Monday, August 31, 2009

What are the ten usages of 에게 (한테)?

My grammar book lists ten different usages of 에게, which is a grammar marker that acts like a preposition and attaches to the ends of nouns that indicate people and animals. It is most commonly translated as "to" and "by." In most cases, 한테 can substitute for 에게.

The reason that 에게 has so many different usages is that its function and meaning change with different kinds of verbs, which is why foreign learners of Korean are often confused by some of its usages. In fact, even some Koreans are confused.

Here are the ten usages that my grammar book ("외국인을 위한 한국어 문법2") lists for 에게. I have translated the explanations and the example sentences from the book into English.
  1. 에게 is used to indication the person or animal that will be influenced by the action.
    * 제가 친구에게 책을 주었어요.
    ...I gave a book to my friend.
    * 선생님은 학생들에게 노래와 춤을 가르쳤다.
    ...The teacher taught song and dance to the students.
    * 어른에게는 존댓말을 써야 합니다.
    ...You should use polite speech with adults.
    * 그 남자는 나에게 취미가 뭐냐고 물었어요.
    ...That man asked [to] me what my hobbies were.
    * 동생이 친구에게 전화를 겁니다.
    ...My younger sister is calling [to] her friend.
    * 닭에게 모이를 주었나?
    ...Have you given feed to the chickens?
  2. When used with such verbs as 가다, 오다, or their derivatives, 에게 indicates the direction or destination of the subject.
    * 미영 씨는 왜 재훈 씨에게 왔습니까?
    ...Why did Mi-yeong come to see Jae-hun?
    * 나는 머뭇머뭇 그에게 다가갔다.
    ...I approached [to] him hesitantly.

  3. When used with such verbs or adjectives as 있다, 없다, 남다, 많다, 적다, and 생기다, the marker 에게 indicates who is in possession of something that could be material or immaterial.
    * 동생에게 급한 일이 생긴 것 같아요.
    ...It seems my sister is faced with an urgent matter.
    * 여전히 저에게는 큰 문제가 남아 있습니다.
    ...I still have a difficult problem.
    * 김 선생에게 그만한 돈이 있을까?
    ...Do you think Mr. Kim has that much money?
  4. When used with such verbs and adjectives as 맞다, 알맞다, 어울리다, 비하다, and 뒤지다, the marker 에게 is used to indicate the object to which something is being compared or measured.
    * 그 옷은 저에게 너무 큽니다.
    ...Those clothes are to big for me.
    *이 옷이 학생에게 어울린다고 생각하니?
    ...Do you think these clothes are suitable for a student?
    * 이 사전이 학생들에게 알맞을 거예요.
    ...This dictionary is suitable for a student
    * 동생은 키는 작지만 공부는 친구에게 뒤지지 않았지요.
    ...My younger sister is short, but in her studies, she keeps up with her friends.
  5. When used with such verbs as 잡히다, 빼앗기다, and 발견되다, the marker 에게 indicates who performs the action. (Notice that the verbs are passive verbs, so 에게 would normally be translated as "by.")
    * 숨어 있던 도둑이 경찰에게 잡혔다.
    ...The thief that was in hiding has been caught by the police.
    * 땅 속의 보물이 100년 만에 집주인에게 발견되었다.
    ...After being buried for 100 years, the teasure was discovered by the house owner.
    * 친구에게 깜빡 속아서 일요일에 학교에 갔다.
    ...I was completely fooled by my friend and went to school on Sunday.
    * 호랑이에게 물려 가도 정신만 차리면 살 수 있어.
    ...Even if you are being carried off by a tiger, you can survive if you keep your wits about you.
  6. When used with such verbs as 받다, 당하다, 얻다, and 배우다, the marker 에게 indicates the person who causes the action. 에게서 can also be used with these kinds of verbs. (I think 듣다 can also be included among these verbs.)
    *아직 부모님에게 용돈을 받아요.
    ...I still get pocket money from my parents.
    * 이 선생에게 한국말을 배웠지요.
    Yes, I learned Korean from instructor Lee.
    * 이 책을 친구에게 얻었다.
    ...I got this book from a friend.
    * 저는 동료들에게 놀림을 받고 많이 울었어요.
    ...I cried a lot after being teased by my colleagues.
  7. 에게 is used to indicate the person who is instructed or made to do something.
    * 엄마가 아이에게 제시간에 숙제를 마치게 했어.
    ...The mom made the child finish his homework on time.
    * 여자는 누워 있는 남자에게 시원한 물을 마시게 했다.
    ...The woman had the reclining man drink some cool water.
    * 선생님께서 내 짝에게 책을 읽히셨어요.
    The teacher had my partner read the book.

