Relative Honorific – Korean Polite Language #4

Relative honorifics(상대 높임법) are used when you're trying to honor the listener. This honorific is related with whom you are talking to.

Subject Honorific vs. Relative Honorific

It might be confusing with the subject honorific which honors the subject of the sentence. Let's check the difference between them with these 2 examples.

Let's say you're talking to a kid, you might say:

엄마 어디 가셨니?
Where did your mom go?

In this case, "셨" is used to honor the kid's mother and -니 is used not to honor the kid.

You can find the opposite example like this:

아이는 지금 학교에 갔나요?
Is your kid in school now?

In this case, you're asking a mother about her kid. You're using "-나요" to honor the mother, but not using "-시" to not honor the kid.

6 types

In formal grammar, there are 4 levels of relative honorifics and 6 versions of speeches. They're 합쇼체(-ㅂ니다 ending), 하오체(-오 ending), 하게체(-게/네 ending), 해라체(-라/다 ending). These four are for formal situations. And there are informal 해요체 and 해체.

These days, 하오체 and 하게체 are not frequently used between young people. It sounds somewhat old and you can listen to them from some old actors in drama.

Drop honorific

The problem with this system is that the rule is not clear. It's really hard to know what's correct. One thing I can tell you is that "if you're not sure which honorific to use, then use "해요체" in conversation." It's the safest way. Then, they might ask you to stop using honorifics like these:

말씀 편히 하세요.
말 놓으셔도 되요.

Then, you can drop the honorifics. Or it's safer to ask "진짜 그래도 돼요?" before actually dropping it.

Sometimes you can use several honorifics at once.

Like subject honorific, you can use some honorifics together like this. It's a conversation between 아저씨s.

철수: 요즘 어떻게 지내십니까?
영수: 뭐 별 탈 없이 잘 지내지요.
철수: 요즘 좋은 일 있으시다면서요?
영수: 네 딸아이가 시집갑니다.
철수: How are you doing these days?
영수: Not bad.
철수: I heard that you have a good news.
영수: Yes. My daughter is going to be married.

They used both 합쇼체 and 해요체 together.

Let's see the conversation between college students.

민호: 요즘 고민이 많죠?
영호: 응, 성적이 너무 안 나와서 고민이야.
민호: 나도 그래. 예전에는 잘 풀리던 문제도 요즘은 이상하게 생각이 안 나.
영호: 공부를 더 해야 하는 건지, 아니면 쉬어야 하는 건지 고민이네요.
민호: You have a lot of worries these days.
영호: Yes, I cannot stop worrying because of my grades.
민호: Me, too. I cannot solve the problems I did well before. I cannot find the solution.
영호: Should I study more? Or should I take some rest? I cannot simply decide.

Sometimes, you can use both 해요체 and 해체 like this. However, this means that these 2 students aren't that close enough.