Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why do Koreans say 알겠습니다?

After being admonished by a parent, teacher, or boss, Koreans often respond to the admonishment by saying, 알겠습니다, which always seemed a little strange to me. Why would Koreans use the future tense (겠) with 알다 (to know)?

Well, today I looked up 알다 and found that it has many meanings, including the meaning of "to remember." Therefore, I am guessing that 알겠습니다 means, "I will remember" (what you said). Instead of 알겠습니다, you can also say, "명심하겠습니다," which means, "I will take (your words) to heart."

Mr. Lee Su-yeol (이수열) does not like 알겠습니다, but I do not see any problem with it, at least, not after learning that 알다 can mean "to remember."


  1. Well! I'll be danged!! I have always considered that 알겠.. as an idiomatic I would never understand! `I'll remember your (admonition) (warning) (words), etc.' makes sense! Thanks for your efforts in digging that meaning out, Gary.

  2. Yes, great post. Fantastic clear explanation as always. I'm so glad that you've been posting so regularly lately, I've become a daily visitor.

  3. Thanks, guys.

    It is amazing what you can learn by just looking in the dictionary. I had gone thirty years without realizing that 알다 can also mean "to remember."

  4. Hmm, but can this explain why Koreans also normally say 모르겠습니다 instead of 모릅니다? The on-line Naver dictionary lists one of the meanings of 모르다 as "do not remember", but I don't think that alone is sufficient to understand why the Naver example sentence 그 당시의 일을 전혀 모르겠습니다 means "I cannot remember anything of those days at all."

  5. That is a good question, Lance.

    모르겠습니다 is a different case. I just wrote my opinion on the subject in the following post:

    "Why do Koreans say 모르겠습니다"?

  6. In my opinion, when Koreans say 알겠습니다 it seems to mean "yes (i understand)" or sometimes similar to a yes sir/yes ma'am.

    Boss: 내일 좀 일찍 와
    Employee: 네, 알겠습니다.

  7. Bluesoju,

    In the context you just described, do you think there is any difference between

    Employee: 네, 알겠습니다.


    Employee: 네, 알았습니다.

    It is an interesting fact that both 알다 and 모르다 seldom are used in the present indicative, almost always in the past or future. It seems to me that this fact is likely to be related to the fact that although we translate them with their nearest English equivalents "to know" and "to not know", their basic meaning is more closely related not to a state of possessing knowledge but to a process of acquiring knowledge. In other words, the behavior would be closer to an English verb like "learn".

    Teacher: "Learn this well."
    Student: "Yes, I will learn it."


    Student: "Yes, I have learned it."

    but not

    Student: *"Yes, I learn it."
    Student: *"Yes, I am learning it."

    Don't misunderstand me, I'm not claiming that 알다 means "to learn", just that the Korean verb 알다 shares some semantic properties and usage patterns with English "to learn".

  8. 아르다 has various meanings depends on the context, I wouldn't just basically say it's "to know."

    I just had a discussion with my Korean coworkers, including one Korean teacher. He claimed while saying 알았습니다 will do in some contexts, he said it's less polite than 알겠습니다 and you might also give off an arrogant tone if you say 알았습니다.

    알았습니다 is more for I understand what you said, but can sound arrogant and rude in some contexts.

    알겠습니다 is somewhat like I understand what you said and will do as you said.

    알겠습니다 is the better and safer choice.

  9. just came across this article n wanted to put my two cents on this because i dont think the word '알다' should ever be translated as 'to remember'. if anything, it should be translated as 'understand'. when koreans say '알겠습니다' after someone told him of something that he wasnt fully aware of, it should be translated as 'i understand'. also '겠' in this word does not make it a future tense n no koreans will ever use '알겠습니다' as a future tense. for example, if u wanna say something like 'i will know it by tomorrow', koreans will say '내일 알것같은데요', '내일이나 되야 알수있어요' n etc but never '내일 알겠습니다'