Level 6 Lesson 12 / What do you mean? What does that mean? / 무슨 말이에요?
In the previous lesson, we introduced how the phrase “I mean...” can be translated into various Korean expressions. In this lesson, let’s take a look at how to ask someone in Korean, “what do you mean?”, “what does that mean?”, or “what’s that suppose to mean?” when you can’t believe what you’ve just heard or when you don’t understand someone’s remark or point very well.
= What do you mean?
= What’s that supposed to mean?
= What does that mean?
= What are you talking about?
무슨 [mu-seun] means “what kind of” or “which” and 말 [mal] means “word” or “language”. Therefore, 무슨 말 [mu-seun mal] means “what word” “which word” or “what kind of things (to be said or written)”
무슨 말이에요? literally means “what word/language is it?”, but it is more correctly translated as “What do you mean?” You can use 무슨 말이에요? when you are in disbelief after you hear someone say something or when you have not clearly understood what they mean.
A: 카메라 팔 거예요. ( I’m going to sell my camera.)
B: 무슨 말이에요? 카메라도 없잖아요. (What do you mean? You don’t even have a camera!)
무슨 소리예요? is the same as 무슨 말이에요? but it is less formal and less polite. Therefore, it is not advised to use it to someone older than you or someone you’re supposed to be polite to. This is because 말 means “words”, but 소리 means “sounds”. You don’t want to refer to the words of the other person as mere “sounds”. You can use 무슨 소리예요? more safely, however, when you are literally saying “What’s that sound?”
In Korean, there are many ways of making a phrase “honorific” and one of the ways is to use “honorific” nouns. 말씀 is the honorific version of 말.
How to literally ask “What does this mean?”
As we’ve introduced in the previous lesson, when you want to LITERALLY ask what a certain expression means, you can use the expression “무슨 뜻이에요? [mu-seun tte-si-e-yo?]”
1. 네? 그게 무슨 말이에요?
[ne? geu-ge mu-seun ma-ri-e-yo?]
= What? What do you mean?
= Huh? What does THAT mean?
2. 그만둘 거라고요? 갑자기 무슨 말이에요?
[geu-man-dul geo-ra-go-yo? gap-ja-gi mu-seun ma-ri-e-yo?]
= You are going to quit? What do you mean all of a sudden?
3. 무슨 말이에요? 제가 왜요?
[mu-seun ma-ri-e-yo? je-ga wae-yo?]
= What do you mean? Why (do) I (have to …)?
= What do you mean? Why me?
4. 무슨 말인지 잘 모르겠어요.
[mu-seun ma-rin-ji jal mo-reu-ge-sseo-yo.]
= I’m not sure what you mean.
= I don’t know what you are talking about.
5. 무슨 말인지 알겠어요.
[mu-seun ma-rin-ji al-ge-sseo-yo.]
= I know what you mean.
= I understand what you are saying.