Korean: Negative expression 못 vs 안


'못','안' are used in the sentence to express negation. It is equivalent to the meaning of 'not...' in English. Since '못' and '안' both mean 'not', what is the difference? Think about it, both 'can't' and 'don't' have negative meanings, but if you think about it carefully, you will find that there is a difference in meaning between them. One means to negate at the level of ability, while the other means to negate regardless of ability.

If you are using Chrome or an Android phone, you can listen to the pronunciation by clicking on the Korean in the table or the Korean in the example sentences in the article!

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Negative expression 못、안

In Korean, you will find that negative sentences often give you 못 and 안.
"못", "안" are used in the sentence to express negation. It is equivalent to the meaning of "not..." in English.

The difference between 못 and 안

Since "못" and "안" both mean "not", what is the difference?

【Diff 1】 Negative at the ability level.

Think about it, both "can't" and "don't" have negative meanings, but if you think about it carefully, you will find that there is a difference in meaning between them.
"못" to negate at the level of ability, while "안" means to negate regardless of ability.

Ex:
To express "I can't drive", "못" is used.
And "안" is used to express "I don't drive".

【Diff 2】 Differences in the range of words that can be used

區別2是由區別1而來的,因為「못」表達能力上的復定,因此**「못」只能跟動詞一起使用**。
而「안」不管能力,單純表達與原意相反,所以**「안」可以跟動詞,形容詞一起使用**。 Diff 2 is derived from Diff 1, because "못" expresses the negation of ability, so "못" can only be used together with verbs.
"안" simply expresses negation, so "안" can be used together with verbs and adjectives.

Now that you have learned the above, let's talk about the basic usage of 못 and 안.

Basic usage of 못 and 안

There are two ways to use it.

  • The first is to put "못" and "안" directly before the verb (안 can also be used with adjective).
  • The second is to add "지 않다" and "지 못하다" after the stem of the verb.(지 못다 can be used with adjective)

Both approaches are common, with the first approach being more concise than the second. Let's go into more depth on both.

【Usage 1】 Put 못/안 before a word.

Note the following points.
⑴ 못 + verb
⑵ 안 + verb or adjective
⑶ OO하다-like verb: Since OO is a noun and the real verb is "하다", it will be OO + 못/안 +하다.

Here is a simple example in a table. (If you are not an iPhone or Safari user, you can click on the text in Korean to hear the pronunciation.)

KoreanEnglish못 (can't)안 (not)
마시다drink못 마시다안 마시다
오다come못 오다안 오다
요리하다cook요리 못 하다요리 안 하다
좋다good- 안 좋다
싸다cheap- 안 싸다

【Usage 2】 Word's stem + "지 못하다", "지 않다"

Note the following points.
_⑴ verb's stem + 지 못하다 _
⑵ verb's or adjective's stem + 지 못하다

Here also is a simple example in a table. (If you are not an iPhone or Safari user, you can click on the text in Korean to hear the pronunciation.)

KoreanEnglish못 (can't)안 (not)
마시다drink마시지 못하다 마시지 않다
오다come오지 못하다오지 않다
요리하다cook요리 하지 못하다요리 하지 않다
좋다good- 좋지 않다
싸다cheap- 싸지 않다

Extra

It is important to note that the ㅅ ending of 못 will be pronounced differently depending on the verb that follows it.
For example, 지 못하다 will be pronounced 지 모타다.

Below is a list of different pronunciations of ㅅ ending of 못 depending on the occasion.

  • 못 + ㄱ,ㄷ,ㅂ,ㅅ,ㅈ -> Pronounce ㄷ
  • 못 +ㄴ,ㅁ -> Pronounce ㄴ
  • 못 +ㅎ -> Pronounce ㅌ
  • 못 +이,야,여,유,요 -> Pronounce ㄴ
  • For the other occasions mentioned above, no pronunciation will be made.

Final

Back to the beginning of the example. Can you make sentences like "I can't drive" and "I don't drive" after knowing the above explanations? :)

나는 운전못하다.

I can't drive

나는 운전하지 않다.

I don't drive

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