  8. When used with verbs and adjectives that express feelings and evaluations, 에게 is used to indicate the person who is the subject of that feeling or is in the situation.
    * 지금 딸에게 필요한 것은 아버지의 사랑입니다.
    ...What the daughter needs now is her father's love.
    * 우리에게 참으로 귀한 것은 무엇일까?
    ...What is really precious to us?
    *그 일이 너에게는 쉬울지 모르지만 그 아이에게는 매우 어렵다.
    ...It may be easy for you, but it is very difficult for that child.
  9. When used with verbs and adjectives that show emotion, 에게 is used to indicate the person who causes the emotion.
    * 아주, 이제는 나 자신에게 실망했다.
    ...Damn it! Now I have disappointed myself.
    * 여자는 상대방에게 호감을 느낀 듯했다.
    ...The woman seemed to show interest in the other person.
    * 그에게 느끼는 감정이 사랑이야.
    ...The feeling I have for him is love.
  10. In the salutation of a letter, 에게 is used to indicate the receiver of the letter. (한테 is not used because 한테 is usually used in spoken Korean, not written Korean.)
    * 사랑하는 벗에게
    ...To my loving friend
    * 보고 싶은 동생에게
    ...To the younger brother I miss
    * 친구에게
    ...To my friend

Among the ten usages, using 에게 with the Number 6 usage seems the most strange to me, but since it says that 에게서 can also be used, I can learn to live with it. Also, I have not been using 에게 in the way shown in the Number 7 usage, but I will try to remember to do so in the future. As for the other usages, I do not seem to have much of a problem with them.

My grammar book says that 한테 can replace 에게 in all the different usages, except for Number 10. 한테 is usually used with spoken Korean, not written, so it would not normally be used in a letter. It also says that 에게 can be used with both spoken and written Korean.

My book also says that 더러 and 보고 can replace 에게 in usages Number 1 and Number 7. It also says that 에게로 can also be used with the Number 2 usage, but I do not like 에게로, for some reason, so will probably just be using 에게 in the case of usage Number 2.

Also, 나에게, 저에게, and 너에게 can be abbreviated to 내게, 제게, and 네게, respectively.


  1. hi,

    is this grammar book written in English or entirely in Korean? do you recommend this book to a person learning Korean? thx..

  2. Hi,

    The books are written entirely in Korean, but are written with foreign learners in mind. That is, they seem to explain almost everything about the language, without assuming prior knowledge. For example, I have not seen 에게 explained with ten separate usage notes anywhere else. Also, they are well organized with lots of example sentences.

    Actually, there are two books you can buy as a set. The first book has 570 pages and is a grammar book explaining the language in general, similar to many other Korean grammar books. The second book is a 906 page usage dictionary of Korean grammar structures. The first book costs 35,000 won and the second costs 45,000 won. which means they are expensive. However, since they seem to be a complete reference set of the Korean language, I would recommend them to anyone whose goal is to become fluent in the Korean language.

    If you want to save money by just buying one of the two books, I would recommend volume two, which is the larger usage dictionary.

    The books were published by the National Institute of Korean Language, and I think they did a great job.

  3. The book sounds really interesting. Though I'm worried I wouldn't be able to understand it all since it's written in just Korean. Since many of the textbooks written in English aren't reliable or their explanations are either wrong or too simple, I've found myself creating my own explanations through what I've learned through immersion.

  4. (Chris again, just changed my name)

    Also wanted to mention grammar patterns like 에게 과심 있다. This is used for when one has an interest for a person. Otherwise 에 is used

    "그 여자에게 관심 있어"
    "한국말에 관심 있어"

  5. That's right, Chris. 에게 is used with people and animals, and 에 is used with all other things.

    As I said, if your learning goals are limited, then maybe you do not need the book. However, if your goal is to achieve fluency in Korean, then I think it would be worth the investment even if you cannot understand it all right now. As your Korean gets better, you will be able to understand it.

  6. Yeah I'd definitely be interested in those books. Could you tell me the name please?

    These days I've been collecting a lot of Korean books hoping to get the most information I can get on particular grammar patterns, but most books still only stick to simple explanations. In fact, could I request an explanation on this blog? Most books have -거든요 as simply meaning "because" or adding a "you see?" at the end of a sentence. However I've come to hear it used in different ways.

