More about Subject Honorific – Korean Polite Language #3

Like we saw at the end of the last episode, it is really hard to use subject honorific properly, even for native speakers.

One of the hardest things about this rule is 압존법, not using honorific in front of the higher-rank people about the lower-rank people than them.

You cannot understand what this means. The typical example of 압존법 is you talking about your father to your grandfather.

할아버지, 아버지는 아직 안 왔습니다. (O)
할아버지, 아버지는 아직 안 오셨습니다. (△)
Grandpa, father didn't come yet.

할아버지 is the highest and 아버지 is the second and you are the last in the rank. So, you shouldn't use honorific for your father in front of your grandfather. It becomes somewhat like honoring your father higher than your grandfather.

Thankfully, this rule became weaker than old days, so standard Korean permits you to use the second "오셨습니다" form.

This rule usually doesn't happen in companies. Although 부장 is higher than 과장 and 과장 is higher than you, you can talk 부장님, 과장님 아직 안 오셨습니다.

However, you should never forget "in Rome, do as Romans do". Some companies follow this rule strictly. So, it's safer to ask your coworkers if they use it.

As for 할아버지 and 부장님, when they talk about your father or 과장님, they can choose to use honorific like these:

철수야, 아버지 왔니? (O)
철수야, 아버지 오셨니? (O)
영희 씨, 과장 왔어? (O)
영희 씨, 과장 왔어요? (O)
영희 씨, 과장님 오셨어요? (O)

All of these are correct if you are 부장. However, 영희 씨, 과장님 오셨어? Is a bit awkward, because it's lowering 영희 but honoring 과장.

Finally, subject honorific ending is inconsistent between close people. For example,

A: 형, 출장 갔다가 언제 오셨어요?
B: 어제.
A: 출장은 어땠어요?
B: 글쎄. 일이 많아서 일만 하다 왔다.
A: 힘드셨겠네요.
A: Big bro, when did you come back from business trip?
B: Yesterday.
A: How was it?
B: Well, I had so much things to do, so I only had to work.
A: It must be really hard for you.

In this short conversation, 동생 used honorific first and didn't use it next and used it again in the last.