Tensing and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants
Recall that tensing is one of the 3 important concepts for Korean pronunciations, and it is the easiest one to memorize – all the “doubles” ㅃ ㅉ ㄸ ㄲ ㅆ are tense. The opposite of tenseness is lax, and as you expect, ㅂ ㅈ ㄷ ㄱ ㅅ are lax consonants.
So when would you pronounce a lax consonant as a tense one? The whole idea of this kind of phonetic change is to make the pronunciation more natural, and if you ask a native speaker, most probably they would simply tell you “When it sounds more natural that way.” Fortunately, a lot of tensing occur with a regular rule, as follows:
When a consonant ㅂ ㅈ ㄷ ㄱ or ㅅ follows another consonant other than the nasal (ㄴ ㅁ ㅇ) or ㄹ, you need to pronounce it as ㅃ ㅉ ㄸ ㄲ or ㅆ (i.e. tensing).
|좋습니다||[졷씀니다]||It is good|
|책 보세요||[책 뽀세요]||Please read the book|
As you can see from the last example, this tensing process can apply across word boundary, depending on the focus of the phrase or sentence.
Tensing without a Rule
While we have a regular rule for tensing, unfortunately there are many other Korean words which tensing applies without a rule. You will need to learn them on a case-by-case basis down the road of your Korean learning career.
|한자||Chinese characters [한짜]; one character [한 자]|
|시가||market price [시까]; city streets [시가]|
|장기||special talent [장끼]; chess [장기]|
|출장||business trip [출짱]|
|먹을 거||things to eat [머글 꺼]|
|먹은 거||things that I ate [머근 거]|
In the first 3 examples, you can see that different meanings in the same word are distinguished by with or without tensing in the second hangul. The last 2 examples is to demonstrate that the pattern with future tense modifier …을 거 is always tense but not the pattern with present/past tense modifier 는/은 거.
A lot of borrowed words have an optional tensing in the initial consonant, such as 바스 [바스 or 빠스] for bus, 바나나 [바나나 or 빠나나] for banana, or 게임 [게임 or 께임] for game. For native Korean words, very often tensing for the initial consonant is to emphasize intensity, such as 작아요 [짜가요] to emphasize it is small.
Related Grammar Points
- Pronunciations of Korean Consonants at the Beginning of a Word
- Resyllabification and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants
- Nasal Assimilation and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants
- Voicing and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants
- Easy Ways to Memorize Korean Hangul – Beginning Consonants
- Stroke Order of Korean Hangul
- Easy Ways to Memorize Korean Hangul – Vowels