    One alternate meaning is used to deny some claim someone has made about you. For example:
    B:"조깁쟁이 아니거든"

    B is denying he/she is stubborn(조집쟁이)

    The meaning I've come to look for seems to be related to having someone understand your situation or just some situation in general. Also seems like it's used to introduce some important information. I've recently heard my friend ordering delivery saying the address of the place and ending the sentence with "거든요." Out of all the books I have, none cover this definition. If you could, it would be useful grammar to learn for those who want to speak like a native speaker instead of being limited by what is taught in textbooks.

  7. Hi Gerry,

    I feel I should state up front that I have very little grounding in the Korean language and understood only a few of the example sentences without having read the translations. Also, this was one of my first times encountering 에게. However, as a Japanese speaker most of these uses seem quite natural to me. 에게 seems very similar in function to に in Japanese.

    に is used in Japanese to mark things like location, direction, time, comparison, indirect objects, and - most important to this discussion - the agent of a passive verb. Clearly a multipurpose particle and sharing a large overlap in usage with 에게, I will only discuss the related uses as pertaining to point 6 in your post. Given that you mentioned this one being the strangest, I hope I can shed a little light on things, even if just from the perspective of a different language.

    The word "to receive" in Japanese, though both transitive and never conjugated into the passive, is inherently passive in meaning. The person receiving (the focus) takes the subject marker (が=가/이) and the giver takes the agent of a passive sentence marker (に=에게/에).

    이 책을 친구에게 얻었다.
    I got this book from a friend.
    (私が)この本を 友達に もらった。

    Even if you can't read the Japanese, you should note it is a natural, but word for word, particle for particle, transliteration of the Korean (the part in parenthesis being equivalent to 저가). Another possible translation could easily be:

    I was given this book by a friend.

    If the giver is to be the focus, which changes the dynamics of the relationship and thus politeness, the word "gave to me" (I believe 주다 in Korean and as distinguished from "I gave") is used. Given the social and linguistic dynamics, this verb is not passive in meaning and the former agent (giver) becomes the subject and the former subject (receiver) becomes the direct object, with a reversal of their particles.

    友達が この本を 私に くれた。
    My friend gave this book to me.

    In formal English the passive voice is created through use of "to be" as an auxiliary verb. However, in colloquial speech we often use "to get" as an auxiliary instead. (I was hit by the ball. I got hit by the ball.) Even if our own native tongue there is something inherently passive about getting and receiving.

    While I don't know enough about Korean to know if the direction of giving and receiving is as common and explicit as that of Japanese, but given other similarities in the languages and hierarchical societies, I wouldn't doubt it and perhaps it is this that will help explain things.

    I hope that helps.

  8. Hi ES,

    It sounds like に can be used in many more situations than 에게 can. For example, 에게 can only be used with humans and animals, and it is not used to give locations. Also, Korean has 에게서, which means "from." Does Japanese have anything similar to 에게서?

    In the case of the following example, isn't it possible that Koreans were influenced by the Japanese language sometime in the past and started to use 에게 together with 에게서?

    이 책을 친구에게 얻었다.
    I got this book from a friend.
    (私が)この本を 友達に もらった。

  9. Hey Gerry, could you post the name of those 2 books and ISBN? I'd like to buy them soon. Thanks

  10. Sorry, Bluesoju. Your comment slipped past me.

    You can find the names of the books and their ISBN numbers HERE and HERE.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Hello Gerry,
    I have some queries about the sixth grammar point.In Yonsei textbook,I learn that with verbs such as 받다,배우다,...,we should use 에게서 or 한테서 after a personal noun when an action of the verb initiates from that person.In your example: "아직 부모님에게 용돈을 받아요" which means "I still get pocket money from my parents".However, in fact, "from" means 에게서, not 에게,so I think it may cause confusion. Honestly I'm really confused now,so could you please explain it a little bit more ?
    p/s: your work is so admirable,thanks and have a nice day :D

  13. Hi Mai,

    You can use both 에게 or 에게서 with the verbs I listed in Number 6.

    Yes, normally 에게 means "to" and "에게서" means "from," but with the verbs listed in No. 6, you can drop the 서 in 에게서 because the only translation possible with such verbs is "from," so even if 에게 is used, Koreans would know it means 에게서 because of the verb used with it. When you "receive" something, you receive it "from" someone, not "to" someone. It is just a shorter way of saying it.

  14. Thank you for your clear explanation.Everything in Korean seems new and a little bit ambiguous with a beginner like me,so forgive me if the question sounds silly :).

  15. That was not a silly question at all, Mai. I used to be confused by the same thing. I am still not sure if I understand it exactly right.


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