옳다, 바르다, 올바르다, 맞다, 알맞다 – Korean Words vs. Words S2 #18

The word, right, has a lot of meanings. It is the opposite of left when we are talking about directions. It's 오른쪽 in Korean. This right is also a legal word that you can claim. It's 권리 in Korean. It is also used when you are talking about something right and wrong. When we talk about something correct, Koreans use 5 words: 옳다, 바르다, 올바르다, 맞다, 알맞다. These words are usually interchangeable. However, there are slight differences between them and it's our topic today.

옳다

When something is right decision, judgement, thought, attitude, 옳다 is used. 옳다 is usually used with ideas.

옳은 판단을 할 수 있도록 많이 도와주십시오.
Please help me a lot to make right decision.

When something is right for the rule, formality or tradition, 옳다 is also used.

한복을 처음 입어 봐서 옳게 입으려면 어떻게 해야하는지 배워야 했다.
It was my first time wearing 한복, so I had to learn how to wear it correctly.

Unlike other words, 옳다 is used for righteousness.

너는 옳은 일을 한 거야.
You did the right job.

바르다

When something is straight and not tilted, it is 바르다. 바르다 is the opposite of warped, crooked, tilted. It can be also used for mindset.

자리에 바르게 앉지 않으면 허리에 무리가 간다.
If you don't sit right, it will hurt your back.

그들은 줄을 바르게 섰다.
They stood in straight line.

항상 바른 말을 하기 위해 노력하고 있습니다.
I am trying my best to speak something right.

올바르다

올바르다 is 옳다 + 바르다. It got meaning, correct idea, from 옳다. It got "not crooked" from 바르다. So, it is usually used when something is morally correct, or right for some goals. It also implies that there is nothing wrong in it.

체중 조절을 위해서는 평소 식단을 올바르게 하는 것이 좋다.
To manage your weight, you should follow the right diet.

그는 올바른 교육을 하기 위해 30년간 노력했다.
He tried for 30 years to do the right education.

옳다, 바르다 같은 단어를 올바르게 사용하는 것은 쉽지 않다.
It is hard to use words like 옳다, 바르다 correctly.

맞다

When something fits or is the answer for the problem, the word, 맞다, is used. As it is used when something fits, we need other objects to compare or check whether it fits or not. Because of that, you can find some phrases like 무엇에(to something) or 누구에게(to someone) near 맞다 a lot.

3년 전에 입었던 옷이 몸에 맞지 않는다.
The clothes I wore 3 years ago doesn't fit me.

자신에게 맞는 방법을 찾아 보아야 한다.
You should find the way that fits you.

입맛에 맞는 음식을 찾아 보는 중이다.
I am finding the food that fits my taste.

알맞다

알맞다 is used a lot when something meets the rule exactly. It isn't over or below the line. It just fits the rule.

몸집에 알맞게 차의 의자를 조절했다.
I adjusted the seat in the car according to my figure.

이 글의 제목으로 알맞은 것을 고르시오.
Choose the correct title for the passage.

As 맞다 is verb, the modifying form is 맞는. However, 알맞다 is adjective, so its modifying form is 알맞은. Many native Koreans use them wrong.

Summary and Note

Before we end our show, let's summarize them.

When something is morally right, you should use 옳다 or 올바르다.
When something fits your body, taste, or your life style, etc., you should use 맞다.
When something is the correct answer, you should use 맞다 or 알맞다.
When something is right and not tilted in appearance, you should use 바르다.

Sadly, these are only general guideline. Because of that, I said "usually" a lot when explaining the meanings.

It's so easy to find exceptions. When you want to say "it's not right thing to do.", it's usually "그건 옳은 일이 아니야." or "그건 올바른 일이 아니야." However, you can hear some Koreans say "그건 맞는 일이 아니야." or "그건 바른 일이 아니야." They might have thought or wanted to emphasize "it's against the answer" or "you should not do that with crooked mindset." It depends on the speaker.