Your friend asked you a favor. She wanted you to take care of her dog for a day because she had to attend an important business meeting in another city. But you also had to go somewhere.


There are 2 options on how to answer her. 1st, ‘sorry, I won’t do it’. 2nd, ‘sorry, I can’t do it’. Clearly, one of the answers sounds like a real bitch and another one is just saying it’s just impossible to do. Well… maybe you want to just say no but why don’t you learn to be polite and nice in this tutorial? 😂😂😂😂😂




Possibility in Korean Mindset

Let’s imagine you are playing Chess and thinking ‘what can be a good move?’. And the word ‘move’ actually describes the possibility of what you can do next, right?


That’s really similar to Can in Korean language. Koreans say ‘there is a move to something or be something in future’. This phrase seems interesting, doesn’t it? It feels like some ancient wiseman talking to his people. 😂😂😂 Embrace the language from a far, mysterious and magical land.




Yes We Can in Korean Language

We need a conjugation to say ‘there is a move to do something in future’ which is ‘can’. You can actually make it without learning more words but 수 which means ‘method / way / possibility / idea’. Let’s see if you can make it yourself.


What was the future tense component? ㄹ
What was ‘move’? 수
What was ‘there is’? 있다
All together?


you can make a phrase like this : ‘-ㄹ 수 있다’. That’s it, you just made a 100% correct modal conjugational phrase for describing possibility.




Can in Korean Language

Now, let’s try it with verbs. When you conjugate them, don’t forget to remove all concluding endings and leave only one at the end.


Korean Language Course 39. Possibility 1


Now, for the final touch, we want to say it in a polite speech style. What was the haeyo form of 있다? 있어요. So all together, it becomes 할 수 있어요. If you make 할 수 있어요, that literally means ‘I can do it’ in the Korean language. And yes, you can do it. you can make any conjugated verbs with this.


Can in Korean 2


But this ㄹ 수 있다 is not much different from ‘can’ in English. It doesn’t only show the possibility (to be able to). Also, you can use it to describe what you can do (eg. I can dance) or permission (eg. you can go).




Can’t in Korean Language

What was the literal meaning of ‘-ㄹ 수 있다’? Yes, it literally means ‘there is a move to do something or be something’. Then what should the negative form be like? Yes, it should be ‘there isn’t a move to -’.


Korean Language Course 39. Possibility 3


있다 means ‘there is’ and 없다 means ‘there isn’t’. So you have to use 없다 instead of 있다 to make the negative form of can in Korean language.


Can in Korean 4


However, it suddenly gets a little bit more formal for the nuance. Then what should we do to make it less formal and more casual? By the way, 볼 수 없어요 sounds like ‘you are not allowed to see’. So, native Koreans say ‘안보여요 (I don’t see)’ when you want to describe what you can’t see because of disturbance.




Can’t in Korean Language

So, Native Koreans prefer to use prefix ‘못’ instead.


Korean Language Course 39. Possibility 5


This 못 works perfectly the same to the negative affix 안. It comes before a verb. It’s much easier than 할 수 없다 and much more casual. Native Koreans more prefer 할 수 있다 in formal situations and more prefer 못- in casual situations.


Can in Korean 6


Interesting thing is, this 못 is perfectly the same as can’t in English. You can use it for to not be able to / to suck at / to not allow.




With Tenses

But how can we mix the tenses with can in Korean language? Now, let’s practice combinations of conjugations.


Korean Language Course 39. Possibility 7


See? As we learned in the Conjugation Core tutorial, tenses always go behind all conjugation just before the ending 요. If you remember this single rule, then probably it will help you with most conjugation combinations.




‘Can’t’ As Shouldn’t

In English, you can say ‘you can’t do it’ instead of ‘you shouldn’t do it’. In Korean? it’s super weird to say it. Koreans use ‘안(don’t)’ to mean ‘shouldn’t, not ‘못(can’t)’


이렇게 그만 두면 안되죠
You can’t quit like this
= 안 is ‘don’t’




Make It Super Duper Natural

할 수 없다 and 못 can’t be used with 이다 as ‘be + noun’ and 있다 as ‘possessive’. You must use 하다 verbs for it.


음악 선생님은 일 수 없어요 (Wrong)
음악 선생님은 못 이에요 (Wrong)
음악 선생님은 될 수 없어요
음악 선생님은 못 되요
I can’t be a music teacher
= You must use verb ‘되다’ (become) instead of 이다


if you say ‘한국인 일 수 없어요’ then it would sound like ‘it can’t be possible he/she is Korean’ and it doesn’t even sound natural much. Grammatically yes, but this is not what you really can hear of in most situations.


차 있을 수 없어요 (Wrong)
차 못있어요 (Wrong)
차 살수 없어요
차 못사요
I can’t have a car
= You must use other verbs such as 사다(buy), 갖다(get).





In English, you can use ‘can’ to ask for permission, right? However, Can in Korean language is not enough to ask for permission. Then do we need another conjugation? or can we use what we’ve just learned? Why don’t you jump into the next tutorial and find it out? Also, if you liked this tutorial, join us in Patreon, we are waiting for you!



Jun Hamm

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