Giving Commands in Korean

There is what we call imperative sentence which we use in making commands or orders. A positive imperative begins with a verb. Although you is absent, it is implied as in (You) open the door. The negative imperative begins with a don’t plus the base form of the verb as in Don’t open the door. In Korean, certain verb-endings are attached to the verb and they vary depending on the level of speech.

You can use 십시오 ending in formal situations as in airport announcements where  the passengers are asked to proceed to a certain gate number. You would hear 손님 여러분은 지금 탑승구 10 번으로 가십시오 (… passengers, please proceed now to Gate 10).

When you wish to be polite but not necessarily in formal situations, use the 세요 ending. This is what older people, strangers, and someone in higher position expect to hear from you.

When talking to friends or younger people, simply use the casual ending. The formal and polite endings are equivalent to saying please.

Verb + ()십시오 (formal)
Verb + ()세요 (polite)
Verb + //여라 (casual)

사용  물을 내려 주십시오.
Please flush the toilet after use.

잠깐만 기다려 주십시오.
Wait a moment, please.

다시 천천히 말해 주세요.
Please say it again slowly.

먹기 전에   씻으세요.
Kindly wash your hands before you eat.

빨리 먹어().
Eat quickly.

Verb +  마십시오 (formal)
Verb +  마세요 (polite)
Verb +  말아() (casual)

여기서는 담배를 피우지 마십시오.
Do not smoke here.

불장난하지 마세요.
Don’t play with fire.

너무 늦게 자지 마세요.
Don’t sleep too late.

걱정하지 말아요.
Don't worry.

아무것도 만지지 말아라.
Don’t touch anything.


As you can see, the negative command (causal) evolves a little in terms of spacing and spelling. - 말아요 and - 말아라 retains the  in 말다. Whereas - 마라 and 지마 drops it. You may see that 지마 has no space in between. Practically, they are all the same but differs in tone or mood. We can say that '하지마' sounds gentle while '하지 말아' and '하지 말아라' sounds intense and forced.