This is just a note summarising something I really struggled with — the various meanings of 다가 in Korean grammar.
It’s subtle, and sometimes you can only explain how to use ~다가 by translating an entire phrase. But it’s still useful to understand the grammar.
I’ve read many other grammar guides that explain this one at a time, but no guide that puts it all together.
Korean grammar is quite complicated. You express a lot of nuance through particles and modifiers rather than other words (or tone of voice).
Just a note that I’m not going to go into detail of the grammar. You’re best served by your normal grammar preparation resources. This is just an overview of three usages.
You might be interested in these other posts on Korean grammar:
- How to say “and” in Korean
- How to say “I” in Korean
- The Meaning of Nunchi (눈치) in Korean
- The Meanings of Daga (다가) in Korean
Meanings of 다가 — Overview
The Korean grammar element 다가 is an extremely versatile particle that can be used in a variety of ways.
Generally speaking, the 다가 is used to separate out two actions that have some relationship. This relationship is one of time/person and causation. Sometimes one is interrupted by another, sometimes one is caused by another, sometimes one just happens after another in a timeline, and sometimes one ends and is then changed by a contrasting situation.
It all gets confusing, especially as the grammatical difference is quite subtle. For example, the first time I came across 하다가 and had to understand the difference between that and 해다가, I was thrown for a loop. In fact, comparing 하다가 vs 해다가, you might even just think one is a typo. But they have different meanings.
Here’s a summary of all three grammar types.
|Grammar||하다가(interrupted)||아/어 다가(event completed / different location)||았/었/했다가(after completion then opposite event|
|Meaning in brief||“While”: One action interrupted for another.||“And then”: One action finished, leading to another, often in another location.||“But then”: One action finished, but then another, contrasting event happened.|
|Korean example sentence||문법을 공부하다가 잠이 들었어요.||문법을 공부해다가 그에 대해 기사를 썼어요: ||문법을 공부했다가 숙제를 안 해서 다 잊어버렸어요.|
|English meaning||I fell asleep while studying grammar.||I studied grammar and then wrote an article about it.||I studied the grammar, but I didn’t do my homework, so I forgot it all.|
Let’s look at these uses in more detail below.
First Meaning of 다가 (~다가): An action is interrupted by a second
This is the first meaning of 다가 many of us learn in Korean grammar guides. In English, we often translate this as “while”.
|While studying hard, I fell asleep||열심히 공부하다가 잠이 들었어요|
|It was hot, and suddenly became cold.||날씨가 덥다가 갑자기 추워졌어요.|
|I sprained my ankle while training at the gym.||체육관에서 훈련하다가 발목을 삐었어요.|
|While I was eating food, I received a phone call.||밥을 먹다가 전화를 받았습니다.|
Second Meaning of 다가 (아/어 다가): One action is completed, and another action starts, often at another location
This meaning of 다가 is often translated as “and then”.
|Yesterday, I bought dumplings at the market and ate them at home.||어제, 나는 시장에서 만두를 사다가 집에서 먹었다.|
|Please get a towel from the cupboard and then bring it here.||찬장에서 수건을 꺼내다가 여기로 가져 주세요.|
|Please buy some fruits for me (from another place).|
Implication is that the speaker is paying; not asking the other person to pay.
|과일을 좀 사다가 주세요.|
|How about we order some chicken and eat it at home?||지킨을 시켜다가 집에서 먹을까요?|
|I’ll make a cake at home and take it (to a party).||집에과자를 만들어다가 가져갈까요.|
Third Meaning of 다가 (았/었/했다가): One action finishes, and but an opposite action then happens
This version of 다가 is often translated as “but then”. You use it when it’s the same person talking. Something finishes, but then a contrasting / unexpected thing happens, and it causes another action (which you might not have to even say).
There are set phrases based on this structure — see below.
See more on this topic here.
|I went outside but then I came back because it was raining.||나는 밖에 나갔다가 비가 와서 돌아왔어요.|
|I went to a cafe but then came back because I forgot my wallet.||카페에 갔다가 지갑을 잊어버려서 돌아왔어요.|
|There are too many mosquitoes. So I opened a window but then closed it again.||모기가 너무 많아요. 그래서 창문을 열었다가 다시 닫았어요.|
Set Phrases involving 았/었/했다가
There are a few set phrases involving one meaning of 다가 that are worth calling out on their own.
If I were translating from English, I’d translate all these in a different, more plain way. But it’s very common to use these 다가 ways of saying them, so it’s important to know the standard Korean phrasing.
For example, I once went to Jeju and brought gifts back for my training partners. The coach said “아, 제주에 갔다가 왔어?”. It’s a natural way of saying it.
|You went to Jeju (and came back)?||아, 제주에 갔다가 왔어?|
|Let’s leave in 15 minutes!||15분 있다가 나가자!|
|A: When do you want to go?|
B: A bit later
|A: 언제 가고 싶어요?|
|I’m just going to pop out /to the toilet for a second (and come back).||금방 / 화장실 갔다올게.|
|Is it alright if I pop out for a sec? Yeah, go ahead||좀 갔다 와도 돼요? 네, 갔다와|
|I went to Japan (and came back).||일본에 갔다가 왔어요.|
How does one learn all these meanings of 다가? Practise! I wrote this blog post after failing to understand it and reviewing it multiple times with my teacher, then writing these examples out and checking it with her.
Check out our Korean language resources — some of my favourite language guides are in there.