Using 당신 (Part 2)

Really?   You still want to know how to use 당신?  Well, I suppose it’s to be expected.  I mean, you suck at Korean so I don’t know what made me think you’d be any better at following advice or directions.  <sigh>  Anyway, let’s get to it then. 

Basically there are four ways to use 당신.  And you’d better pay attention here — especially to the first usage.

1.  Using 당신 when you want to start a fight.
2.  Using 당신 with your husband or wife.
3.  Using 당신 when the listener or audience is not a specific person.
4.  Using 당신 to mean “he” or “she”.  (Actually, it’s hardly ever used this way.)

1.  Use 당신 when you want to start a fight.

당신 as a very rude way of calling somebody “you”.  But 당신 is extraordinarily blunt and informal, and its usage in Korean is so restricted that if you don’t use it correctly you’re going to end up starting a fight.  In fact, 당신 is used to belittle and provoke someone.  If you’re arguing with someone in Korean — yelling and screaming — at least the fight hasn’t escalated into physical confrontation.  But if you start referring to that person with the pronoun 당신, that’s the equivalent of poking them in the chest.  Now you’ve gone physical.  Now we’re talking fisticuffs.  That’s right.  I used the word ‘fisticuffs’.

2.  Using 당신 with your husband or wife. 

Because 당신 means “you” in such a very blunt and informal way, there’s pretty much no one you could possibly use 당신 with in civil conversation.  Except perhaps your husband or wife; someone with whom you’re extremely close and/or intimate.  No, you can’t use it with your girlfriend.  (Unless you want to fight them. See usage #1.)  No, you can’t use it with your best friend.  (Unless you want to fight them.  See usage #1.)  No, you can’t use it with a subordinate at work.  (Unless you want to fight them.  See usage #1.)  Have I made it clear yet that 당신 almost always sounds like you’re starting a fight?  Good.  If you’re 100% positive that you understand this point, then it’s safe to tell you that you’re also allowed to use 당신 with your husband or wife, as long as they’re cool with that.  If not, you’ll know.  How?  Fisticuffs.

I think it’s worth pointing out that using 당신 (“you”) with your husband or wife is not something that younger couples typically do.  It’s mostly middle-aged and older couples.  There’s nothing wrong with using 당신 if you’re a young couple.  It’s just not normal.  It’s like hearing a 50 year old couple calling each other “자기” (instead of “여보”).  Or like getting a text from a 40 year old woman who still uses phrases like “넹넹”.  It’s just kinda’ weird.

Let’s take a question from the audience.

“But I hear 당신 all the time when I’m watching Korean dramas.  So it must be okay to use, right?”

Yes.  You’ll hear 당신 an awful lot when you’re watching Korean Dramas.  BUT… it’s almost always used in one of the two usages above.  Go back and watch your drama.  9 times out of 10, the word 당신 is being used right before a fight or during one.  And even when it’s being used between husband and wife, it’s usually during an argument that you’ll hear it.  Understand?

“Wait a minute!  I hear 당신 in other places besides dramas.  I hear it in songs; I see it in advertisements; I see it when I walk into TGIFriday’s.  What the hell?  I’m pretty sure it’s okay to use 당신 a bit more frequently than, umm…. errr…. never.”

Yep, you’re right.  And if you’re a singer/songwriter or a copy-editor for an advertising firm, then go right ahead.  In fact, this brings us to the next usage.

3.  Using 당신 when the listener or audience is not a specific person. 

This one is a bit more difficult to explain, but it’s easy to understand once I give you a few examples.  You see, 당신 is okay to use if there’s no actual person physically present in front of you receiving the communication.  Now think about that for a second.  (But only a second.)  In order for there to be “no actual person physically present in front of you”, that means that either THEY are not there or YOU are not there.  See how terrible of an explanation that is?  Now let’s look at some examples instead.

