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Learn Korean Verbs | How to Use the Korean Verb 떨어지다

How to speak Korean with 1 word: all the surprising uses of 떨어지다

Want to be a master of the Korean language? The trick is to know verbs and their conjugations. Learn them and you’ll be speaking in Korean in no time! Today I’ll explain various meanings and usages of 떨어지다, all of which are important. Make them yours and it’ll boost your Korean level, I guarantee. Let’s get started!

Common situations where 떨어지다 can be used

Usage 1: To fall, to drop

Skydivers jumping from a red airplane

The most important meaning of 떨어지다 is for something to drop, fall, or (in the case of liquid) drip. It can be used for anything that can drop: balls, books, leaves, hailstones, etc. Take a look at this example:

꽃병이 떨어져서 깨졌다.
(ggot-byeong-i tteol-eo-jyeo-seo ggae-jyeot-da.)
The flower vase fell and broke.

How about a slightly more difficult variation of this sentence? If you ever need to explain why a vase shouldn’t be put on the top shelf, you can say:

꽃병이 떨어져서 깨질 수 있어.
(byeong-i tteol-eo-jyeo-seo ggae-jil su iss-eo.)
The vase may fall and break.

떨어지다 can also be used for people and animals falling or dropping. Well, it does happen sometimes, right?

스카이다이빙은 비행기에서 떨어지는 것이다.
(seu-ka-i-da-i-bing-eun bi-haeng-gi-e-seo tteol-eo-ji-neun geos-i-da.)
Skydiving is falling from an airplane.

떨어지다 is often used to describe changes in nature, such as autumn leaves falling from their trees and raindrops dropping.

A close up view of raindrops landing in a pool of water

곧 빗방울이 떨어질 거야.
(got bit-bang-ul-i tteol-eo-jil geo-ya)
Raindrops will start to fall soon.

You may have noticed that this phrase is in what Koreans call 반말, the casual form. The ‘polite casual’ form of the future tense couldn’t be easier. Just change 거야 to 거예요 and you’ve got it!

곧 빗방울이 떨어질 거예요.
(got bit-bang-ul-i tteol-eo-jil geo-yae-yo)

Pro Tip: 비 means rain, and 빗방울 means raindrop(s). We use 내리다 for both rain and snow, but it’s a bit awkward to say 비가 떨어지다, just like it’s weird to say ‘rain started to drop.’ The easiest thing to do is to just stick with 비가 내리다 and 빗방울이 떨어지다.

Note that 떨어지다 only means to drop, not to drop something! We have another word for that: 떨어뜨리다.

Usage 2: to run out of something

떨어지다 can mean ‘to run out of something’, usually everyday items or groceries you should always have at home. Some examples would be laundry detergent, eggs, salt, and in the case of us East Asians, rice.

쌀이 다 떨어졌어.
ssal-i da tteol-eo-jyeoss-eo.
We’re all out of rice.

Easy, right? To say ‘We’re (or I’m) out of [something],’ just say, ‘[something]이/가 다 떨어졌어.’

A person scooping white rice out from a large wooden container

Usage 3: to fall into a seriously bad state or situation

떨어지다 also means to ‘fall’ and find oneself in an awful situation. “Go to hell!” We hear that a lot in American TV shows, right? In Korean, it would be:

지옥에나 떨어져!
jiog-e-na tteol-eojyeo!
Go to hell.

It literally means ‘Fall to hell!’, but that’s how we say it. I guess that’s because hell is thought to be deep underground (the Korean word for hell, 지옥, literally means ‘the prison in the ground’) and one must ‘fall’ to get there. 

This expression is usually in ‘casual imperative’ form, but if you wish to be polite while saying that, you can use the ‘polite imperative’ form and say, ‘지옥에나 떨어지세요.’

But this meaning of 떨어지다 is usually used as a metaphor to describe people who suddenly find their good (or at least ordinary) lives taken away from them, no matter what the cause may be. It could  be considered ‘to fall into a far worse state than before.’

This is the plot of many Korean dramas. The promising hero (or heroine) suddenly has an unexpected fall, orchestrated by some greedy villains, only to strike back and become even greater… 

There are many binge-watching-worthy K-dramas in this plot, including my present favorite: Agency (대행사)!

