Honorific Speech

The eastern culture carries in its Confucianist roots a high regard for social status. Social status can be based on many things: age, job seniority, role in the family, and being a teacher, to name but a few. It usually doesn't hinge on wealth, but your role in society.

Therefore, when speaking to a teacher, or your grandparents, or your boss, it is customary to speak in a manner that is respectful. Most children speak to their parents in a more familiar form, mainly because it is convenient. Close friends also speak to each other in this familiar form. The familiar form (also known as 반말 or blunt form) will be discussed in a later lesson.

The hallmark of honorific speech is the particle '시' (sometimes '세' when not so formal). This particle is inserted between the verb root and the verb ending. More on different verb endings in the next lesson.

Ah, but there are two more particles to introduce. The particle that you attach to the name or title of the person being respected is '님'. And remember subject markers? Well there's an honorific one - '께서'. You can attach this right after '님'.

It's about time for an example. So we'll examine one which contains all the elements discussed:

선생님께서 학교에 가십니다.
The teacher is going to school.
(teacher school-to going)

Now I'll break it down into its components. 'Teacher' (also 'respected person') is '선생' but is almost always followed by '님'. '께서' follows after that as the honorific subject marker, but you can get away with using the subject marker '이'. Next is 학교 (school) and the direction particle ('에') from the last lesson attached to it. Finally, the verb 'to go' (가다) drops its '다' (infinitive ending) and the honorific particle '시' is added. Then '시' connects to the formal sentence ending (ㅂ니다).

Whew! That's a lot of work just to make a sentence. But the more you practice, the easier it gets. So in order to practice, here is a good number of examples:

저분이 김 박사님이십니다.
That person is Doctor Kim.
(that person Kim Doctor is.)


할머니께서 오십니다.
Grandmother is coming.
(Grandmother coming.)


When the verb root ends with a consonant, you have to put '으' between the root and the honorific marker.

김 선생님은 연세가 많으십니다.
Mr. Kim is old.
(Kim Mr. age much.)


박 사장님은 돈이 많으십니다.
Mr. Park, the company president, has a lot of money.
(Park company president money much.)


And examples with the polite yet honorific '세' particle (and the polite ending - more on that in a future lesson):

선생님, 어서 오세요.
Welcome, Sir.
(Sir, please come.)


어머니, 밥을 드세요.
Mother, have some rice.
(Mother, rice eat.)