Songs.  You hear 당신 a lot in songs because a song is not one person talking to another person.  It’s a broadcast.  The listener is non-specific.  Even if the song is about someone in particular.  Even if the song is called “Hee Jin”.  Even if the lyrics of my song are “This song is for Hee Jin Lee, who lives at 302-12 Royal County, Apartment 304, Yongsan-gu, Seoul”, and there’s absolutely no doubt about who the song is for.  That person is still not there in front of you, so 당신 is okay.  If you wrote this song for someone named Hee-Jin and you were singing it at a concert that she was attending, it would still be okay.  If, however, you write a song called “Hee Jin” for your girlfriend and then you decide to serenade her outside her window, I’d highly recommend you NOT use 당신.  I’d also highly recommend that your girlfriend actually be named Hee Jin.

Advertisements.  Yes, you’ll see 당신 all the time in advertisements?  Why, because it’s non-personal communication for a non-specific listener.  Even if YOU are there, the dude that wrote the ad is not.  So it’s okay.

Direct Translation.  Let’s say I show you a sentence in English and ask you to translate it for me.  The sentence is, “I sent the documents to you.”  Now, without any further information, how are you going to translate that sentence?  If you knew that the “you” was a teacher, then you could say “선생님한테 서류를 보냈습니다.”  If you knew that the “you” was your company’s boss, then you could say “사장님에께 서류를 보냈습니다.”  But you don’t know who the “you” is in this case.  Which is why it’s perfectly acceptable to translate it like this: “당신한테 서류를 보냈습니다.”

Other uses.  Again, you’ll see and hear 당신 in other random places too.  Just remember that it occurs where there’s either no specific and physically present speaker or no specific and physically present listener.  A random example.  I walk into a TGIFriday’s restaurant and get seated at a table.  On the table is a small card with a Polaroid picture of our waitress, and above the picture is reads “당신의 웨이트리스 박민주 입니다.”  Once again: non-specific audience (just happens to be me this time) and speaker is not physically present.  당신 okay!

4.  Using 당신 to mean “he” or “she”.  

So there’s one more way you can get away with using 당신, and that’s when you’re using it as a 3rd person reflexive pronoun.  What does that mean, you ask?  Hell, I don’t know.  But look, here are two example sentences (taken from Naver’s online dictionary) to get you started.

어머니는 당신의 아이들을 위해 항상 기도하신다
My mother always prays for her children.

할아버지는 당신이 손수 지으신 그 집을 매우 아끼셨다
Grandfather took extra special care of the house, which he’d built with his own hands.

But 당신 is hardly ever used this way.  So infrequently, I’d say, that you don’t even have to worry about remembering it.  Besides, if you tried to use it like this, you’d just end up screwing it up anyway.

And then what would happen?

That’s right.  Fisticuffs.

11 thoughts on “Using 당신 (Part 2)

  1. for 3. 선생님께 rather than 선생님한테
    사장님께 rather than 선생님에께
    당신에게/께 rather than 당신한테 sound more natural.
    Also, you can consider many or these as written language, usually used for poems, song lyrics.
    for 4. We do use this 당신, instead of 자기 for someone who is older than us, usually parents, grandparents, or someone we respect, not for anyone who is older than us.
    Instead of ‘자기’ in ‘그 사람은 자기가 한 일을 기억 못한다’ (He doesn’t remember that he did.) If 그 사람 is my 할아버지, I would say ‘우리 할아버지는 당신이 한 일을 기억 못하신다’
    Some more examples,
    ‘Lincoln은 당신의 국민들을 위해 무엇이 최선인지 늘 고민했다’
    ‘우리 엄마는 맛있는 것이 있으면 당신 입에 들어가는 것보다 우리 입에 들어가는 게 더 배가 부르다 하셨어'(When there is something delicious to eat, my mom would be full just to see us eat instead of putting them into her own mouth.-literally )

  2. When I learned Korean at my uni in the US my Korean professor didn’t even bother to teach us how to use 당신. She said we shouldn’t ever need to use it… but I’m an exchange student at a different school right now and all the beginning Korean students are learning to say sentences ending in ㅂ/습니다 format and using 당신 for ‘you.’ Is it really that rude? :O

    1. Hi, and thanks for visiting YouSuckAtKorean!

      Is using 당신 rude? Well, that depends. Are you using it in direct communication? If so, then absolutely, positively, YES, it’s rude. If, however, you’re simply translating sentences in a book and not talking to anyone in particular, then using 당신 for “you” is just fine.

