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Beginner 2 > Lesson 28

Lesson 28. “When verb-ing” (때, -ㄹ/을 때)

In today’s lesson, you will learn about the word 때, and how it can be used in a sentence.

means “(at that particular) time,” and can be used with nouns and verbs to indicate a period of time or the time when something happens.

is usually translated “when” or “during”.


Let’s look at how 때 is used with Nouns.


  1. Noun +

When you combine a Noun (that indicates a certain/particular time or period) with 때, it means “during that time.”


Let’s look at some examples:

내일 수업 때 발표해야 돼요. – I have to make a presentation during tomorrow’s class time.

방학 때 뭐 할 거야? – What are you going to do during the vacation?

점심 때 다시 얘기하자. – Let’s talk again during lunchtime.

수업 때 집중하세요. – Please pay attention during class.

시험 때 컨닝하면 안돼요. – You cannot cheat during an exam.

저는 중학생 때 공부를 안하고 놀았어요. 그리고 고등학교 때부터 공부를 시작했어요. – When I was a middle school student, I didn’t study but had fun. And I started studying when I was a high school student.


Note that you cannot use 때 with such words as 오전, 오후, 아침 and days of the week (월요일, 화요일, 주말 etc.)


Now, let’s look at how to combine 때 with verbs.


  1. Verb –/ + present, past & future verb

때 can also be used with verb, following the similar rules as verb-는 것. (verb that modifies a noun) 

When we use  with a verb, the future suffix “~ㄹ/을” is attached after a verb stem.

You add ㄹ to a verb stem ending in a vowel, and 을 to a verb stem ending in a consonant. Instead of 것, you use 때, because you’re talking about the time.

The verb in the following (second) clause decides whether the whole sentence is in present, past or future tense.

Verb Stem + ㄹ/을 때 + Second Clause : the time when Verb-ing + Second Clause


먹다 (to eat) > 먹을 때 (when eating)
밥을 먹을 때 말을 많이 하지 마세요 > Don’t talk much when eating. (present)

자다 (to sleep) > 잘 때 (when sleeping)
저는 잘 때 꼭 창문을 닫아요 – I always make sure to close the window when I sleep. (present)

가다 (to go) > 갈 때 (when going)
내일 학교에 갈 때 버스를 탈 거예요 – I will take a bus tomorrow when going to school. (future)

말하다 (to speak) > 말할 때 (when speaking)
말할 때 제 눈을 보세요 – Please, look at my eyes when speaking. (present)

운동하다(to exercise) > 운동할 때 (when exercising)
아까 운동할 때(=운동하고 있을 때) 그 노래를 들었어요. I listened to that song when I was exercising earlier. (past)

읽다 (to read) > 읽을 때 (when reading)
책을 읽을 때 혼자 있는 걸 좋아해요. – I like being alone when reading books. (present)

없다 (to not have) > 없을 때 (when there is no)
시간이 없을 때 식사를 자주 걸러요. – I often skip meals when I don’t have time. (present)

있다 (to have / to be there) > 있을 때 (when there is)
우리 엄마는 집에 있을 때 맛있는 음식을 요리해요. – When my mom is at home, she cooks delicious food. (present)

시험을 보다 (to take a test) > 시험을 볼 때 (when taking the test)
아까 시험을 볼 때 너무 떨렸어요. I was so nervous when taking the test earlier. (past)


  1. Verb-/었을  

We just learned that when we’re talking about what happened in the past, that the verb in verb-ㄹ/을 때 doesn’t have to be conjugated in past tense, and it can just be followed by a past verb in the following clause.

However, there’s also a past conjugated form of “-을 때” and the construction goes like this : Verb-았/었(past conjugated form)을 때  


So what is the difference between Verb-ㄹ/을 때 followed by a past verb and Verb-았/었을 때?


The former is used when you did the following action in the middle of doing verb.

Let’s look at the two example sentences in past tense, that we studied above : 


1) 아까 운동할 때 그 노래를 들었어요. I listened to that song when I was exercising earlier. (past)

You can see that the sentence means “when (I was in the middle of) exercising,” so using 운동할 때 instead of 운동했을 때 sounds much more natural.

You can also say, 아까 운동하고 있을 때 그 노래를 들었어요 using present progressive.


2) 아까 시험을 볼 때 너무 떨렸어요. I was so nervous when taking the test earlier. (past)

In this sentence as well, the sentence means “when (I was in the middle of) taking the test, so “볼 때” sounds more natural than “봤을 때.”

You can also say, 아까 시험을 보고 있을 때 너무 떨렸어요.


The latter is used when verb is something that you cannot be in the middle of doing


제프를 처음 봤을 때 마음에 들었어요. – When I saw Jeff for the first time, I liked him.
→ When you see someone for the first time, you cannot be “seeing” that person. The moment of seeing someone for the first time is just one moment that passes in less than a second. So it would sound awkward to say, “제프를 처음 볼 때 마음에 들었어요 (X)”

한국어를 못했을 때 맨날 사전을 들고 다녔어요. – When I wasn’t good at Korean, I used to carry a dictionary with me every day.
→ This one’s actually interchangeable with “한국어를 못 할 때 + past verb.” (= 한국어를 못할 때 맨날 사전을 들고 다녔어요.)
You can be in the middle of not doing something well, because the state of not doing something well can last some time until you become good at it.

But “못했을 때” more clearly delivers that you used to be bad, and not anymore.


이 물건은 작년에 샀을 때 2000원 밖에 안 했는데 지금은 4000원이네요. – When I bought this thing last year, it was only 2000 won, but now it’s 4000 won!
→ This sentence doesn’t mean while in the middle of buying; it more means “upon purchase.” So 샀을 때 sounds better than 살 때.

If you want to use 살 때, you could say,
책을 살 때 공책을 공짜로 받았어요. – I received this notebook for free when I was buying books. (It implies that, While I was buying (paying for) books, they gave out a free notebook.)


[Quick Summary]:

Noun + 때 > when/during Noun

Verb-ㄹ/을 때 + present, past future verb: the time when (S) + Verb, Verb-ed, will Verb

Verb-ㄹ/을 때+past verb (in the middle of verb-ing) vs Verb-았/었을 때 (verb that you cannot be in the middle of doing)