How 반말 Works – Casual/Informal Language in Korean


As you may already be familiar with it, there are mainly two politeness levels in Korean: 반말 [ban-mal] and 존댓말 [jon-daet-mal]. There are various types and levels within 반말 and 존댓말, but very broadly, 반말 refers to casual and informal language, whereas 존댓말 refers to formal and polite language. At first, when you are strangers, you start off with 존댓말, but depending on how well you know the other person and how old you are in comparison with the other person, you might start using 반말. But due to exposure to many K-pop songs, Korean dramas and movies, where you can see a lot of 반말 sentences without much contextual clues, We find that many Korean learners seem to overuse 반말.

It is GREAT to be able to use 반말 naturally and appropriately, but at the same time, using 반말 when you are not supposed to can cause trouble or misunderstanding. So we have made this video lesson about when and with whom you can and can’t speak in 반말. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments!

We also have an audio grammar lesson on 반말 and 존댓말 here: and an Iyagi episode about it (in 100% Korean) here:

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How 반말 Works – Casual/Informal Language in Korean
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  • shoshlev1

    Sometimes I think Koreans still living in the dictator regime if they don’t bow their heads will be cut off the Koreans are too busy in manners And how they look and how they are rich and successful and this high pressure puts them in second place in suicides instead to living [Life is short] honor it’s ratio and not words, respect, it does not command ,respect give those who should and worth it.

    • WorldTraveler

      You have no idea how the rest of the world works…this is evident.

  • Justine Santos

    선생님 감사합니다~!! This was loads of help. I always hear the “나 (something) (something) 요/니다” and I always got confused. This clears it up a whole bunch.

  • Lindsay Baker

    I have a Korean boyfriend and I speak 반말 with him. But sometimes he will say things using 존댓말 like “사랑해요” or “미안해요” even though I am younger than him. Does that mean anything?

    • santokkitokki

      It’s a way of expressing his respect towards you despite age or closeness 🙂

    • 쩌이

      ㅎㅎㅎ 장난이지

  • You Xu

    The grammatical structures in some songs are really weird. I don’t know whether they are in the right way.

  • isaac

    can you use bammal to an ex girlfriend who is 7 months older than you with out asking?

  • 로빈

    이 게 너무 좋아! 현우 선생님 항상 되게 잘 설명하셔

  • Kichi Doki

    And how do you conjuguate 해라체? 🙂

  • Respectmyauthority

    I have a question, I’m American and know no Korean but am interested in learning because I am a Big KPOP fan. What I’d like to find out, what is the significance of an idol speaking informally to a band mate? Example: Jungkook calling Jimin (who is 2 years older than himself) Jimin-ssi OR Jimin ah???? Because there are “shippers” going nuts over the names, I want to know does it really mean anything??? Any clarity would be greatly appreciated:)

    • kai

      Jimin-ssi is 존댓말 and Jimin-ah is 반말