Honorific Rules

Okay, you have a handle on honorific usage, right? Well when do you use it? What if you're talking to your grandfather about your father? Would you speak honorifically about your father? But your grandfather is of higher status than your father. So what do you do? Confused? Here's the solution. We'll use a code to make this easy. "A" is the person with the highest status. "B" is second, and "C" has the least status:

  • If A talks to B or C, A can use blunt (familiar) form.
  • If C is talking to A about B, C doesn't have to speak honorifically about B.
  • If C is talking to B about A, C should use honorific language.
  • And of course when C talks to A or B, honorific language should be used.
  • C should never speak honorifically about him/herself.

Try these on for size:

할아버지, 아버지가 지금 나갑니다.
Grandfather, Dad is leaving now.
(Grandfather, Dad now goes.)

어머니, 형이 공부합니다.
Mother, (elder) brother is studying.
(Mother, (elder) brother studies.)

Furthermore, if you talk about a part of a respected person's body or his or her attributes are involved, use honorific language.

이 선생님은 얼굴이 작으십니다.
Mr. Lee's face is small.
(Lee Mr. face small.)

할아버지께서 키가 크십니다.
Grandfather is tall.
(Grandfather height big)

At this point, take a breath. There is much more to learn, and we'll take it one step at a time. There are more lessons to come.