      Now if the ㅂ니다 exercises you’re doing are completely devoid of context, and are simply being used as drills in a textbook or workbook, then you’ll be fine. But even then, why include the pronoun 당신? In natural Korean speech you wouldn’t include the pronoun unless it were necessary or you were trying to emphasize something.

      I don’t know if that helps or not. But I certainly stand by my post. If you’re a beginner, do not use 당신 in conversation. Seriously.

      Best wishes. And thanks again for visiting!

  3. haha great article. i love your no bull shit approach at teaching korean. and as an english speaker i appreciate learning about korean from someone who is also an english speaker. even though the ideal state is to be a korean native they are typically the worst at explaining the language. that’s okay tho i would be the worst person to explain english grammar since i don’t know or care about it. anyway good stuff

  4. ‘당신’ is not at all informal. It’s the most formal and polite form of you. Technically it should be used with 해요체 and 하오체. The more polite/formal 합쇼체 and 하소서체 don’t have words for ‘you,’ and all the lower speech levels have other words for you.
    Who sucks at Korean how, huh? Kekeke

    1. To be blunt… umm…. no. 자신 is a first-person reflexive pronoun (1인칭 재귀 대명사). When 당신 is used as a reflexive pronoun, it can only be used in the 3rd person, per the examples in the post.

      And… when you say “Who sucks at Korean now?” it makes me think that you don’t understand the point of my self-deprecating sarcasm.

    2. Sorry, but I maintain that “informal” is a good word to describe 당신. When another car sideswipes mine on a busy street in Seoul and the driver of the other car gets out and starts calling me 당신, I assure you that he is not being polite or formal. When two guys in a bar start arguing and the “you” turns from 너 into 당신, once again I have to insist this is not formal — not even close. 당신 does have a variety of uses, though, which I think I’m clear about pointing out in this post. I appreciate the comment though, and thank you for reading!

  5. So how can you say ‘you’ to someone you don’t really know?
    Like someone you just happened to meet ask ‘how are you?’ and then you want to say ‘….and you?’.
    I mean, you can say the whole sentence again but .. isn’t there something i can use as ‘you’ with strangers?
    Because even if i know their ages, i wouldn’t call a person i just met ‘oppa’ or ‘eonni’.
    Ex:
    ‘What are you doing?’
    ‘Nothing …what are you doing?’ ….
    Looks kinda silly to me..

    1. First, don’t panic. This is one of the most common problems that English speakers have when learning Korean. What might not be so obvious, though, is that it’s also awkward for Koreans! This is why, when first meeting someone, Koreans are quick to ask questions about age and identity. If you’re just being casually introduced to a stranger, then no worries. You can safely ignore them. But… if you think that you might ever interact with this person again in the future, then you need to figure out a few things about him or her. Otherwise you’ll be in the very predicament you describe.

      When you want to say “And you?”, here are a couple strategies. If the other person is someone with whom you are close, or someone a couple decades younger than you, you can use “너는?” (blunt) or “너는요?” (a little less blunt). Just keep in mind that the rules for informal speech (반말) still apply.

      When you know the other person’s name or title it makes things easier. For example, if you were just introduced to a girl named 미경, then you could use “미경씨는요?” Or, if you were introduced to a teacher then you could use “선생님은요?” Both of these would equate to “and you?” in this particular situation.

      If you don’t know their name or title, however, then you’re in a trickier situation – one that even a native Korean would find awkward. In those cases you can try 그쪽 or 거기, or you could use 댁. Here are some examples:
      – 저는 그쪽을 몰라요. (I don’t know you.)
      – 거기 왜 앉아 있지 않아요? (Why aren’t you sitting?)
      – 거기, 좀 닥쳐줄래? (Hey, you, can you shut up?) [The sentence is impolite, but the 거기 part is not.]
      – 댁은 누구신지요? (May I ask who you are?)
      – 댁 아이 학교가 어디 있어요? (Where is your child’s school?)

      Hope that helps!

  6. Thank you for every other informative blog. Where else could I am
    getting that kind of information written in such a
    perfect method? I have a project that I am simply now working on, and I’ve been at the look out for
    such info.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *