Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why do many people say 맞다?

In Korea, when people are discussing an issue and one of them says something that hits the nail on the head, so to speak, you will often hear people respond to the comment by saying "맞다." However, 맞다 is the wrong response because it is an uninflected form.

맞다 is a verb meaning "to be right" or "to be correct," among other things, so when you use it in a sentence, you must use inflection because Korean verbs are inflected in speech. In other words, you cannot use the word straight out of the dictionary. You must say 맞는다 or 맞아 when talking with friends, or 맞습니다 or 맞아요 when talking with others. By not using inflection with 맞다, people are treating it as if it were an adjective, which it is not. In Korea, adjectives can be used in their blunt forms without inflection. For example, if you want to comment with an uninflected word, then you could use the adjective 옳다, which means "right" or "correct." Consider the following examples:
A: 문제는 그가 허락없이 한 거야.
B: 맞아 (맞는다).

A: The problem is that he did it without permission.
B: That's right.

A: 문제는 그가 허락없이 한 거야.
B: 네 말이 옳다.

A: The problem is that he did it without permission.
B: What you say is correct.


  1. Gerry,

    One of my trusted dictionaries, the New Korean-English Dictionary by Martin, Lee, and Chang (Minjungseogwan, 1968 & 1977), lists 맞다 as both an adjective and an intransitive verb. For the adjective, the English gloss is "is right, correct". For the verb, the English gloss is "tallies (with), squares (with)....".

    (There is a separate entry for 맞다 as a transitive verb meaning "meets, greets ....")

    The usage you have observed among Korean speakers suggests that 맞다 meaning "correct" is indeed an adjective.

    To test this further, you'd have to observe whether the noun-modifying form of 맞다 is 맞은+N or 맞는+N. I'm pretty sure the former is correct, which again points to 맞다 being an adjective.

    Do all of the dictionaries you usually consult identify 맞다 as only being a verb?

  2. Lance,

    맞다 is not an adjective. Your "trusted dictionary" must be dated because if 맞다 were once an adjective, it no longer is. You can check with some of the online dictionaries if you do not believe me. For example, check the 국립국어원 dictionary.

    Also, the "맞는 + noun" construction is correct, and Koreans have no problem with that one. Their mistake is only when they use 맞다 for "That's right."

  3. A: 문제는 그가 허락없이 한 거야.
    B: 맞아 (맞는다).

    Above B's reply has no problem and 맞다 is also correct.

    1 문제에 대한 답이 틀리지 아니하다.
    2 말, 육감 따위가 틀림이 없다.
    3 (앞 사람의 말에 동의하는 데 쓰여) ‘그렇다’ 또는 ‘옳다’의 뜻을 나타내는 말.

    맞다 is an intransitive verb and the subject is 'what you said'.

  4. 맞다 is like "i see that that's right"

    맞아 is "right, I agree"

  5. I do use it the same way.:))Just how I use 좋다~! instead of 좋아~! ㅋ Actually I asked my KOrean friend about this before and she told me that using the base form usually conveys more emotion, sort of like the interjections in English~! ^^

  6. Sorry but there is a descriptive verb "맞다" (adjective). There's both a intransitive (자동사) 맞다 and also a transitive (타동사) 맞다 . As a descriptive (and intransitive) verb, 맞다 conjugates in the Plain Form as simply "맞다."

  7. MG,

    맞다 is not an adjective (형용사). Some dictionaries may list it as that, but you need to use the 표준국어대사전 as your guide. It does not list it as an adjective.

    I assume you can read Korean, so you can also read what Mr. 이수열 says about it.

    우리말의 그림씨는 ‘네 말이 옳다’처럼 으뜸꼴을 그대로 풀이말로 쓰지만, 움직씨의 으뜸꼴은 ‘백두산에 오르다’처럼 예스럽게 쓰는 제목이나 표어로는 쓰지만, 실용문에서는 말구실을 못하므로 반드시 ‘먹었다, 먹는다, 먹겠다’처럼 때를 매겨 쓴다. 이것은 아주 당연해서 잘못 쓰는 사람이 없는데, 제움직임씨 ‘맞다’는 이상하게도 유치원생부터 대학 교수에 이르기까지 모두 으뜸꼴을 그대로 풀이말로 쓴다.말본에 관심이 없는 이들이 그림씨 ‘옳다, 그르다’와 제움직임씨 ‘맞다, 틀리다’를 분별하지 못하는 것은 이해할 수 있지만, 국어학자로 알려진 사람들이 구별없이 쓰는 것은 참으로 개탄할 일이다. 다음 보기들에서 따옴표(‘ ’) 부분은 화살표(→) 쪽으로 고쳐 써야 한다.

    *㉠‘맞다, 맞어!’ 네 말이 ㉡‘맞다’. (초·중등생이나 교사들이 사소한 일의 시비를 가리다가 승복한 쪽이 하는 말) ㉠ → 옳다, 옳아! ㉡ → 맞았다.

    *날마다 신문을 장식하는 것이 공직자 비리다. ‘신문이 사회의 거울’이라는 말이 ‘맞다면’ 이건 예삿일이 아니다. (ㄷ매일) → 맞는다면/ 옳다면.

    *파열음 표기에 된소리를 쓰지 않는 것이 원칙이므로 ‘째즈’는 ‘재즈’로 ‘쨈’은 ‘잼’으로 쓰는 것이 ㉠‘맞다’/ *조선 영조 때 남인 무리를 남한당, 북인 무리를 북한당이라 하고 중도파를 불한당이라고 한 것은 이치에 ㉡‘맞다’(ㅎ신문) ㉠ → 옳다. ㉡ → 맞는다.

    *서아무개 교장 자살 사건 조사단은 관련자들이 진술한 내용의 앞 뒤 정황이 ‘맞지 ※않다’고 밝혔다. (ㄷ매일) → 맞지 않는다고.

    (※는 으뜸움직씨 뒤에서 풀이를 끝내는 도움움직씨이므로 이적나아감때로 쓴다.)

  8. Also, MG, consider the following:

    As Lance mentioned above, the way you can tell if it is an verb or adjective is to check to see if it is used with 는 or 은. A verb will use 는 and an adjective will use 은. Most Koreans say 맞는 말이다, not 맞은 말이다.

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  10. While Garry may be right about what he is saying, there are also cases that I find 맞다 being used as an adjective. Using the same criterion you proposed of 은/ 는, I have here a book from Keimyung University and it has this statement :
    이 문제는 너무 어려워서 맞은 사람이 거의 없어요.
    I am not sugfesting that Garry is wrong in any way but I would love an explanation for that. And secondly I think it's not wise to ask mere Korean individuals about their grammar, most of them do not know the right grammar in most cases. Which isn't strange even native English speakers have trouble with grammar themselvese. This is probably because some rules of grammar, despite being glossy and colorful they are not equally as useful and we all know people cut corners in speech.....