Korean Grammar: Understanding 고 말다 For Unintended Outcomes

In Korean, the structure V + 고 말다 is used to express unintended and contrasting negative outcomes that result from a previous action.

This construction can be translated as ‘I ended up Ving’, ‘in the end I V-ed’, or ‘finally I V-ed’.

Some examples in English to illustrate what this looks like:

To add emphasis, you can include 결국 (also ‘in the end’) before 고 말다.

Grammar Rule: Verb + 고 말다

고 말다 examples

Let’s explore this grammar pattern through practical examples:

밤을 새야하는데 잠에 들고 말았어요.
I tried to stay up all night but eventually I fell asleep.
숙제를 끝내려고 했지만 포기하고 말았어요.
I tried to finish my homework but I eventually gave up.
차가 비쌌지만 결국 사고 말았어요.
The car was expensive but in the end I bought it.
버스는 덥고 복잡해서 집까지 걸어가고 말았어요.
The bus was so hot and crowded so I ended up walking home.

Emphasizing with 결국

By adding 결국 before 고 말다, you can emphasize the final unintended outcome:

우산을 잊어버려서 비가 왔을 때 옷이 젖고 말았어요.
I did the test but I didn't prepare so I ended up failing.
잘못된 버튼을 누르고 파일을 지우고 말았어요.
I pressed the wrong button and ended up erasing the file.
남자친구와 다투고 헤어지고 말았어요.
I had an argument with my boyfriend and ended up breaking up with him.


Understanding the Korean grammar structure 고 말다 is essential for expressing unintended and negative outcomes that result from previous actions.

This construction adds depth to your Korean language skills and allows you to communicate nuanced situations effectively.

Learning Korean?
Want to see my favorite and most comprehensive Korean course?
Yes, show me