~지만 VS ~(으)ㄴ/는데; Important rules and various uses

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There are many ways to express “but”, “however”, “though”, basically an expression or conjunction to link two contrasting clauses. The most commonly used two expressions are probably ~지만 and ~(으)ㄴ/는데, therefore we’ll explore the differences and rules between these two in this blog post!

Important rules and differences between ~지만 and ~(으)ㄴ/는데

1a. ~지만 is used to link two contrasting clauses

Remember that ~지만 is strictly for linking/connecting two contrasting clauses at all times. There is also a strong emphasis on the contrast between the two clauses; look at it as being a strong “but”.

Most of the time, the contrast must be a known fact that most people know or a research-backed fact that is hard to be contested. In other words, the contrast must be obvious, certain and not ambiguous.

Examples:

오늘은 춥지만 아이스크림을 먹고 싶어요.
It’s cold today but I want to eat ice cream.

열심히 공부했지만 시험을 잘 못 봤어요.
I studied diligently but I didn’t do well for the exams.

저는 경제학과를 졸업했지만 지금 요리사예요.
I graduated from economics but I’m a chef now.

그 사람은 중국에서 태어났지만 중국어 잘 못해요.
That person was born in China but he/she can’t speak Chinese well.

감기에 걸리지만 수영할 거예요.
I caught a cold but I’m going swimming.

1b. ~지만 cannot be used to end sentences

You can end sentences with ~(으)ㄴ/는데 but never with ~지만. You would have seen sentences that end with (으)ㄴ/는데요 but never with 지만.

That’s because even in English, you don’t ever end sentences with “but”! Of course, there are instances where you would end off a sentence with “but…”

In those cases, use (으)ㄴ/는데 instead. For example, “ㅇㅇㅇㅇ은데(요)……”

There are some rare cases where you could have seen sentences ending like, “ㅇㅇㅇㅇ지만……” but remember that it’s more natural and appropriate to end a sentence with (으)ㄴ/는데 instead.

We can look at sentences that end with ~(으)ㄴ/는데 are usually used to express some sort of regret or helplessness.

Examples:

나이가 많은 편이에요. 가수가 되고 싶은데…… (O)
나이가 많은 편이에요. 가수가 되고 싶지만…… (X)
I’m considered quite old. I want to become a singer, though……

와! 이 아이스크림은 너무 비싸네. 진짜 맛있겠는데. (O)
와! 이 아이스크림은 너무 비싸네. 진짜 맛있겠지만. (X)
Wow! This ice cream is so expensive. (Looks like) it will be really delicious, though.

오늘 엄마가 떡국을 만들어 주셨어요. 배탈나서 못 먹는데…… (O)
오늘 엄마가 떡국을 만들어 주셨어요. 배탈나서 못 먹지만…… (X)
Mum cooked rice cake soup today. I had an upset stomach so I couldn’t eat, though……

물론 우리 선생님은 잘 가르쳐 주셔요. 수업 내용은 복잡해서 이해가 안 되는데. (O)
물론 우리 선생님은 잘 가르쳐 주셔요. 수업 내용은 복잡해서 이해가 안 되지만. (X)
Of course, our teacher teaches us well. The lesson content is complicated so I can’t understand, though.

여자 친구는 이 옷을 안 샀어요. 싸고 예쁜데. (O)
여자 친구는 이 옷을 안 샀어요. 싸고 예쁘지만. (X)
My girlfriend did not buy this dress. It’s cheap and pretty, though.

2a. ~지만 can always be substituted with ~(으)ㄴ/는데 to express a softer and more polite contrast/”but”

~지만 can always be replaced by ~(으)ㄴ/는데. But when ~(으)ㄴ/는데 is used instead, usually the speaker is trying to express a softer “but”.

In this sense, using ~(으)ㄴ/는데 makes the sentence more polite in some contexts.

For example, if you’re trying to express something negative but you don’t want to come off as too harsh or strong, you may use ~(으)ㄴ/는데 instead of ~지만.

Examples:

오늘은 춥지만 아이스크림을 먹고 싶어요. (O)
오늘은 추운데 아이스크림을 먹고 싶어요. (O)
It’s cold today but I want to eat ice cream.

열심히 공부했지만 시험을 잘 못 봤어요. (O)
열심히 공부했는데 시험을 잘 못 봤어요. (O)
I studied diligently but I didn’t do well for the exams.

저는 경제학과를 졸업했지만 지금 요리사예요. (O)
저는 경제학과를 졸업했는데 지금 요리사예요. (O)
I graduated from economics but I’m a chef now.

그 사람은 중국에서 태어났지만 중국어 잘 못해요. (O)
그 사람은 중국에서 태어났는데 중국어 잘 못해요. (O)
That person was born in China but he/she can’t speak Chinese well.