An advertisement for the Korean drama 대행사

Go Ah-in is a passionate, brilliant woman who is the best in her field. After working hard for years at a large advertising agency, she finally becomes creative director, the first female executive member of the company…. Only to find out that her superiors promoted her to make the company seem ‘female-friendly’ and are planning to kick her out a year later! Just when she thought she was about to soar high, she finds herself plummeting down… As soon as the news gets out, people go from congratulating her to murmuring:

고아인이 나락으로 떨어졌어.
go-a-in-i na-lag-eu-lo tteol-eo-jyeoss-eo.
Go Ah-in has fallen into the abyss.

She finds herself lost, but soon she makes up her mind to fight back. She won’t be a pawn in their game, she’ll rewrite the game entirely. And she’ll let no one stop her….

It’s the best drama I’ve seen in years. I highly recommend it.

Usage 4: to fail a test or exam

Coming back to our topic, another meaning of 떨어지다 is to fail a test. But be careful! This verb is not for all tests. 떨어지다 is only for in-or-out tests, the kind of tests for which you get the outcome of in or out, such as tests you take to get a license or a certificate. 

You cannot use this word for tests such as midterm exams, SAT, and Suneung (Korean college entrance exam). Even though you can get every question wrong and receive a 0, there is no ‘out’ for these tests.

If you send your SAT or Suneung scores along with your application and the college decides to turn you down, then you can use 떨어지다.

하버드에 지원했다가 떨어졌어.
ha-beo-deu-e ji-won-haess-da-ga tteol-eo-jyeoss-eo.
I applied for Harvard and got rejected.

However, you cannot use 떨어지다 for the tests themselves. We have another word for doing badly at no in-or-out tests, and that’s 망치다. It means to ruin, to screw up. In my middle school and high school years, everyone would often say things like:

이번 중간고사 완전 망쳤어!
ibeon jung-gangosa wanjeon mangchyeoss-eo!
I’ve totally ruined this midterm exam!

An asian high school student in a uniform studying

The irony was that the kids who said that the most were always getting good enough grades…

This usage of 떨어지다 is also applicable to companies as much as to schools. Although things have started to change recently, for a long time most Korean companies did ‘공개 채용’ (open recruitment). 

They’d recruit only once or twice a year, so they hired hundreds (or even thousands) of people for different roles at the same time. The process isn’t that different from college admissions. Everyone sends in their application and goes through a designated selection process, which usually includes interviews, presentations, and yes, tests. 

The most famous test is Samsung’s SSAT. More than 200,000 applicants take the test all over the country, all at the same time!

It’s a huge test. There are books about SSAT like SAT books and private academies that specialize in the test. Most other companies have their applicants take the ‘personality test’ and ‘aptitude test’ too. 

If you don’t manage to get hired in the end, yes, it would be to fail, to 떨어지다. Many job seekers study hard to avoid that.

시험에 떨어지고 싶지 않아.
si-heom-e tteol-eo-ji-go sip-ji anh-a.
I don’t want to fail the test.

Usage 5: for the price or temperature to fall

The last meaning 떨어지다 is frequently used in news programs, mostly by the weatherperson and the economic news spokesperson.

내일 아침 기온이 많이 떨어지겠습니다.
nae-il a-chim gi-on-i manh-i tteol-eo-ji-gess-seub-ni-da.
The temperature will drop a lot tomorrow morning.

As the weather person is always talking about how the weather will change in the future, they use the  future form. It’s called the weather ‘forecast’ for a reason. Right?

The economic news spokesperson is always using 떨어지다 too. It’s to describe the falling of various indexes, such as rates of exchange, stock prices, housing prices, the NASDAQ index, and the KOSDAQ index. Sadly, as the global economic crisis that began in the COVID era is far from over, the economic news is full of bad news every day….

주가가 연일 떨어지고 있습니다.
ju-ga-ga yeon-il tteol-eo-ji-go iss-seub-ni-da.
Stock prices are falling day by day.

As speaking in front of cameras is a formal situation, all news spokespersons use the ‘formal’ form. They may use different tenses as needed but must use the ‘formal’ form.

Have you enjoyed this article? If you’re thinking something like, ‘well, yeah, but…,’ I get it. It’s confusing, I know. Even though you now know all these different meanings and conjugation forms, using them right is another matter! 

Well, as the old saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’, and the best way to practice is to add some fun to it! How about trying Konju? It’s an educational app that’ll help you practice Korean conjugations until you can easily use them!

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check out my previous one where I explained the tricky word 들어가다. I’ll be back with my next ‘special’ article: ‘Word vs Word: Adjectives about Taste!’ If you want to learn about all those similar but different Korean taste words such as ‘짜다/짭짤하다’ and ‘달다/달콤하다’, don’t miss it!

Thanks for reading. 🫶

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