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Lesson 149: 하필 – Of all possible situations to occur, the most unfortunate one occurs

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고수 = cilantro
헌책 = second hand book
헌책방 = second hand book store
나침반 = compass
집들이 = house warming party
연주회 = recital, concert
제과점 = bakery
놀이공원 = amusement park

쐬다 = to go out and enjoy fresh air
썩다 = to rot
식다 = for something to cool
식히다 = to cool something
비집다 = to split an object, to push people aside
화끈거리다 = for one’s body or face to glow or burn red
흥얼거리다 = to hum

촉박하다 = to be tight in time
번잡하다 = to be crowded
흔쾌하다 = to be pleasant, to be happy, to be delighted
터무니없다 = to be ridiculous

Adverbs and other words:
만 = indicates for how long something is done for
하필 = of all…, unfortunately
하도 = to do an action a lot
흔쾌히 = pleasantly, happily, delightfully
얼렁뚱땅 = often combined with 넘어가다, to indicate that one wants to “move on from” a situation
터무니없이 = ridiculously




In this lesson, you will learn about the word 하필 and how you can use it in Korean sentences. What does this word mean? What does it translate to? Does it even have a translation? What type of situation should it be used in? We will get to all of this. Let’s get started.




하필 – Of all possible situations to occur, the most unfortunate one occurs

In previous lessons, you learned many adverbs that are used to add nuance and feeling to a specific style of sentence. For example:

In Lesson 43, you learned how 만약 is used in hypothetical “if” sentences:

만약 집들이를 그날 했으면 제가 갈 수 있었을 거예요
= If they did the house warming party on that day, I could have gone

In Lesson 59, you learned how 어쩌면 is used in sentences that describe one’s disbelief:

어쩌면 그렇게 하루 만에 마늘이 많이 썩을 수가 있어요?
= How is it possible that the garlic can rot only after being in the sun for one day?

In Lesson 59, you learned how 아무래도 is used in uncertain “probably” sentences:

아무래도 제과점이 이미 문을 닫았을 것 같아요
= The bakery is probably already closed

In Lesson 67, you learned how 마치 is used in sentences where the speaker is adding imagery to a situation:

마치 그는 죽은 듯이 바닥에 누워 있었어요
= He lay on the floor as if he were dead

One of my favorite things about Korean is these types of words that don’t have a specific, direct translation to English. Any attempt at translating them requires a lot of words to describe the nuance they convey.

하필 is another one of these adverbs. It is used in a very specific style of sentence and conveys a very specific nuance. Like the four words I mentioned earlier, it is hard to perfectly translate it to English. To get a feel for how it could be translated, let’s look at a situation where it can be used.

Imagine you are waiting for a package to arrive at your house. You waited all morning, and it hasn’t arrived yet. You want to keep waiting, but you think it will be alright if you just pop out to the store to buy some milk. It’ll only take five minutes to go and come back, so you leave. As you are buying the milk, you get a text message saying that the package arrived, but there is nobody home to sign for it so it won’t be delivered. As you look at your phone, you might mutter to yourself:

택배가 지금 왔어?
= The package arrived now?

That sentence is possible and natural, but in English and Korean it probably doesn’t fully convey the feeling that you have in this situation. Instead, you would probably say something like:

“The package arrived now? Of all times for me to go out to the store. Of all times for the package to arrive, it had to be right now?!”

You can express all of this extra frustration in Korean with하필. For example:

하필 택배가 지금 왔어?
= The package arrived now? Of all times for me to go out to the store. Of all times for the package to arrive, it had to be right now?!

하필 is often used at the beginning of a sentence, but it doesn’t have to be used there.

  • 택배가 하필 지금 왔어? Natural and acceptable
  • 택배가 지금 하필 왔어? Not the most natural way to say it, but still acceptable

I love the word 하필. Find a Korean person that speaks very good English and ask them how to translate 하필. They will stare at you blankly. It doesn’t really translate to anything. It’s just a word that is used in a very specific type of situation. You should use 하필 in situations similar to the one above; where there could have been many possible situations that could have occurred but the absolute worst of them ended up happening. I guess you could translate it to unfortunately, but I don’t think that does it justice.

Allow me to give you many more scenarios.

Imagine you are carrying a big bag full of groceries. Everything in the bag is packaged with paper and plastic and essentially, non-breakable except for one thing – that one carton of eggs. As you go to bring the bag of groceries inside, you slip and just the eggs fell out. Of all things that could have possibly fallen from the bag, why did the eggs have to fall out! In this situation, you could say something like:

계란만 떨어졌어!
= Just the eggs fell out!

However, this sentence probably doesn’t fully convey the feeling that you have in this situation. Instead, you would want to say:

하필 계란만 떨어졌어!
= Of all things to fall out, only the eggs fell!

Most of the example sentences on my website use high respect honorifics. While high respect honorifics can absolutely be used in sentences with 하필, I feel that these types of sentences are commonly directed to the speaker in a form of “self-speech.” Of course, when speaking these sentences to somebody who deserves high respect, use the high respect honorifics. However, the example sentences in this lesson will all have low respect honorifics.


