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Lesson 138: ~았/었어야 하다 – One Should Have, But Didn’t

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~았/었아/어야 하다: One should have




몸살 = body ache
달빛 = moonlight
출산 = childbirth
중개인 = intermediary
선인장 = cactus
열량 = calorie
나트륨 = sodium
고혈압 = high blood pressure
저혈압 = low blood pressure
덩어리 = a chunk
말수 = the amount that one talks
설명회 = explanation session, debriefing session
접종 = vaccination
생수 = mineral water
이야깃거리 = things to talk about

핥다 = to lick
먹이다 = to feed
출시하다 = to release, to launch
전시하다 = to display
등장하다 = to appear on stage
해동하다 = to defrost
위조하다 = to forge
전학하다 = to transfer schools
접근하다 = to approach
눈치채다 = to be aware of a situation or other people’s thoughts




In this lesson, we will add complexity to a very common grammatical principle. ~아/어야 하다 was introduced in Lesson 46 as a way to indicate that one must do an action. In the previous lesson, I broke that grammatical principle down by explaining the purpose of ~아/어야 and even indicated that it can be used without the concluding 하다. In this lesson, you will see even more ways that ~아/어야 can be used. It is also possible to add ~아/어야 to a clause that already has the past tense marker ~았/었 in it. In this lesson, we will look at how you can use ~았/었어야 하다. Let’s get started.


~/었아/어야 하다: One should have

In Lesson 46, you learned how to add ~아/어야 하다 to the end of a clause or sentence to indicate that one must do an action. For example:

선인장인데도 물을 조금 줘야 해요
= Even if it is a cactus, you (still) must give it a little bit of water

출산을 하고 한 달 안에 애기가 예방 접종을 맞아야 해요
= One month after giving birth, the baby must get vaccinated

이 그림들을 곧 전시할 거라서 액자에 넣어야 해요
= I’m going to display these paintings soon, so I need to put them into frames

This lesson will focus on the past tense. You actually learned how you can conjugate the final 하다 in sentences like the three above to indicate that one had to do (or must have done) an action. For example

물을 줘야 했어요
= I had to give it water

액자에 넣어야 했어요
= I had to put them in frames

예방 접종을 맞아야 했어요
= I must have gotten a vaccination

In the three situations above, one must have done those actions. Because those actions should have been done, they were done.

It is possible to indicate that one should have done an action, but did not. In order to create this meaning, you should add  ~았/었~ in between the verb/adjective and ~아/어야. For example:

했어야 하다 = One should have done, but did not

Imagine you and your significant other want to indicate that you went to your in-laws house for a holiday. Of course, you had to go. You can say:

우리가 시집에 어제 가야 했어요 = We had to go to the in-laws place yesterday (and therefore, we did go)

Now, imagine that you don’t get along with your in-laws. I’ll wait. That might be a hard thing to imagine. You don’t get along with them, so even though you should have gone – you didn’t. You can express this situation like this:

우리가 시집에 어제 갔어야 해요 = We should have gone to the in-laws place yesterday

In this situation, the ~았/어어야 indicates that the action has already completed (it is in the past). However, the 하다 (해요) at the end indicates that the judgment of this action is only just happening. Because of this, you are currently making the judgment that this is something that should have been completed – but didn’t. The judgment happens after the action was completed, which means the action was completed without thinking of what would have been right or not.

Below are more examples:

달빛이 예뻐서 사진을 찍었어야 해요
= The moon (light) was so pretty, I should have taken a picture

몸살이 나기 전에 병원에 갔어야 해요
= You should have gone to the hospital before your body started aching

수돗물 말고 애기한테 생수를 먹였어야 해요
= You should have given/fed the baby mineral water instead of tap water

다 먹기 전에 열량 표시를 확인했었어야 해요
= I should have checked the calorie indicator before I ate it all

이 작품은 화가가 죽기 전에 출시됐어야 해요
= This creation should have been displayed before the artist passed away

집 계약을 사인을 했을 때 중개인과 상담했어야 해요
= When I signed the contract, I should have consulted with an intermediary

저녁을 먹으려면 면을 냉동실에서 미리 꺼내 해동했어야 해요
= If I wanted to eat dinner, I should have pulled the noodles out of the freezer in advance to let them thaw/defrost

In most cases, especially when speaking, it is more natural to also conjugate the final 하다 to the past tense as well. The judgment still happens after the action had occurred in the past, but now you are indicating that the judgment also happened in the past – after the action, but before the present.