감기에 걸리지만 수영할 거예요. (O)
감기에 걸리는데 수영할 거예요. (O)
I caught a cold but I’m going swimming.

2b. ~(으)ㄴ/는데 has multiple uses

~(으)ㄴ/는데 doesn’t necessarily mean “but”; ~(으)ㄴ/는데 can have multiple meanings. There are so many that I think the following might not be all. But let’s look at some common uses for ~(으)ㄴ/는데.

1a. To express a softer “but” (refer to the above)

1b. To express some sort of regret or helplessness; in those cases, it can be translated to “though” for simplicity

Examples:

나이가 많은 편이에요. 가수가 되고 싶은데…… (O)
I’m considered quite old. I want to become a singer, though……

오늘 엄마가 떡국을 만들어 주셨어요. 배탈나서 못 먹는데…… (O)
Mum cooked rice cake soup today. I had an upset stomach so I couldn’t eat, though……

2. To give some background/context (this is probably the most common usage); in most cases, the sentence usually ends with either a question, suggestion or request

Examples:

아까 샤워하고 있었는데 왜 전화를 했어요?
I was showering just now (background/context: so I couldn’t pick up your phone), why did you give me a phone call (though)?

오늘 일하고 있는데 내일 밤에 같이 먹으면 어떨까?
I’m working today (background/context: and I doubt I’ll be free), how about we eat together tomorrow (instead)?

다음 주에 시험이 있는데 열심히 공부하세요.
There is a test next week (background/context: so you shouldn’t be playing), please study diligently.

책상 위에 분명히 놓고 갔는데 어디서 사리졌어요?
I clearly left it on top of the table (background/context: but I can’t find it now), where did it disappear to?

3. To express the speaker’s action (in the first clause) being interrupted by something that suddenly happened (in the second clause); while doing (A), (B) happened – read ~하다가 and ~(으)면서

Examples:

나 샤워하는데 물이 멈췄어.
I was bathing (and it was interrupted), (when) the water (suddenly) stopped.

학교에 가는 길에 문자 메세지 하는데 근처에 교통 사건이 났어요.
I was typing a text message on the way to school (and it was interrupted), (when) a traffic accident (suddenly) occurred nearby.

어제 집 동네에서 조깅했는데 비가 왔어요.
I was jogging around the neighbourhood yesterday (and it was interrupted), (when) it (suddenly) rained.

4. A softer and more controlled expression of surprise as compared to ~네 (read that entry for more explanation)

Examples:

메뉴를 보면 맛이 별로 없는 줄 알았어요. 먹어 보고 진짜 맛있는데! (O)
메뉴를 보면 맛이 별로 없는 줄 알았어요. 먹어 보고 진짜 맛있네! (O)
When I saw the menu, I thought that the taste will be so-so. After tasting, (I just came to realise/I’m surprised/I’m shocked) it’s seriously delicious!

선생님을 처음 볼 때 아저씨처럼 생겼어. 졸업식에 선생님은 정장을 입은 모습이 아주 멋있는데! (O)
선생님을 처음 볼 때 아저씨처럼 생겼어. 졸업식에 선생님은 정장을 입은 모습이 아주 멋있네! (O)
When I first saw my teacher, he looked like a middle-aged man. At our graduation ceremony, (I just came to realise/I’m surprised/I’m shocked) my teacher’s full-suit look was really charming!

5. To reject politely/express a difference in opinion politely

Examples:

A: 이따가 저녁을 같이 먹자?
B: 오늘은 일을 해야 하는데요.
A: Let’s have dinner together later?
B: I have to work today, though (so I’ll have to give it a pass).

A: 부대찌개는 아주 맛있어요.
B: 너무 비싼데요.
A: Army stew is very delicious.
B: It’s really expensive, though (so I don’t really like it).

A: 그 여자가 예쁘고 똑똑하고 키도 크네.
B: 그녀는 거만한데요.
A: That girl is pretty, smart and also tall.
B: She’s haughty, though (so I don’t really like her).

Summary

~지만

  • used to link two contrasting clauses
  • cannot be used to end sentences
  • ~지만 can always be substituted with ~(으)ㄴ/는데 to express a softer and more polite contrast/”but”

~(으)ㄴ/는데

  • express a softer and more polite contrast/”but”
  • express some sort of regret or helplessness; in those cases, it can be translated to “though” for simplicity
  • give some background/context (this is probably the most common usage); in most cases, the sentence usually ends with either a question, suggestion or request
  • express the speaker’s action (in the first clause) being interrupted by something that suddenly happened (in the second clause); while doing (A), (B) happened – read ~하다가 and ~(으)면서
  • softer and more controlled expression of surprise as compared to ~네 (read that entry for more explanation)
  • reject politely/express a difference in opinion politely

Hope you’ve understood (more or less, at least, I hope…)! If not, please leave comments below and we can discuss about it!

References

Lang-8

Korean Wiki Project

Reddit

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