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Lesson 76: ~는데 and ~는 데 in Korean

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The Difference Between 데 and 때
~는데 vs. ~는 데
The Most Common Meaning of ~는데




손자 = grandson
손녀 = granddaughter
외아들 = only son
장모님 = mother in law
장인 = father in law
부인 = wife
성인 = adult
연어 = salmon
산소 = grave
그늘 = shade
그림자 = shadow
팔꿈치 = elbow
버섯 = mushroom
천국 = heaven
주민 = resident

묻다 = to bury
칭찬하다 = to praise
출석하다 = to attend
훈제하다 = to smoke a food

Passive Verbs:
묻히다 = to be buried
피부가 타다 = to get a sun burn

무덥다 = hot and humid

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.



In this lesson, you will learn about a grammatical principle that you probably hear all the time in Korean. Probably one of the most common grammatical forms in Korean is the usage of ~는데. Why did it take me until Lesson 76 to finally introduce to this principle? Its meaning is complex and difficult to understand, especially when a learner hasn’t quite mastered the basics of Korean grammar. If you do completely understand the usage of ~는데 after my two lessons describing it, you either owe it to yourself for having a good grasp of the Korean language, or you owe it to me for being a good teacher! Let’s get started.



The Difference Between and

First things first, I need to simply describe the difference between the words “때” and “데.” In Lesson 42, you learned how 때 is used to refer to a time. For example:

저녁 때 = During dinner/evening time
방학 때 = During the school vacation

As it refers to a time, it can also be used to indicate the time in which something happens. For example:

저는 돈을 받을 때 행복할 거예요 = When I receive (the) money, I will be happy
뼈마디가 아플 때 이 약을 드세요 = When your joints hurt, take this medicine

때 is a noun – a noun that refers to a “time.”

데 is another noun – but a noun that refers to a “place.” Synonyms of this word are “장소” and “곳” which you should be familiar with by now. While 곳 and 장소 can be used in many parts of a sentence, 데 is usually only used when being described by some verb or adjective using the ~는 것 principle.

For example:

성인이 없는 데로 가자 = Let’s go to a place where there is no adults
주민들이 살 데가 없어요 = There is no place for the residents to live
혹시 가고 싶은 데가 있어요? = Do you have a place that you want to go to?
우리가 장인이 계시는 데에 갔어요 = We went to the place where my father-in-law is
우리가 처음에 만났던 데에 갔어요 = We went to the place that we met for the first time
돈이 없어서 갈 수 있는 데가 없었어요 = He had nowhere to go because he had no money

In Lesson 25, you learned how to create the meaning of anybody, nobody, anytime, anywhere, nowhere, etc. You learned that you can create the meaning of “anywhere” or “nowhere” using “데” for example:

아무 데나 = anywhere
아무 데도 = nowhere

The meaning of 데 to mean “place” is easy to understand in the examples that have been presented so far. However, this becomes more complicated when you start learning about other grammatical principles that can be easily confused with the sentences we made earlier. Let’s dive right into this confusion.

~는데 vs. ~

As you just learned, 데 can be placed as the noun in the ~는 것 principle to mean “place.” This means that you will often see sentences that have the construction “~는 데.” For example:

성인이 없는 데로 가자 = Let’s go to a place where there is no adults
우리가 장인이 계시는 데에 갔어요 = We went to the place where my father-in-law is
돈이 없어서 갈 수 있는 데가 없었어요 = He had nowhere to go because he had no money

Notice the space between ~는 and 데. The space signifies that 데 is a noun (meaning “place”) and the clause before “는” is describing the noun. However, “~는데” (without the space) is a completely different grammatical principle and can create many different meanings – all of which are very hard to grasp.

I will describe one of these meanings in the remainder of this lesson.




The Most Common Meaning of ~는데

The most common meaning of ~는데 when placed between two clauses is very similar (but subtly different) than the English equivalent of “even though.” In English we use “even though” to negate an upcoming clause. For example:

Even though I don’t like meat, I will try some.

In that sentence, you are negating the fact that you don’t like meat, and the second clause (“I will try some”) indicates something opposing the first clause.

