“I don’t understand” in Korean is an essential phrase that all Korean learners need to know. Whether you’re a beginner Korean language learner, or whether you are practically fluent in Korean, there will inevitably be times when conversing in Korean where you don’t understand what the other person is saying. In this Korean lesson, we will teach you 5 different ways say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean, including the casual/informal, polite, and the formal ways to say ‘I don’t understand’.
How To Say ‘I Don’t Understand’ In Korean
There are several different ways to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean, and the particular one you use depends on the situation and person you are talking to. If you are talking with close friends, or people much younger than you, you can use the casual form. However, in most situations you should use the polite form. And in formal situations, or when you want to show a high level of respect, you should use the formal form.
1. Informal: 이해가 안 돼 [i-hae-ga an doe]
The casual/informal way to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean is 이해가 안 돼 [i-hae-ga an doe]. This is made up of the noun 이해 (understanding), the subject marking particle 가, and 안 돼 which is similar to ‘not work’ or ‘doesn’t function’. Together, 이해가 안 돼 translates as ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean. As this is the informal form, you can only use this expression with close friends and those much younger than you. In most situations, you can use the polite form.
2. Polite: 이해가 안 돼요 [i-hae-ga an doe-yo]
The polite way to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean is 이해가 안 돼요 [i-hae-ga an doe-yo]. As you can see, it is the same as the informal way with the polite ending 요 attached. As this is the polite form, you can safely use it in most situations when you can’t understand something.
3. Formal: 이해가 안 됩니다 [i-hae-ga an doem-ni-da]
The formal way to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean is 이해가 안 됩니다 [i-hae-ga an doem-ni-da]. This is made up of 이해가 안 돼 plus the formal ending ~(스)ㅂ니다. 이해가 안 됩니다 can be used in formal settings and in situations when you want to sound extra polite and respectful.
4.이해 못 했어요 [i-hae mot hae-sseo-yo]
This way to say ‘I don’t understand’ comes from the verb 이해하다 which means ‘to understand’. This verb is a ‘hada verb’ and so it consists of two parts, the noun part and the verb part. The noun part is 이해 which means understanding, and the verb part is 하다 which means ‘to do’. This is important to remember because ‘hada verbs’ have different conjugation rules compared to normal verbs. Learn more about hada verbs.
The expression 이해 못 했어요 is made up of 이해 (understanding), 못 (don’t / can’t) and 했어요 which is 하다 conjugated into the past tense. So, 이해 못 했어요 means ‘ I didn’t understand’ but is used when you want to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean.
This last way to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean sounds a little softer and gentler compared to the other expressions above. 모르겠어요 [mo-reu-gae-sseo-yo] is made up of the verb 모르다 (to not know) and 겠 which roughly translates as ‘guess’. Together, 모르겠어요 means ‘I guess I don’t get it’ and can be used in situations when you want to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean. In a previous lesson, we also showed how 모르겠어요 can also be used to say ‘I don’t know’ in Korean.
Thanks for reading. I hope next time you are speaking Korean and don’t understand something you can use the expressions above to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Korean. Before you go, don’t forget to check out our other free Korean lessons, vocabulary lists, and Korean quizzes.