The conjunctions 다가, 어다가 and 었다가

There are lots of grammatical patterns in Korean, and a lot of them show how one event follows another.  For instance: -어서, -고, -자, -자마자, -고 나서, etc.  Well 다가 pretty much does the same thing, but with a twist.  You see, 다가 is used when the first action is either interrupted or completed before you switch over to the new action.  Does that sound confusing?  Of course it does.  This time, though, it doesn’t have much to do with you sucking at Korean.  It’s pretty much just the fact that Korean is awfully difficult for English speakers to learn, and it makes us all suck.  At first.  But you’re getting better, right?  That’s why you’re here, right?  So that you don’t suck anymore.

Let’s cover some major points about this pattern before we move on the some examples.

  • The pattern AVst + 다가 is used when the action of the first clause is interrupted by the event or action of the final clause.  The actions of the two clauses do not overlap in any way.  Whether or not you eventually completed the first action is unclear, because this pattern is used to show an interruption of events.
  • The pattern AVst + 었/았 다가 is used when you want to indicate that the action of the first clause was completed prior to the event in the final clause.
  • The subjects of both clauses are almost always the same.
  • The final syllable 가 is frequently dropped in colloquial conversation.

Clear as mud?  Don’t worry.  The examples will make it easier.

한국어를 공부하다가 전화를 받아요.
I was studying Korean when I got a phone call.  (You were studying when the phone rang, but your studies were interrupted by the phone call.  It’s unclear whether or not you ever went back to finishing your studies.)

슈퍼에 갔다가 연구실에 들르겠어요.
I’ll go to the supermarket and then stop by your office [after that].  (The action of ‘going to the supermarket’ will be completed prior to switching gears and stopping by the listener’s office.)

모퉁이를 돌아 가다가 그녀와 우연히 만났어요.
I turned around the corner and bumped into her.  (The action of turning around the corner came to an abrupt end as you switched over to a new action — bumping into your friend.

백화점에 갔다가 그녀 와 우연히 만났어요.
I went to the store and bumped into her.  (Here it’s made clear that the action of the first clause was completed prior to switching over to the action of the final clause.  In other words, you actually made it to the store before bumping into her.)

Well, I hope that’s been helpful.  Unfortunately, though, that’s not the whole story.  You see, both -다가 and -었다가 each have an additional meaning associated with them.  Please don’t scream.  You can stop reading right now if you want to.  I completely understand.  You can focus on memorizing the “switching/changing/converting” usage of 다가 (above) and then come back to this other stuff later.  But… you suck at Korean.  And my guess is that you are also reckless and like to live dangerously.  (Why else would you be crazy enough to study something this difficult?)  So let me just get this out of the way now.  Let me teach you the other meanings of 다가 and 었다가 so that you have the whole picture, and not just the simple but inaccurate picture that many textbooks would like you to have.

The pattern 다가 is also used when the action of the first clause continues, but the action of the second clause happens at the same time.  In this usage it is completely, absolutely, 100% interchangeable with the pattern -(으)면서.  For example:

영화를 보다가 웃어요.  (= 영화를 보면서 웃어요.)
I was watching a movie and laughed.  [or] I laughed as I watched a movie.

운전 하다가 여자친구에 대해 생각했어요.  (= 운전 하면서 여자친구에 대해 생각했어요.)
While I was driving I thought of my girlfriend.

And now our second exception.  The pattern 었다가 can also be used when, after completing the action in the first clause, something opposite, unfortunate, contradictory, or unplanned occurs in the final clause.

그는 이중 주차를 했다가 경찰에 주차위반 딱지를 떼였다.
He double-parked his car and he got a parking ticket from the police.
(In this case, something unplanned and unfortunate happens in the final clause as a result of the action in the first clause.)

그녀에게 데이트 신청을 했다가 거절당했어요.
I asked Nancy out, but she turned me down.
(In this example the opposite or contradictory result in the final clause occurs after the action of the first clause.)

그는 화가나면 방안을 왔다 갔다 해요.
When he’s angry he paces back and forth across the room.
(Here the subject does one action and then it’s opposite action (coming then going, repeatedly).

책을 사러 서점에 갔다가 볼펜도 샀아요.
I went to the bookstore to buy a book, but I also bought a pen.
(The action of buying a pen was unplanned and unanticipated.  The subject did not have any intention of buying a pen at the time they went to the bookstore.)

Wait just a minute!!  What the hell happened to the pattern -어다가?  I thought you were going to cover that too.

Hmm… I was kinda’ hoping you’d forgotten about that.  Well the bad news is that, yes, the pattern AVst + 어다가 has a different meaning than plain ol’ 다가 and its more complicated brother 었다가.  The good news is that it’s the easiest to keep track of because it only has one meaning (that I’m aware of.)  Just remember that for this usage the conjunction requires the 어/아/여 before the 다가.

The pattern AVst + 어다가 is used when a shift or change in location occurs.  No interruption is implied.  No negative or opposite outcome is implied.  Just a change in physical location between the first clause and final clause.  The action of the first clause is connected or continued in the second clause, but in a different location.  Easy, right?  Here are a couple examples:

햄버거 사다가 먹었어요.
I bought a hamburger and ate it.
The pattern  어다가 makes it clear to the listener that the location where you bought the burger is different than the location where you ate the burger.

계산서 좀 갖다 주세요.
Check please!  [or] Please bring me the check.
Literally, this verb means get the check (which is somewhere other than here) and bring it to me (here).

식사 만들어다가 친구한테 배달했어요.
I made a meal and then delivered it to my friend.
The pattern 어다가 signals a change in location from the first clause to the final clause.

Wow!  That’s a lot of stuff to remember about 다가, huh?  Not to undermine my entire lesson here, but sometimes I’m not even sure if I understand all the different usages of this pattern.  But at least we’re in this together.  Suck on, friends.  Suck on.

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