As many people know, people send me questions on the internet, and I answer them. This evening, someone sent me a questions asking me if they should used 니가(nee ga) or 네가 (ne ga) in a text message. My initial response was, “Don’t use either one” because Koreans don’t use their subject pronouns on a regular basis. Korean is a very complicated language, and after I explain the use of “you” and “I” as subject pronouns, you might see part of it.
You see, 니가 *nee ga) means “you” as the subject, and does 네가 (ne ga). I asked my Korean son in law about it. He said that people can use 니가 (nee ga) in a happy situation jokingly, but it is usually something to emphasize “you” when you are angry, and he never uses it in a text message. If he uses one of these words, it would be 네가 (ne ga) for clarification. However, he probably wouldn’t. Korean is very vague.
Now, we get to 내가 (ne ga). 내가 actually means “i” even though it is said the same way. This is one of those really confusing things in Korean. I have often heard people say 네가 (ne ga) or 내가 (ne ga) and been completely confused about who they were talking about because they are said the same. It is one of those things that you have to figure out from context.
To avoid confusion, I usually use, 나는 (na nun) for “I.” However, “재가 (je ga) can also be used for “I,” and I don’t even know if I spelled it right in Korea because I have never seen it written, only spoken. It isn’t even in my dictionary, but they say it is a more respectful way of saying “I.” The best way is just to leave the pronouns out.
Instead of using 니가 or 네가 for “you,” there are much better ways I have learned to express myself. One thing you can do is just never use the word “you” in Korea and make them guess because often that is what they will do to you. However, to clarify things, there are ways. If you don’t mind talking down to someone, you can use “너는 (no nun) for you, but I don’t like to talk down to anyone. They may also use 너는 if they know the person very, very well. If you want, you can use 당신은 (tangsheen un) for “you.” However, there are problems with that too. To begin with, you can’t use it with strangers or people you don’t know well. When I first came to Korea, I used it while I was standing in line to buy groceries talking to the woman next to me, and she looked at me like I was crazy. If you use it, the person must be very close to you. In fact, it could be interpreted as “sweetheart” or “honey” in the right context, so you have to be careful with it. I used it today with a friend who is several years younger than I am that I have known for several years who is almost like family, and that was acceptable.
The pronouns can really be a problem in Korean. A really good way is to learn the person’s name and use it all the time rather than a pronoun even though it would sound strange in English. It doesn’t sound strange in Korean. Another way, if you don’t know their name or just want to keep it on a formal basis is to say선생 님 (sonseng nim) for “you.” 선생 님 literally means “teacher.” However, it is also a very respectful way to say “you.”
Good luck trying to sort Korean out. It is one of the most complicated languages I have ever tried to learn to speak.