셈이다 was one of those Korean expressions that just wouldn’t stick with me. Each and every encounter sent me back to the dictionary. Finally, my S.O. explained it to me in such a simple and helpful way that I’ve never had to look it up again. Let’s break it down.
Firstly, it usually shows up as ~은/는/을 셈이다. This enables a Korean speaker to attach a verb phrase to the front of it, i.e. 농담을 하는 셈이다 or 결혼할 셈이다.
Secondly, 셈이다 itself is actually a noun + verb.
셈 + 이다 (to be)
Thirdly, 셈 is the noun form of the verb 세다 (to calculate or count). Just remove the ~다, add ㅁ, and you get 셈, or the “act of calculation/counting”.
When 셈이다 is used, it usually means that two things are being compared or equated. They are considered to basically be the same thing. In English, we might say something like, “I counted him as one of my friends.” The person in question and the identity of friend are one and the same (And coincidentally, if it helps you remember it, the pronunciation of 셈 and same are similar).
This is essentially verbal equation.
Example from Naver dictionary:
담벼락하고 말하는 셈이다.
You might as well talk to a stone wall.
Here, the speaker is equating talking with their subject to talking to a stone wall. If you remember 셈이다 in its base form of “to calculate or count”, then you can remember its meaning more easily!
읽어 주셔서 감사합니다.