In Korean, you would use the grammatical principle ~지만 to create this meaning. For example:

제가 고기를 안 좋아하지만 먹어볼 거예요

You could ask 100 Korean people and look in 100 Korean dictionaries for a concrete definition of “~는데” and never get a straight answer.  After constantly hearing it, using it, and reflecting on it, my personal definition of this principle is:

A meaning that is slightly less strong than “even though,” and/or often times setting up the situation for an upcoming clause.

Let’s work on the first part of that definition – a meaning that is slightly less strong than “even though.” You can use this grammatical principle to mean “even though.” For example, this sentence would be very similar to the sentence above:

제가 고기를 안 좋아하는데 먹어볼 거예요 = Even though I don’t like meat, I will try some

The second part of the definition provided above – “often times setting up the situation for the upcoming clause” is the key to using the principle. ~는데 is often used in sentences to connects two thoughts or ideas. Instead of separating them into two sentences you can use “~는데” to join them together. For example, instead of saying:

제가 밥을 먹고 있어요. 사실 밥을 별로 좋아하지 않아요

You could more naturally say:

제가 밥을 먹고 있는데 사실 밥을 별로 좋아하지 않아요

In these cases, the first clause sets up the scenario for the second clause. The meaning within this sentence also has a slight meaning of “even though.” For example, the meaning of that sentence is somewhere between:

I am eating, and I don’t really like it
Even though I am eating, I don’t really like it

But even those translations are debatable and could change depending on the situation. Translating ~는데 directly into English is very hard because not only is there no direct translation, the meaning is very variable.

While sometimes the meaning it takes on might have this slight “even though” feeling (as you have seen in the examples above), depending on the situation, it might not have that feeling at all. The key to understanding this grammatical principle is understanding the context of the conversation.

For example, if you wanted to ask a question to your teacher, you could do it like this:

질문이 있어요. 이 일을 언제까지 해야 되나요?
= I have a question. Until when do we have to finish this work?
(When does this work need to be finished?)

However, while perfectly correct, that sentence could sound awkward in a lot of situations. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many foreigners who are studying Korean, and the number one “mistake” that they often make is not connecting their sentences with ~는데. Using ~는데 really makes sentences flow off your tongue, and the more comfortable you are with it, the more natural your Korean will sound. The sentence above could very naturally be connected to look like this:

질문이 있는데 이 일을 언제까지 해야 되나요?
= I have a question…until when do we have to finish this work?

I think that the best way to understand how this principle can be used is to see it in a lot of examples. Let’s get you on the right path right now with a bunch of examples right here:

저는 아들 한 명밖에 없는데 손자 세 명이 있어요
= I only have one son, but I have three grandsons

저는 참석을 못 하는데 저 대신에 저의 부인이 갈 거예요
= I can’t attend, but instead of me, my wife will go

제가 지금 가야 되는데 혹시 그것을 내일 저한테 줄 수 있어요?
= I have to go now; can you give that to me tomorrow?

우리는 이 일을 원래 해야 되는데 너무 복잡해서 하기 싫어요
= Even though we are/were supposed to do this (work), I don’t want to do it because it is too complicated

어린이들을 많이 칭찬해 줘야 되는데 안 해 주면 성인이 돼서 문제가 생길 수 있어요
= You need to praise children a lot, and if you don’t, when they become an adult, there could be problems

If the first clause occurred in the past, you can conjugate the first clause into the past tense, just like with other grammatical principles like ~기 때문에. For example:

가게에 갔는데 버섯은 없었어요
= I went to the store, but there wasn’t any mushrooms

일찍 일어났는데 아직 안 피곤해요
= I woke up early, but I’m not tired yet (even though I woke up early, I’m not tired)

그림자를 봤는데 누구인지도 몰랐어요
= I saw the shadow, but I didn’t know who it was

손녀를 보러 가고 있었는데 사고가 나서 못 갔어요
= I went to go see my granddaughter, but I got into an accident, so I couldn’t go

어제 해변에 가서 로션을 많이 발랐는데 피부가 탔어요
= I went to the beach yesterday, and even though I put on a lot of lotion, I got a sun burn

