Friday, September 11, 2009

Does Korean need ~고 있다 and ~어 있다?

Korean verbs inherently have a continuous aspect about them, so the ~고 있다 and ~어 있다 patterns do not seem to be needed. Consider the following examples:
  • 아이가 울고 있다 = 아이가 운다
    The baby is crying.
  • 학생들이 공부하고 있다 = 학생들이 공부한다
    The students are studying.
  • 비가 오고 있다 = 비가 온다
    It is raining.
  • 내 아들은 학교에 가있다 = 내 아들은 학교에 갔다.
    My son is at school.
  • 교실에 난로를 설치해 있다 = 교실에 난로을 설치했다.
    A heater is installed in the classroom.

As you can see from the above examples, the ~고 있다 and ~어 있다 patterns seem to be unnecessary.

Another interesting thing about the Korean language is that adverbs play an important role. For example, a simple adverb can change a sentence from present continuous to simple present tense. Consider the following examples:

  • 아이가 운다.......................The baby is crying.
    아이가 자주 운다................The baby frequently cries.
  • 학생들이 공부한다..............The students are studying.
    학생들이 매일 공부한다.......The students study daily.
  • 비가 온다...........................It is raining.
    비가 자주 온다....................It frequently rains.

Can anyone think of a situation where ~고 있다 or ~어 있다 is necessary? Couldn't 산다 even replace a phrase like 살아 있다 (to be alive)?


  1. There is a difference from what I've seen.

    서고 있다 implies that I'm in the action of standing up.

    서 있다 implies that I'm in the state of standing (but not moving)

    So I believe there are differences where 고 있다 means it's a continuous motion and 어 있다 implies a continuous state.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Koreans would not normally say 서고 있다 to refer to the action of standing up from a sitting position; they would normally say 일어선다.

    서 있다, on the other hand, is quite common, but I think 서 있다 could be replaced with 선다 without any difference in meaning.

  3. I think Korean doesn't care as much about tense as they do in English. In an English sentence, it is perhaps the most important part, as in "I went tomorrow" makes absolutely no sense. In Korean, and I will simply follow G. BEvers here, there seems to be no *must* reason for saying 고 있다 as opposed to saying simply 울어요. That's why they frequently just give the 어/아 form. as for if the action is ongoing, well, it's plain from the context or from what's right in front of you. I think Korean sentences emphasize more nouns and adverbs than they do verbs, anyways.

    So, I have many questions about when to use Korean verb tenses, as they usually defy categorization. can anybody say if it's

    왔으면 했을텐데 or 왔으면 했었을텐데 In English it would be the past perfect, but in my experience, they are used interchangeably.

  4. Hi Joseph,

    I think Koreans spend more time worrying about English grammar than they do their own grammar, but 내일 갔습니다 (I went tomorrow) would not make sense in Korean, either. :)

    Just ignore the -았었 construction because Korean does not need it, just as it does not need -었던. The -았었 construction is just a Korean attempt to imitate the English past perfect, but Korean does just fine without it. Therefore, 왔으면 했을텐데 is all you need to say.


    I have over time compiled a few examples and put them together under one heading. Someobody may find it interesting. At the very least, I get another link to my site ^^

  6. I have a maybe dumb question:
    How can you make
    아이가 운다
    more polite?

  7. 임금님의 아이께서 웁십니다.

    is that right?

    가 -> 께서
    울다 -> 웁시다 -> 웁십니다.

  8. I don't believe you'd ever use 께서 on a baby, or possibly even 시다. I'd be interested in hearing what a native thinks about it.

    From what I'd guess, you would only add honorifics for the person you're talking to rather than for the baby.

    아이가 웁니다 or maybe 아이가 울으십니다 would be what I'd say to someone older than me; 아이가 울어요 to someone a little older or same age; 아이가 울어 to someone obviously younger than me or who I know well. 운다 is plain form which, I believe, is used really infrequently since it's like extremely low form. I believe people mostly use it in certain phrases (like 간다!), when they talk to themselves, and in quotes.

  9. It is interesting to note that I have heard from many Korean linguistic scholars that Korean did not originally have a 현재진행형, but that it was added later to represent foreign ideas or translate foreign expressions (I have heard the same about the 해 지다 form as well). I haven't read any papers to this fact, but I hardly think it is something they would just throw out there.

