 when used this way is an adverb.

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 they technically are not related.

어쩌다 (in its verb form) is most commonly used by combining it with ~ㄹ 수 없다 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 that can be done 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 a more complex sentence 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:

흔적이 없어서 어쩔 수 없어요
= There is no evidence, so there is nothing we can do

애기가 삐져서 어쩔 수 없어요
= The baby is upset, there is nothing we can do

강아지가 소심해서 어쩔 수 없어요
= The dog is very timid, there is nothing we can do

장비를 안 가져와서 어쩔 수 없어요
= We didn’t bring the equipment, there is nothing we can do

밀이 있었으면 좋겠지만 어쩔 수 없어요
= It would be nice if we had some flour, but there is nothing we can do

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

It is also possible to turn the situation into a noun using ~는 것 to allow 어쩔 수 없다 to act on that entire situation. For example:

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

강철을 사용해야 되는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요
= There’s nothing we can do, we have to use steel

학생들이 저를 싫어하는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요
= There’s nothing I can do about the students not liking me

컴퓨터를 고장 내고 아빠한테 혼나는 것은 어쩔 수 없어요
= After breaking the computer, there is nothing I can do about dad scolding me

부장님이 다른 회사에 가서 1분기의 수익이 떨어진 것은 어쩔 수 없어요
= Our boss went to another company, there’s nothing we can do about our first quarter’s profits dropping

사춘기의 청소년들이 말을 할 때 은어로 말하는 것은 어쩔 수 없는 것이에요
= When kids go through puberty, there’s nothing you can do about them using slang when talking

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.

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

우리가 어쩔 수 없는 문제에 도달했어요
= 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

아이들이 사춘기를 지나가는 것은 어쩔 수 없는 일이다
= Going through puberty is something that all kids go through

Finally, it is 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 choice in the matter. For example:

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

응급 환자가 있어서 어쩔 수 없이 기다려야 돼요
= There is an emergency patient, so you will have no choice but to wait

고대 사람들이 어쩔 수 없이 검을 들고 다녀야 되었어요
= Ancient people had no choice but to walk around with a knife all the time

용돈이 깎여서 어쩔 수 없이 이번 주부터 아껴 써야 돼요
= My allowance was cut, so I’ll have no choice but to start saving from this week

피부가 너무 거칠어서 어쩔 수 없이 병원에 가야 되겠어요
= My skin is so rough, I’ll have no choice but to go to the hospital

종이를 구겨서 버렸으니까 어쩔 수 없이 다시 그려야 되겠어요
= I crumpled up the paper and through it out, so I’ll have no choice but to draw it again

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

그 단어의 정확한 정의를 몰라서 사전에서 어쩔 수 없이 찾아 봤어요
= I don’t know the exact meaning of that word, so I’ll have no choice but to look it up in the dictionary

우리가 너무 빨리 가고 있었기 때문에 어쩔 수 없이 발생한 사고였어요
= Because we were going so fast, the accident was unavoidable

날씨가 추워서 밖에 나가려면 어쩔 수 없이 옷을 두 겹 이상 입어야 돼요
= It is so cold outside, when we go out we’ll have no choice but to wear (more than two) layers

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

That’s it for this Lesson!

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