Compliments in Korean share many similarities to those in English, though compliments are less often exchanged and the subjects of such compliments are often different. The response to a compliment also differs, with polite deflection being much more common than vocal acceptance.
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Compliments on someone's personality are much more widespread in Korean than in English, being far more common than compliments on appearance. The phrase "dangsin-eun geunmyeon" means "you are diligent," while "dangsin-i jeongjung aleu" means "you are polite."
People everywhere enjoy being complimented on something they've just done, and Koreans are no exception. "Jalhaess-eo" means "good job," "daedanhae" translates as "that's great!" and "dangsin-i choegoya" means "you're the best" or "thumbs-up to you!" After a friend's success, compliment him with "jal doeeoss-eo," meaning "that went well!"
While complimenting people on the way they look is far more common in American culture than in Korean, Westerners don't have a monopoly on the practice. "Dangsin-eun kkochminam-iya" means "you're handsome" in Korean, while "dangsin-eun aleumdawoyo" means "you're beautiful." For a less direct compliment, try "geu [article of clothing] jal eoulliseyo" to compliment what somebody is wearing.
Receiving a Compliment
While English speakers usually thank someone for a compliment, in Korean it is considered more humble and polite to reject or evade the compliment. "Ani," or "no" and "jeongmal?" or "really?" are common replies. If you wish to thank the speaker, say "dangsin-eun modeun malssum-ul sayonghaneun," which translates as "you are using all special words," or "geugeos-eun cheonman," literally meaning "ten million words;" the equivalent of "you are so kind" in English.
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- "Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics"; A Study of Compliments Across Cultures; Hyun-jin Kim
- Korea's One Stop Expat Community: Basic Conversation in Korean
- "Working Papers in Educational Linguistics"; A Comparative Study of Compliment Responses: Korean Females in Korean Interactions and in English Interactions; Chung-hye Han; 1992
- Politeness Formulas in Chinese and Korea; Rodney Tyson and Chiou-yau Cherng; 1996