You can analyze that grammar until the cows come home, but the essence of this lesson is – if you want to indicate that one should have done an action in the past (but didn’t), the most natural way to do it is to use the following form:

~았/었어야 했다

The following sentences have the same translations as above:

달빛이 예뻐서 사진을 찍었어야 했어요
몸살이 나기 전에 병원에 갔어야 했어요
수돗물 말고 애기한테 생수를 먹였어야 했어요
다 먹기 전에 열량 표시를 확인했었어야 했어요
이 작품은 화가가 죽기 전에 출시됐어야 했어요
집 계약을 사인을 했을 때 중개인과 상담했어야 했어요
저녁을 먹으려면 면을 냉동실에서 미리 꺼내 해동했어야 했어요

In Lesson 27, you learned that putting an additional ~았/었~ in a grammatical principle that already suggests something occurred in the past allows the speaker to indicate that an action didn’t just happen in the past – but finished in the past. In Lesson 108, you saw how an additional ~었~ can be applied to the end of sentences to indicate that something has finished in the past.

In Lesson 27, I discuss at great lengths the difference in feeling between ~ㄴ/은 and ~았/었던 when describing and upcoming noun. Both of them allow the upcoming noun to be described in the past tense. For example:

내가 입은 바지
내가 입었던 바지

Ask a Korean person what the difference between the two is, and they will tell you “있었던” is more in the past. I discuss in Lesson 27 that this officially is not true, but that’s what Korean people feel. It’s hard to say that this feeling is wrong if that’s the way native speakers of the language feel.

You can also add an additional ~었~ to the constructions we have created in this lesson. For example

몸살이 나기 전에 병원에 갔어야 했어요
몸살이 나기 전에 병원에 갔었어야 했어요
= You should have gone to the hospital before your body started aching

Find a Korean person and ask them what they feel the difference is between those two sentences. The first thing they will say is that they are the same. Tell the Korean person that you are really picky with grammar, and you are looking for even the smallest nuance between the two. They will probably tell you that the second one sounds “more” in the past. Korean people will often tell you that the additional ~았/었 emphasizes that one really should have done the action, but didn’t. I disagree with both of these notions, but this is what Korean people feel so I guess it has to work.

Let’s look at another way we can make these sentences sound even more natural and colloquial.



In Lesson 46, you saw that sentences ending in ~아/어야 하다 could alternatively end in ~아/어야지/죠. For example:

수돗물 대신에 생수를 넣어야 돼 = Instead of tap water, you need to put in mineral water
수돗물 대신에 생수를 넣어야지 = Instead of tap water, you need to put in mineral water

~지/죠 can also be added to ~아/어야 after it has been added to ~았/었~ as shown earlier in this lesson. For example:

수돗물 대신에 생수를 넣었어야지

The meaning this creates is similar to the meaning that would be created if you simply ended the sentence in 하다 or 했다. For example:

수돗물 대신에 생수를 넣었어야지 = Instead of tap water, you should have put in mineral water
수돗물 대신에 생수를 넣었어야 했어 = Instead of tap water, you should have put in mineral water

There is, however, a slight difference in nuance. If you use ~았/었어야지/죠, the speaker is most likely talking directly to the person who “should have” done the action. Not only that, but the speaker is giving this advice in a slightly sassy way. It’s very hard to translate this nuance into English, but it’s there. Below are some more examples:

위조한 지폐가 아닌지 확인했었어야지
= You should have checked to see that it wasn’t a forged bill

덩어리가 생기지 않게 오랫동안 저었어야지
= You should have stirred it for a long time so that a clump wouldn’t form

강아지가 음식을 핥기 전에 미리 치웠어야지
= You should have cleaned up the food in advance so that the dog/puppy wouldn’t lick it

그 사람이 눈치채지 못하게 접근 했었어야지
= You should have approached him so that he wouldn’t have realized

고혈압 환자라서 나트륨이 많이 들어간 음식을 줄였어야지
= Because you are a high blood pressure patient, you should have decreased the foods (you eat) that contain a lot of salt

친구들이랑 관계가 나쁘니 그 학생을 미리 전학시켰어야지
= His relationships with friends was bad, so you should have transferred him earlier

말수가 적은 사람인 것을 알았으면 미리 이야깃거리를 준비했었어야지
= If you knew that he doesn’t speak much, you should have prepared some things to talk about with him in advance

That’s it for this lesson!