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Back to the basics: The many meanings of 하다

One of those days when I feel like I suck in Korean. Back to the basics. If I ask you to name the various meanings / uses of the basic verb 하다, how many can you actually name? Or how many do you actually know?

We usually learn that the verb means ‘to do’, and we are familiar with uses such as 공부하다, 숙제를 하다 etc. But what about things like 그녀는 목걸이를 하고 출근했다? Did she ‘do the necklace’ or is there some other meaning at work?

A simple search on k-Naver dic turns up the following meanings:

1. To carry out an action

예) 공부를 하다

2. To prepare / make something to eat or wear

예) 옷을 한 벌을 했다 – to prepare a set of clothes

3. To show an expression or emotion 

예) 어두운 얼굴을 하다

4. To eat / drink something or smoke 

예) 커피 하실래요? – would you want a cup of coffee?

5. To put on some kind of jewellery

예) 묵걸이를 하다

The list goes on. The English Naver dictionary comes up with TWENTY meanings for 하다. Please refer to it.

To the beginner, it may seem really impossible to learn all the meanings at one go and you will probably like OMG why so many meanings?!! How to differentiate??? and get freaked out. Don’t worry, you are not expected to know everything at one go. I’ve (thankfully) never came across any textbook that explains them all at one go. And in fact, I’ve learnt some of its meanings through exposure to Korean and reading, instead of a formal textbook. It’s nice to revisit the list at this point, but for beginners, do not freak out at the list.

For now, just treat the verb has ‘to do’ and then learn the additional meanings and nuances as you come across the verb in other uses.

This goes for other words that you might come across. Many of the words have multiple meanings and nuances. Do not feel obliged to learn all the meanings at one go. Instead, concentrate on the meanings that is applicable to the sentence / context that you see the word/verb being used in. In that way, you won’t get too overwhelmed ^^

hehe that being said, did you learn a new use of 하다 today?  ^^


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  • Reply
    3 September, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    I hate it when I’m searching for the correct meaning of the word and it’s right at the end in the dictionary :p

    • Reply
      3 September, 2012 at 11:32 PM


  • Reply
    4 September, 2012 at 12:42 AM

    Great and informative post! I just started studying Korean and your blog is really a great inspiration, especially since you post every day 😀 Love it!

    • Reply
      5 September, 2012 at 11:24 AM

      aww thanks for liking the blog!!! 😀

  • Reply
    4 September, 2012 at 3:09 AM

    You know, when I read this, I think they are all related though. It’s just (or similar to) like Japanese. It’s really an idiomatic use. Where they don’t have so many words for specific things, and they just “do” it. I think the meaning is the same, but Koreans use it in ways that come across as different meanings in an idiomatic sense.

    • Reply
      5 September, 2012 at 11:24 AM

      that’s true! but for those who are used to the english DO, these idiomatic senses may seem very different.

  • Reply
    4 November, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    Wow! I never thought 하다 has lots of meanings. Have been using most of them by now but it’s like it’s embedded in my brain that 하다 only means ‘to do’

    • Reply
      5 November, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      hehe it is embedded that way, but i’m sure we subconsciously can understand the different meanings, just that it is hard for us to pinpoint in words ^^

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