Intermediate1>Lesson8. Verb-던 : Past-tense Modifier for Unfinished or Repeated action

1. Verb-던

Today, we’re gonna look at the usages of Verb-던, which can be classified as a “past-tense modifier form” of verbs.

But then, how about Verb-ㄴ/은? (Lesson on verb’s modifier form : Haven’t we learned that Verb-ㄴ/은 is a past tense modifier form of verbs?

How are Verb-ㄴ/은 different from Verb-던? 

Let’s look at the following examples first.

아빠가 먹은 피자
아빠가 먹던 피자

The first one (아빠가 먹은 피자) means “the pizza I ate.” Here, 먹다(to eat) is a one-time action that happened in the past.

The second one (아빠가 먹던 피자) means something more specific, and it has three possible meanings : 

  1. the pizza that Dad was eating (but hasn’t finished yet.)
  2. the pizza that Dad used to eat on a regular basis (not anymore)
  3. the pizza that Dad has been eating regularly up to this time (you’re not sure whether he’ll continue to eat that pizza on a regular basis)

So you can notice that Verb-던 has mainly three usages :

  1. An action that started in the past but hasn’t ended yet (action left undone) 
  2. An action that one used to do continuously/regularly/repeatedly (and not anymore)
  3. An action that one’s been doing continuously/regularly/repeatedly up to this time (but will not likely continue. It’s also used when you’re not sure whether that action will continue.)

From this, you can figure out the three possible meanings each following phrase can have. 

엄마가 읽던  

  1. the book that mom was reading (but she hasn’t finished it yet.)
  2. the book that mom used to read regularly
  3. the book that mom’s been reading regularly

아빠가 쓰던 노트북

  1. the laptop that dad was using (but hasn’t finished using it yet, he has more to do with that laptop)
  2. the laptop that dad used to use regularly
  3. the laptop that dad’s been using regularly

재미있게 보던 드라마

  1. the drama that I was enjoying watching (but hasn’t finished yet)
  2. the drama that I used to enjoy watching regularly
  3. the drama that I’ve been watching regularly up to this time

So now we know all the possible meanings of Verb-던.

But how do we know which one of these three 던 means in a certain phrase or sentence?

A. You can figure it out from the general context.


TV가 망가져서 재미있게 보던 드라마를 더 이상 보지 못해요.

이거 내가 마시던 커피인데, 네가 다 마실래?

남이 먹던 음식은 별로 먹고 싶지 않아요.

자주 오시던 손님이 안 보이네요.

설리가 키우던 고양이를 김희철이 키우고 있어요.

B. You can get the most obvious hint from the time adverbs.


엄마가 어제 읽던 책 : The book that mom started reading yesterday but hasn’t finished yet

=> From the adverb 어제, you know that the action “읽다(to read)” started yesterday. So it cannot mean “regularly.” The only possible meaning would have to be “the book that mom started reading yesterday, but hasn’t finished yet.” 

이거 동생이 쓰던 노트북이네. 요즘도 쓰나? : This is the laptop that my younger sibling’s been using. Does he still use it?

=> 요즘도 (요즘: these days + 도: as well) 쓰나? is a question that indicates the speaker isn’t sure whether he still uses it these days. So 동생이 쓰던 노트북 here would mean “the laptop that my younger sibling’s been using.

“주말마다 재미있게 보던 드라마가 오늘 끝난대요.” 

=> 주말마다 means every weekend. The very phrase implies the regularity of the action. Also, it says the drama ends (끝나다) today (오늘.) So the sentence above should mean “I hear the drama that I’ve been watching every weekend ends today.”

C. You can also narrow down the meaning by paying attention to the nature of the verb that’s attached to -던.

Let’s look at the following six phrases:

1) 옆집에 살던 사람 (살다: to live + 던)

  1. the person who was living next door (but she hasn’t finished living yet) — this doesn’t make sense, since living is not an action that can be left undone. So we can omit this.
  2. the person who used to live next door (living is already something that happens continuously)
  3. the person who’s been living next door up to this time

So its possible meaning narrows down to 2) and 3).

예전에 옆집에 살던 사람한테 최근에 연락이 왔어요.
The person that used to live next door reached out to me recently.

옆집에 살던 사람이 곧 이사를 간대요.
The person that’s been living next door said she will be moving out soon. 

