*Updated on 14/1/2022
If you watch a lot of Korean content, you might have noticed that Koreans have the tendency to think out loud.
As I’ve explained in this article, they often express their thoughts or feelings as if they are quoting themselves. Instead of saying, “Watching him practice made me feel like I should work harder”, they might say “I saw him practice, and the thought ‘Ah, I should work harder’ popped into my head.”
This is quite common in organic speech, so applying this to your daily conversations will definitely help you sound more natural. There are several ways to do this, and in this article, I’ll be breaking down some of the most common combinations/expressions and how they differ from one another.
This is probably one of the first expressions we all learn when it comes to expressing our thoughts in Korean. It incorporates the reported speech ending (How to Study Korean offers a very detailed lesson on it) and translates literally to “I think that…”.
Because it’s so straightforward (especially when compared to ~는 것 같다), it is mostly used to state your opinion or stance on a particular topic.
무엇보다 건강이 제일 중요하다고 생각해요.
I think health is more important than anything/the most important.
저는 운동만으로도 살을 뺄 수 있다고 생각해요.
I think it’s possible to lose weight just by exercising.
회화 실력을 늘리려면 꾸준히 연습해야 된다고 생각해요.
I think we have to practice regularly in order to improve our speaking skills.
~다는 생각을 하다
Structurally, this is a bit more complex than the previous one, because you’re essentially using the thought to modify or describe the noun 생각. If I were to translate the following sentence literally, it would turn into something like:
저는 운동만으로도 살을 뺄 수 있다는 생각을 해요.
I ‘do’ the thought (as in ‘I have the thought’) that it’s possible to lose weight just by exercising.
열심히 하면 결과가 잘 나오겠다는 생각을 했어요.
I thought if I worked hard, everything would turn out well.
그 친구가 나와 성격이 비슷하다는 생각을 했어요.
I thought their personality was similar to mine.
So how is it different from ~다고 생각하다? Or rather, are there any differences at all between the two? Yes and no. They mean the same thing, but ~다고 생각하다 comes across as more assertive, like the speaker is more certain of their opinion, so it’s good for expressing beliefs and ideas you have a good deal of faith in. It’s sometimes translated as ‘I believe’ instead of ‘I think’ for that reason.
~다는 생각을 하다 on the other hand lacks such conviction. With this expression, the speaker is presenting the idea as one of the many they have or have had. It’s more suitable for when you’re casually sharing your thoughts or making passing remarks on things, than say, when you have to clarify your stance on certain issues. I‘ve noticed that celebrities use it quite often in interviews, and one of my pet theories is that they favour it because it sounds less brusque, less in-your-face than just saying ~다고 생각하다.
I also feel like the reason why the ~다는 생각 construction feels more indirect (and therefore softer) is that it essentially turns the whole thought into a description of the noun 생각. It’s like taking the long way to get to your point, so it doesn’t land as fast and hard. The sentence overall has less momentum.
You can also use a direct quote instead of an indirect one, like this:
‘나도 이제 좀 더 열심히 해야겠다’ 라는/하는 생각을 했어요.
I thought if I worked hard, everything would turn out well.
It doesn’t change the meaning, but it does make the overall tone sound a tad more reflective, like you’re actually thinking out loud, almost as if you’re reenacting that moment where you first had this thought. It literally translates to, “I had the thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to work a little harder now, too‘.”
~다는 생각이 들다
Unlike the first two expressions which focus on the act of actively thinking about something, ~다는 생각이 들다 is used to refer to thoughts that just sort of pop into your head, often as a reaction to something you’ve just witnessed or experienced. It’s sometimes translated as ‘it occurred to me that…’
언니의 말을 듣고 나도 이제 슬슬 취업 준비를 시작해야 겠다는 생각이 들었어요.
What she said made me realise that I have to start working on getting a job.
The literal translation would be: I listened to what she said, and then the thought ‘Oh, I should start working on getting a job, too’ popped into my head. That thought occurred to me as a result of listening to what 언니 said.
Of course, it can also just be a direct quote – all you need to do is change ‘다는’ to ‘라는’ or 하는:
‘이게 정말 아무나 할 수 있는 일이 아니구나’ 하는 생각이 들었다.
I realised that not just anyone can do this job/work.
형이 연습하는 걸 보고 ‘나도 더 열심히 해야 겠네’ 라는 생각이 들었어요.
Watching him practice made me realise I need to work harder, too.
With this expression, 하다 and 싶다 can mean a variety of things – think, feel, wonder – depending on the context. The thought is incorporated as a direct quote, so inquisitive endings like ~ㄴ/은가, ~나 or ~ㄹ/을까 are left untouched, while statements (sentences that just end with the present, past or future endings) are conjugated to the written form, 서술체, like this:
혹시 아직도 기다리고 있지 않을까 싶어서 전화했어요.
I figured you might still be waiting, so I called.
정말 이렇게까지 해야 되나 싶네요.
I wonder if they really have to take things that far.
그냥. 잘 지내나 싶어서 전화했지.
I was just wondering how you’re doing, so I called (duh :P).
싱겁다 싶어서 소금을 넣었더니 짜졌네요.
I thought it was bland, so I put in some salt, and now it’s become salty.
어쩐지 잘한다 싶었는데 알고 보니까 연습생 출신이더라고요.
At first I thought, “How are they so good?”, and it turns out that they used to be an idol trainee.
This one is my favourite because it can be such a roundabout way to express your opinion. As an asian, there’s something about the way people jump through all these linguistic hoops just to avoid sounding too sure of yourself that just really resonates with me. Here’s an example:
외국인들이 한국말을 배울 때 가장 어려워하는 부분 중 하나가 아닐까 싶어요.
Literal: I wonder, is it not one of the things that foreigners struggle with the most while learning Korean?
What it actually means: I think it’s one of the things that foreigners struggle with the most while learning Korean.
이제 재테크를 제대로 배워야 겠네 싶어서 책 몇 권 샀어요.
I figured I need to really learn how to invest and manage my own money from now on so I bought some books.
요즘 눈가 주름이 생겼는데 나도 이제 늙어가는구나 해서 아이크림 하나 구입했어요.
I’ve been getting wrinkles around the eyes recently, which made me realise I’m getting older, so I bought some eye cream.
하루 이틀 지나면 괜찮겠지 했는데 계속 아팠어요.
I thought it would get better after a day or two, but it kept hurting.
I find this tendency to self-narrate to be one of the most fascinating characteristics of the Korean language. For me, when I express myself this way, it feels as if I’m really reliving my memories as opposed to just describing them from a more removed standpoint. I think for us 외국인, it may feel a bit strange at first, because it’s like you’re constantly thinking out loud, but it’s actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it.
I hope this article helped. 화이팅, and good luck with your Korean studies!