Imagine being an excellent student at school. You always do your homework and are always prepared for class. Your teacher tells you to read a few pages of the textbook for homework one day, and for the first time ever you forget to do it. The next day you go to school and there is a surprise test on the content you didn’t read. In this situation, you could say something like:

숙제를 처음으로 안 했는데 하필 오늘 시험을 봐야 돼
= Of all days to have a test, it’s the day that I don’t do the homework for the first time


Imagine you are taking a class at a university and you don’t know who your professor will be. You know there are nine really good professors that everybody likes, and one really mean professor that nobody wants. On the first day of school you are sitting in the classroom waiting. The door opens and the bad professor walks in. In this situation, you could say something like:

하필 우리 교수님이 그 사람이야?
= Of all professors to have, our professor is that person?


Imagine you have been waiting for months for one special day where you and all of your friends will go to an amusement park. You wake up that morning and you feel sick. In this situation, you could say something like:

오늘은 놀이공원에 가는 날인데 하필 감기에 걸린 것처럼 몸이 안 좋아
= Of all days for me to feel like I have a cold, it happens on the day that we’re going to the amusement park


Imagine that, despite never getting lost, you always bring your compass with you when you go hiking. The one day you forget your compass, you get lost. In this situation, you could say something like:

하필 이번에 나침반을 안 챙겼네
= Of all times for me to forget my compass, it had to be this time!


Imagine you go to a mall for the purpose of selling some of your old books at a used book store. You get to the mall to find that all the stores are open except for the used book store. In this situation, you could say something like:

하필 오늘 그 헌책방만 문을 닫았어
= Of all things to be closed, it had to be the used book store


As you can see, the best translation for 하필 in English is usually something like “Of all…” I still stand by my original statement that 하필 doesn’t translate well to English because of all effectively means nothing without any context.

Let me give you many more example sentences to give your brain more context of when 하필 would be appropriate to use:

하필 내일 볼 시험이 하나 더 늘어서 시간이 더 촉박해졌어
= Of all days, I have another exam to write tomorrow, so my time got even tighter

하필 그날 비가 많이 오는 바람에 야외 연주회가 취소되었어
= Of all days, it rained a lot on that day so the outdoor recital was cancelled

집들이하는 날이 하필 엄마 생일과 겹쳐서 집들이를 취소했어
= Of all days, the housewarming party happened to fall on the same day as my mom’s birthday so we cancelled the party

신선한 바람을 쐬러 시간을 내서 나왔는데 하필 비가 오기 시작했어
= I took the time to come outside to get some fresh air and, of all things, it started raining

하필 노래를 흥얼거리고 있는데 친구가 들어와서 얼굴이 화끈거렸어
= Of all things, I was humming away when my friend came in and my face got all red

하필 그날 유명한 가수의 공연이 근처에 있어서 지하철이 더 번잡했어
= Of all things, there was a performance by a famous singer nearby so the subway was more crowded

새로 산 신발을 신고 나왔는데 하필 산길을 걸어서 신발이 더러워졌어
= I bought some new shoes and came outside and, of all places, walked on a mountain trail so my shoes got all dirty

오늘 일부러 시간을 내서 좋아하는 제과점에 갔는데 하필 쉬는 날이네
= Today I specifically took the time to go to a bakery I like and of all days, it was a holiday (for them)

하필 밥을 다 차리고 먹기 전에 전화가 와서 통화하는 바람에 밥이 다 식었어
= I got all of the food ready and right before I was about to eat, of all things, the phone rang and because I was talking on the phone, the food got all cold

된장국을 끓이려고 감자를 샀는데 하필 뜨거운 전자레인지 위에 올려놓아서 감자가 다 썩었어
= I bought potatoes so I could boil up some bean-paste soup, but of all places, I put the potatoes on top of the microwave and they got hot and rotted

하도 친구가 맛있다고 추천한 음식이 있어서 먹으러 갔는데 하필 내가 못 먹는 고수가 들어 있었어
= My friend raved about this one type of food, so I went to go eat it and, of all things, it had cilantro in it, which I can’t eat

얼렁뚱땅 거짓말을 하고 넘어가려고 했는데 하필 같이 있던 친구가 사실을 말하는 바람에 난감해졌어
= I told a lie and wanted to just go past it but, of all people, one of my friends who was there told everybody the truth so I got really embarrassed

하필 그날 시장에 고기를 사러 온 사람이 많아서 평소보다 터무니없이 비싼 돈을 주고 고기를 사야 했어
= Of all days to come, there were so many people who came to buy meat at the market that I had to pay a ridiculous price for it

좋은 자리에서 공연을 보려고 사람들을 비집고 자리를 잡았는데 하필 내가 싫어하는 사람 옆에 서서 공연을 보게 됐어
= In order to get a good spot to see the performance I pushed my way through the people and got a spot, but of all people I ended up having to watch the performance next to somebody I don’t like

흔쾌히 친구에게 생일파티에 갈 수 있다고 했는데 하필 내가 제일 싫어하는 사람도 간다는 소리를 들어서 이제는 안 가고 싶어
= I gladly said that I would go to my friend’s birthday party, but I heard that, of all people, my least favorite person was going too, so now I don’t want to go

That’s it for this lesson!

Okay, got it! Take me to the next lesson!