There are seven verb paradigms or speech levels in Korean, and each level has its own unique set of verb endings which are used to indicate the level of formality of a situation. Unlike honorifics - which are used to show respect towards someone mentioned in a sentence - speech levels are used to show respect towards a speaker's or writer's audience, or reflect the formality or informality of the situation. They represent a system of honorifics in the linguistic use of the term as a grammar system, distinct from honorific titles.
The names of the seven levels are derived from the non-honorific imperative form of the verb hada (; "to do") in each level, plus the suffix che (?), which means "style". Each Korean speech level can be combined with honorific or non-honorific noun and verb forms. Taken together, there are 14 combinations.
These days, some of these speech levels are disappearing from use in everyday life. Hasoseoche, which is used only in movies or dramas set in older eras, is barely used by modern Koreans, and hageche exists almost only in novels.
Very formally polite
Traditionally used when addressing a king, queen, or high official; now used only in historical dramas and religious text such as the Bible, the Koran, Buddhist scriptures, etc.
When the infix op / saop , jaop (?; after a vowel / , ; after a consonant) or sap / jap (? / ?) or sao / jao ( / ) is inserted, the politeness level also becomes very high. hanaida (?) becomes haomnaida (; non-honorific present declarative very formally very polite), hasinaida () becomes hasiomnaida (; honorific present declarative very formally very polite). The imperative form hasoseo () also becomes haopsoseo (?; non-honorific imperative very formally very polite) and hasiopsoseo (; honorific imperative very formally very polite).
|Present||Honorific Present||1st Person||2nd Person|
|a title, e.g. |
This conversational style is generally called either the "formal" or the "formal polite". Another name for this is hapsyo-che or This is a common style of speaking. A conversation with a stranger will generally start out in this style and gradually fade into more and more frequent haeyo-che. It is used
|Present||Honorific Present||1st Person||2nd Person|
|a title, e.g. seonsaengnim|
The middle levels are used when there is some conflict or uncertainty about the social status of one or both participants in a conversation. The hage-che and hao-che are being replaced by or merging with haeyo-che.
This speech style is called the "polite" style in English. Like the Hae-che, it exhibits no inflection for most expected forms. Unlike other speech styles, basic conjugations for the declarative, interrogative and imperative forms are identical, depending on intonation and context or other additional suffixes. Most Korean phrasebooks for foreigners follow this speech style due to its simplicity and proper politeness. Second person pronouns are generally omitted in the polite speech styles. (See Korean pronouns.) It is used:
Formally neither polite nor impolite
This conversational style is called the "semi-formal," "middle," "formal lateral," or "authoritarian" style in English. In Seoul, the ? -syo ending is frequently pronounced ? su. It is similar to the Hasipsio-che, but does not lower oneself to show humility. It basically implies "My status is as high as you so I won't be humble, but I still respect your status and don't want to make you feel offended" so it's still supposed to be polite yet never willing to lower one's head to please the listener. (e.g. In the medieval times, if two kings from different countries have a meeting, they both would use this speech style. A king can use this speech style to his courtiers to show a minimum level of courtesy, and the courtiers will think the king is using a refined language.) It was originally a refined, poetic style that people resorted to in ambiguous social situations, but, due to its over-use by authority figures during Korea's period of dictatorship, it became associated with power and bureaucracy and gained a negative connotation. Consequently, the generation of Koreans who came of age after democratization conspicuously avoid using it. It is used:
Neither formal nor casual, neither polite nor impolite
This conversational style is called the "familiar." It is intermediate in politeness between haeyo-che and hae-che. It is not used to address children, and is never used to address blood relatives. It is used only:
The hae-che and haera-che styles are frequently mixed together in the same conversation, so much so that it can be hard to tell what verb endings belong to which style. Endings that may be used in either style are:
This conversational style is generally called the "plain" style. In writing and quoting, the plain style is the equivalent of the third person. Any other written style would feel like a first person account (that is, anything else would seem to be told in the main character's own voice). It is used:
This conversational style is called the "intimate" in English. Like the Haeyo-che, it exhibits no inflection for most expected forms. Basic conjugations for the declarative, interrogative and imperative forms are identical, depending on intonation and context or other additional suffixes. It is used
|Non-Honorific Present||Honorific Present||1st Person||2nd Person|