Just about every webtoon and K-drama I enjoy has at least two of the following features:
- A plethora of misunderstandings and ill-timed arrivals
- Quirky characters and mysterious pasts
- Beautifully dramatic confessions of angst and love
Usually, they have all three. But the last feature, confessions (고백 / go-baek) of angst and love, is particularly fun because it can happen in so many different ways.
All right, so let’s talk about how to confess your love in Korean. There are three main categories of confessing: liking, loving, and “seeing” someone in a romantic or sexual light. And to make matters more interesting, there are also direct and indirect ways of confessing.
For those of you who can’t read hangeul, I’ve written the phonetic pronunciation of the Korean words where necessary. Shall we begin?
I like you.
This can be expressed by two similar verbs: 좋다 (joh-ta) and 좋아하다 (jo-ah-ha-da).
좋다 (joh-ta): to be good, fine, pleasing
좋아하다 (jo-ah-ha-da): to like something or someone
If you’re feeling spunky and want to be more direct in your confession, you’ll use 좋아하다.
내가 너를 좋아해요.
(nae-ga neo-reul jo-ah-hae-yo)
I like you.
If you’re feeling shy or just want to be a little less direct, you can drop the “I” and “you” parts of the sentence and simply say, “좋아해요” (jo-ah-hae-yo). This still means “I like you,” but the “I” and “you” are implied by context.
Note that both of the examples above are in slightly more formal language, and so the sentences end with ~요 (yo).
To be even more indirect, you can use 좋다 (joh-ta) instead of 좋아하다 (jo-ah-ha-da). This time, the confession literally becomes, “To me, you are good / fine / pleasing.” But we still think of it as a confession of “liking” someone – it’s just expressed in a less direct way.
나는 네가 좋아.
(na-neun ne-ga jo-ah)
I like you.
Again, if you’re feeling shy or want to be even less direct, you can drop the “I” (na-neun) part of the sentence and simply say, “네가 좋아” (ne-ga jo-ah). Note that these examples do not end in ~요 (yo) and are informal Korean.
I love you.
This one’s a big one. 사랑하다 (sa-rang-ha-da). You’ve probably heard this a hundred different times in dramas and movies, so let’s break it down into its parts.
하다: to have, to do, to make
When it’s not just a low-key crush but a big, aching feeling of love, we use 사랑하다. The verb often stands on its own, with “I” and “you” simply implied. However, if we use a full sentence, it looks like this:
나는 너를 사랑해.
(na-neun neo-reul sa-rang-hae)
I love you.
Additionally, if “I” and “you” are not omitted, they might be shortened. This means the spelling and pronunciation changes. Here are common changes:
I: 나는 / 난 / 나 (na-neun / nan / na)
You (direct object): 너를/ 널 / 너 (neo-reul / neol / neo)
You (subject): 네가 / 너 (ne-ga / neo)
For example, the pronunciation of “I like you” could become “nan neol jo-ah-hae.”
I see you as a woman / man.
This is a fun one! It’s less common than the standard 좋다 / 좋아하다 (jo-ta / jo-ah-ha-da), but still useful to know.
This expression is usually used when A confesses to B but B doesn’t understand that A likes or loves B as more than a friend. The exchange might go down like this:
A) I like you, B.
B) Aww, thanks. I like you, too. You’re a great coworker, and you always make me laugh.
A) No, not like that. I see you as a man.
What happened here? B assumed that A meant “like” in a non-romantic or non-sexual way. To clarify, A used a common Korean expression that literally means, “I see you as a man” rather than just another coworker.
Let’s look at another potential exchange.
C) You’ve changed lately. What happened?
D) I used to think of you as just a female friend. But recently, I started seeing you as a woman.
D) I’m saying that I think I like you.
Do you have a sense of the situations in which this phrase is used now? No? Check out this Learning Korean with Humans of Seoul post I did a while back.
Now let’s look at the actual Korean.
여자로 보이다 (yeo-ja-ro bo-i-da): to be seen as a woman
남자로 보이다 (nam-ja-ro bo-i-da): to be seen as a man
남자로 보이기 시작하다 (nam-ja-ro bo-i-gi shi-jak-ha-da): to start being seen as a man
For example, you could tell a guy that you like, “Hey, these days I’ve started seeing you as a man, not just a male friend.”
야, 요즘 남사친 말고 남자로 보이기 시작했어.
(ya, yo-jeum nam-sa-chin mal-go nam-ja-ro bo-i-gi shi-jak-hae-sseo)
At this point, you should be well prepared to confess your love to someone in Korean. You’re a 고백 (go-baek) master! Or at least you’ll be able to understand the love confessions in the next K-drama you watch.
If you found this helpful or if you have questions, let me know in the comments!
읽어 주셔서 감사합니다.
지금 재생 중
What’s this? A love confession in the very first line of a song? First, Chen sings, “아무래도 난 네가 좋아…” (a-mu-rae-do nan ne-ga jo-ah…) which means, “Even so, I still like you…” And then later on, he adds, “너를 사랑해~” (neo-reul sa-rang-hae~) which is…?