우리가 20분 전에 밥을 시켰는데 아직 도착하지 않았어요
= Even though we ordered our food 20 minutes ago, it still hasn’t arrived

선생님께 물어봤는데 문제를 이렇게 풀어야 된다고 했어요
= I asked the professor, and he said that we have to solve the problem this way

저는 원래 캐나다에서 왔는데 이제 한국에서 산 지 5년 됐어요
= I’m originally from Canada, but I’ve been living in Korea for 5 years now

그 금이 원래 묻혀 있었는데 사람들이 이 지역에서 그 금을 자꾸 찾으려고 해서 드디어 어떤 사람이 찾았어요
= That gold was originally buried, but people kept trying to look for it in this area, so eventually some person found it

This grammatical principle can be applied to adjectives as well. However, instead of attaching ~는데, you must attach ~ㄴ/은데, where ~은데 comes after an adjective that ends in a consonant, and ~ㄴ데 attaches directly to an adjective that ends in a vowel (or with the consonant ㄹ). This applies to 이다 as well (and also remember that 싶다 is an adjective).

You have learned many times that 있다 (usually) and 없다 (always) are adjectives. Although this is true, ~ is rarely added to these words. Therefore, I included 있다 and 없다 in the section above with verbs, where ~는데 is attached.   I first introduced 있다 and 없다 acting differently than most adjectives in Lesson 28. You also see 있다 and 없다 act differently than other adjectives when applying other grammatical principles – like when quoting questions (Lesson 53).

팔꿈치가 아픈데 언제 나을지 몰라요
= My elbow is sore, and I don’t know when it will get better

그 여자가 예쁜데 내 스타일이 아니야
= That girl is pretty, but she is not my style

저의 와이프가 예쁜데 장모님과 안 닮았어요
= My wife is pretty, but she doesn’t look like/resemble my mother-in-law

토론토는 되게 큰 도시인데 진짜 할 것이 없어요
= Toronto is a big city, but there is nothing to do there

여기가 너무 더운데 그늘이 있는 데로 가도 돼요?
= It is too hot here, can we go to a place where there is shade?

나는 그렇게 하고 싶은데 같이 할 수 있는 사람이 없어
= I want to do it like that, but I don’t have anybody to do it with

연어를 먹고 싶은데 훈제하는 기계가 없어서 못 먹겠어요
= I want to eat salmon, but I don’t have the machine to smoke it, so I can’t eat it

문제가 별로 없을 것 같은데 혹시 문제가 생기면 나에게 전화해 줘
= There probably won’t be a problem, but if one comes up, call me

지금 날씨가 아주 무더운데 비가 곧 올 거라서 시원해질 것 같아요
= The weather is very hot and humid now, but it will rain soon, so it will probably get cooler

그 사진에 있는 사람은 저의 아버지인데 7년 동안 한 번도 안 만났어요
= The person in that picture is my dad, but I haven’t seen him in 7 years


The following is an example of a sentence that a person said to me at school. The person is in charge of preparing the science lab for us whenever we do experiments. She said it like this:

선생님이 내일부터 실험을 할 건데 재료가 뭐 필요하세요?
= You (teacher) are going to be doing an experiment starting from tomorrow (as in, in your classes this week), what (ingredients) do you need?

You might be confused with the use of “건데” in that sentence. Remember, 것 can be shorted to 거. When this happens, 이다 is now attached to “거” to make “거이다.” When 이다 attaches to a noun that ends in a vowel, the “이” can merge to the noun. Now, when I add ~ㄴ데 to this construction I come out with 건데. The above example could also be written in either of the following ways:

선생님이 내일부터 실험을 할 것인데 재료가 뭐 필요하세요?
선생님이 내일부터 실험을 할 거인데 재료가 뭐 필요하세요?


~는데 is very versatile and using it makes your Korean sound very natural. The usage is a little bit hard to get used to, but by adding ~는데 into your repertoire of Korean you will very quickly discover its specific usage. I suggest using this principle very often, especially (as I mentioned earlier) to join two clauses together where the first can give the background scenario for the upcoming clause.

There are a few other ways that ~는데 can be used, but I will describe these in the next lesson. For now… that’s it for this lesson!

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