    In terms of crying the word is 우십니다 NOT 울으십니다 or 웁십니다. (For 웃다 it would be 웃으십니다) When the verb root ends in ㄹ it behaves differently, and is most commonly dropped. 우는 아이가, and 웃는 아이가 NOT 울는 아이가. There is no inherent problem using honorific speech to a baby, particularly if you want to recognize the predominance of that child (Jesus, Kim Jong Il, etc. would probably all have been given honorific verb endings in texts referring to them as babies.)

  10. 너 아직 멀었어 !

  11. Hello,
    I am Korean, I just found that this site in the middle of web surfing.
    Actually, there are difference between them.
    We say ~고 있어 to emphasize the current state or describe situation usually in written Korean.
    Normally, it can be interchangeable but the meaning is a slightly different.

    We usually say:
    조용히 해! 아이가 자고 있어.
    샤워하고 있는데, 전화 좀 받아줄래?
    지금 뭐하고 있어? 어, 밥 먹고 있어.
    We normally write to describe situation:
    커다란 고양이가 탁자아래에서 잠을 자고 있다.

  12. According to Korean Grammar in Use :

    -고 있다 expresses an action currently in progress
    -아/어 있다 expresses the continuing state of a completed action

    의자에 앉고 있다 (Somebody is in the process of sitting in a chair.)
    의자에 앉아 있다 (Somebody continues to sit in a chair.)

    꽃이 피고 있다 (The flowers are in the process of blooming.)
    꽃이 피어 있다 (The flowers have bloomed and remain in that state.)

    죽고 있다 (Something is in the state of dying gradually.)
    죽어 있다 (Something has died and remains dead.)

  13. 안녕하세요? Mr. Gerry Bevers,
    I have a comment on your respond that "Just ignore the -았었 construction because Korean does not need it, just as it does not need -었던. The -았었 construction is just a Korean attempt to imitate the English past perfect, but Korean does just fine without it."
    We Korean use quite a lot -ㅆ/었/았었 construction to specifically mean that some action I used to do is no longer relevant such as the follows :

    나 피아노 잘 쳤었는데 이제는 못 쳐. (It is quite different to -쳤는데)
    어렸을 때 거기 살았었는데 지금은 안 살아.
    테니스를 참 열심히 했었는데... 지금은 치라면 못 치겠네. etc.

    1. Hi Heeseong. This is the wrong thread, but I can still answer your question.

      Again, the "았었" and "았던" are unnecessary in Korean since adverbs provide the intended meaning.

      1) 전에 잘 쳤는데....
      2) 어렸을 때 거기 살았는데....
      3) 전에 테니스를 열심히 했는데....

      See! There is no need for 았었는데. Adverbs like 전에 (in the past) provide the "no longer relevant" meaning.

  14. I think there are very complicated meanings and grammatical informations about '-어 있다' and '-고 있다'. Some of formers have continusous meaning, but some are not, likewise the latter forms.

    For example, '입다' verb meaning 'to put on(wear)', there are two types of meaning along the phrase '-고 있다'.

    <1> 바지를 입고 있다(be putting on pants).
    <2> 바지를 입고 있다(be wearing on pants).

    '바지' needs some time to put on completely, so it can contain <1> as a continuous meaning; at the same time, '-고 있다' can mean the state of something, so can as <2> as a state. However, if the noun was '모자(a cap)', for example, the verb changes into '쓰다', then it only means like <2> as a stage.

    <3> 모자를 쓰고 있다(be wearing a cap).

    But if the cap is flexible or something like a bandana, it takes time to put on like pants, so the verb '쓰다' also can be continuous meaning.

    <4> (질겨서 쉽게 써지지 않는)모자를 쓰고 있다(be putting on a cap(?) that cannot be put easily).

    There are at least 3 types of verb that can take '-고 있다' or '-어 있다', even both:

    1. Verbs that only take -고 있다 -- momentary verbs like '앉다', '멈추다'
    2. Verbs that only take -어 있다 -- continuous verbs like '먹다', '울다'
    3. Verbs that take both -고 있다 and -어 있다 but with different meanings -- like '밟다', '가다'

    Of course, many verbs can change -고 있다 into ㄴ다, and -어 있다 into -었다. But some verbs I think not:

    <5> 나, 지금 이거 밟고 있어(I am stepping on it now).
    <6> 나, 지금 이거 밟아(awkward sentence).
    <7> 나, 지금 이거 밟았어(I stepped on it now).

    '밟다' is one of them, as you can see, only '밟고 있다' can contain the continuous meaning in its sentence. <7> can also mean a state like <5>, but that's very weak...


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