double 었 – Korean Tense #9

In some Korean sentences, you can find double 었 like, 갔었다, 했었다, etc. Today, we'll learn what this double 었 means.

The difference between single 었 and double 었 is that double 었 emphasizes the experiece you had, or the things have been changed a lot after the event. This is similar to past perfect or "used to" in English grammar.

Let's see them with examples.

나는 부산에서 대학을 다녔었다.
I went to college in 부산.

In this case, he or she had went to college in 부산 before and they are not attending it now because they graduated or dropped out, etc. It also implies that they don't live near 부산 these days.

나는 예전에 몸이 약했었다.
I used to be weak before.

In this case, he or she was once weak, but now strong.

철수는 3년 전에 천안에 살았었다.
철수 used to live in 천안 3 years ago.

In this case, 철수 once lived in 천안 3 years ago, but he doesn't live there now and moved to somewhere else.

Then, you might be curious what's the difference between the single and the double 었. In most cases, they are interchageable. Like English, if someone said "I was weak before", you can guess that he is not weak anymore now. It's like that. But by adding "used to", you can emphasize that you once were weak.

However, in some cases, these double 었 changes the situation.

아까 철수가 왔어요.
아까 철수가 왔었어요.

In these two sentences, 철수 came here a moment ago. But when you said 아까 철수가 왔어요, it implies that 철수 is still with the speaker. However, in 아까 철수가 왔었어요, it implies that he came and left so he isn't here with the speaker.

피자를 시켰어요.
피자를 시켰었어요.

Like the previous example, both sentences mean that the speaker ordered the pizza. 피자를 시켰어요 implies that you ordered pizza, so it is on the way to your home or some of the pizza is still in the house. However, 피자를 시켰었어요 implies that you ordered the pizza and ate all of it so it is not here with you or the listener didn't know that pizza was ordered but you are telling her the truth that it was ordered.

As double 었 is used to emphasize the difference, you can sometimes show the sadness, regret which you cannot show with single 었. In the thanks speech of the 이광수 of the Running Man, he became sad because the show will be ended this February. So, he used the phrase like following.

너무너무 사랑하고 행복했었습니다.
I really loved all of you and was happy.

He cannot be happy with the show anymore soon, so he used double 었. As we learned, double 었 implies that there was a change between the past and the current. In the case, the life of show. I personally hope SBS changes their mind, but anyway, I hope you can feel the difference between single and double 었 with this example.