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Lesson 112: ~는 편이다 – Adding the soft “fairly” to sentences

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편 as a Regular Noun
편 as a Grammatical Principle





협회 = association, society
배낭여행 = backpacking
의지력 = willpower
급여 = wage, salary
천사 = angel
면역 = immunity
대안 = alternative
소개팅 = blind date
면접 = interview
면접관 = interviewer
어휘 = vocabulary
악몽 = nightmare
압력 = pressure
비옷 = rain clothes
면허 = license
복 = blessing
십대 = teenage years, teenage
열흘 = ten days
공짜 = free

빌다 = to beg
용납하다 = to approve, to accept
떠들다 = to chat
할퀴다 = to scratch, to claw at

서늘하다 = to be cool, chilly
추상적이다 = to be abstract
속상하다 = to feel upset, sad





In this lesson, you will learn how to use 편, both as a noun and as a grammatical principle to make your sentences softer and more humble. Let’s get started.




편 as a Regular Noun

First of all, one of the meanings of the word “편” is “side”. In this sense, it is most commonly used in the following ways:

반대편 = the opposite side (or the opposite direction)
건너편 = the opposite/other side (usually of a street or something that you can cross)
뒤편 = the back side
오른편 = the right side
왼편 = the left side

These constructions can go into sentences where applicable. For example:

화장실이 어디 있나요? = Where is the washroom?
밖에 나가서 빌딩 뒤편에 있어요 = Go outside, and then it’s on the back side of the building

여기가 컴퓨터를 고치는 가게인가요? = Is this the store that fixes computers?
아니요~ 길 건너편이에요 = No, It’s across the street

편 can also be used on its own to simply mean “side.” For example:

우리가 경기를 하면 저는 이슬기가 있는 편에서 하고 싶어요 = When we play the game, I want to be on the side that 이슬기 is on
무슨 일이 생기든지 나는 항상 너의 편이야 = Whatever happens, I am always on your side


편 as a Grammatical Principle

편 can also act as a noun that is being described by an adjective or a verb (conjugated using the ~는 것 principle). The adjective/verb + 편 combination has a meaning that is very similar to that of just the adjective/verb on its own. The only difference is that “편” makes the meaning slightly softer than just the adjective/verb by itself. For example, I could say:

그 사람이 돈이 많아요 = That person has a lot of money
If I say this sentence, it might have a negative effect because maybe – for example – people will treat that person differently if they find out he/she has a lot of money.

However, if I say:
그 사람이 돈이 많은 편이에요
The meaning is softer than was expressed without the use of “편”. Instead of straight out saying “yes, he has a lot of money”, you are more humbly saying “Yeah, that person has fair amount of money, but not that much.”

Let’s look at some other examples:
우리 아이는 똑똑해요 = Our son is smart
우리 아이는 똑똑한 편이에요 = Our son is fairly smart

Because of the use of the word “편”, a common translation for these types of constructions is “on the X side.” For example:
우리 아이는 똑똑한 편이에요 = Our son is on the smart side

Other examples:
저의 남자친구가 잘생긴 편이에요 = My boyfriend is on the handsome side (fairly handsome)
제가 벌고 있는 급여가 높은 편이에요 = The salary I earn is fairly high (on the high side)
이 배낭여행용 가방이 비싼 편이었어요 = This backpacker backpack was fairly expensive

In each of the examples so far, the speaker would be downplaying something that is very good. In effect, this is a way to speak in a humble way in Korean. The opposite can be done with words that have a negative connotation to them. That is, when you use this type of construction with a negative word, you are expressing that – even though something is bad – it’s not that bad. For example:

저의 남자친구는 못생긴 편이에요 = My boyfriend is on the ugly side
저는 키가 작은 편이에요 = My height is on the small side (I’m quite short)

The situation doesn’t need to be inherently negative or positive in order to use this ~는/은/ㄴ construction. All it does is it softens the word being used and turns the severity of its meaning down a little bit. For example:

한국말을 할 수 있는 외국인이 드문 편이에요 = Foreigners who speak Korean are on the rare side
제가 내일 해야 할 면접은 중요한 편이에요 = The interview I have to do tomorrow is quite important
한국어 어휘를 외우는 것은 어려운 편이에요 = Memorizing Korean vocabulary is quite difficult

Just by the nature of the sentences ~는/은/ㄴ 편 is used in, it is quite easy and common to use this grammatical principle with adjectives. However, it can be used with verbs as well. For example:

제가 운동을 자주 하는 편이에요 = I exercise fairly often

When used with verbs, you’ll notice that the sentence often has an adverb in it as well. If you imagine the sentence above without the use of the adverb “자주”, you get:

제가 운동을 하는 편이에요 = I exercise… fairly? I fairly exercise…?

You need something else in there in order for it to make sense. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the adverb “자주”:
제가 운동을 잘 하는 편이에요 = I exercise fairly well
제가 운동을 열심히 하는 편이에요 = I exercise fairly hard

When used with verbs, a common translation that goes in these sentences is “tend(s) to…” For example:

제가 운동을 잘 하는 편이에요 = I tend to exercise well (English translation doesn’t really work in this situation)
제가 운동을 열심히 하는 편이에요 = I tend to exercise hard

Other examples:
제가 달리기를 빨리 하고 있는 편이에요 = I am running fairly quickly
제가 매일 늦게 자는 편이에요 = I tend to go to bed fairly late
저는 수영을 잘하는 편이에요 = I swim fairly well

That’s it for this lesson!

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

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