2) 네가 입던 옷 (입다: to wear + 던)

  1. clothes you were putting on (but haven’t finished yet) — It’s quite unusual to refer to a piece of clothing that someone hasn’t even finished putting on. So we can leave this out.
  2. clothes that you used to wear regularly 
  3. clothes that you’ve been wearing regularly up to this time

Its possible meaning narrows down to 2) and 3).

이거 네가 자주 입던 옷 아니야?
Aren’t these clothes that you used to wear often?
Aren’t these clothes that you’ve been wearing often? 

To make it even more clear which one of the above two you mean, you can add an adverb that points to a specific time or time frame.

이거 네가 어렸을 때 자주 입던 옷 아니야? (어렸을 때: when one was young, during childhood)
Aren’t these clothes what you used to wear often when you were young?

이거 네가 요즘 자주 입던 옷 아니야? (요즘 : these days)
Aren’t these clothes what you’ve been wearing often these days?

3) 우리가 가던 식당 (가다: to go + 던)

  1. the restaurant we were going (but haven’t finished yet) — Also quite unusual, so leave it out. If you are meaning to say “the restaurant that you were headed to but haven’t arrived,” it’s better to use “가고 있던 (present progressive + 던)” rather than “가던.”
  2. the restaurant we used to go regularly 
  3. the restaurant we’ve been going regularly up to this time


A: 오늘은 어디에서 저녁을 먹을까요? Where should we have dinner tonight?
B: 우리가 평소에 자주 가던 식당 어때요? How about the place we usually go often?
(평소에: at usual times, usually)

학생 때 자주 가던 식당이 문을 닫았대요. I heard that the restaurant I used to go often in my student years closed down. 

4) 내가 다니던 학교 [다니다: to frequent a place (as a member of that place; usually used for work, school or somewhere that requires a membership)]

The nature of the verb 다니다 is that, just like 살다(to live), it’s not something that can be left undone. You either frequent a place, or not. So you can leave out the option “the school that I was frequenting (but left undone)” since that doesn’t make any sense at all.


여긴 내가 다니던 학교야. This is a school I used to attend. 
지금까지 다니던 직장을 그만뒀어요. I quit my job (that I’ve been having so far.) 

5) 지수가 좋아하던 남자애

  1. the boy that Jisoo was liking (?) but haven’t finished? — doesn’t make any sense, so leave it out.
  2. the boy that Jisoo used to like (when you like something, it’s naturally continuous)
  3. the boy that Jisoo has liked (up to the last time I remember)

내가 좋아하던 남자애의 이름이 기억이 안나요. I can’t remember the name of a boy that I used to like.
쟤는 지수가 좋아하던 남자애 아니에요? 아직도 좋아하나? Isn’t he a boy that Jisoo’s been liking (=Jisoo likes)? Does she still like him?

6) (place)에 있던 가방

  1. the bag that was being there but hasn’t finished? — doesn’t make any sense at all, so leave it out.
  2. the bag that used to be there (when something is there, it is there continuously)
  3. the bag that has been there (up to the last time I saw it)

여기 있던 가방 봤어요? Have you seen a bag that had been here (not anymore, it’s gone)?
열쇠는 식탁에 있던 가방에 있을 거예요. The key might be in a bag that has been on the table (up to the last time I saw it).

2. Adj-던
(-던 and -았/었던 are the only past-tense modifier of adjectives)

A girl with long hair was crying alone in the bus station.
(=머리가 길던 여자애)

Aren’t you that kind lady from yesterday?
(=친절하던 아주머니)

My dad who used to be fat lost a lot of weight and he’s now thin.
(=뚱뚱하던 아빠)

3. When Verb-던 is interchangeable with Verb-ㄴ/은

Although not as common as the three meanings we learned so far, Verb-던 can also be used when recollecting any past action that one did, regardless of regularity or completion.

In this case, it would be interchangeable with Verb-ㄴ/은. 

The difference, however, would be that using Verb-던 has a more recollective/retrospective nuance to it. 


어제 공원에서 울던 여자애 기억나? 

어제 공원에서 야옹대던 고양이를 또 보고 싶어요.

When -던 is used this way, due to its recollective nuance, it often appears in poetry or lyrics where they reminisce about something or someone from the past.  


수줍게 꽃을 건네 너에게
웃으며 손을 내밀었지

수줍게 인사를 건네 너에게
살며시 입을 맞추었지

Lyrics from <<Love Story – Bol4>> 

=> You can replace 건네던 with 건넨, because it’s talking about past action that you recollect, it will lose its more endearing(?), memory-related nuance.

Now, let’s move on to V/A-았/었던.

Review Note of V/A-았/었던 : click Next Page