Guide: How to Say “What Was That?” in Korean

Learning how to express yourself in different languages is an exciting and fulfilling journey. If you are curious about how to say “What was that?” in Korean, you’ve come to the right place! Whether you’re having a casual conversation with a friend or engaging in a more formal setting, we’ll explore various expressions, tips, and examples to help you navigate this common phrase in Korean. Understanding how to ask “What was that?” in both formal and informal situations will enable you to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts. Additionally, we’ll provide some insights into regional variations, although it’s important to note that the Korean language is primarily standardized. So, let’s get started!

Formal Way:

In formal situations, such as speaking to someone older, a respected figure, or someone you are not familiar with, it’s essential to use the appropriate polite form.


“What was that?” in its polite form is “그건 무슨 소리였어요?” (geugeon museun soriyeosseoyo?)


  • Remember to use the polite ending “-요” (yo) to demonstrate respect.
  • Adding “그건” (geugeon) at the beginning emphasizes the subject matter, similar to “that thing” in English.
  • Make sure to pronounce each syllable clearly for better understanding.


Imagine you are in a formal setting, and you hear a loud noise. You can ask, “그건 무슨 소리였어요?” (geugeon museun soriyeosseoyo?) to inquire, “What was that sound?”

Informal Way:

In informal situations, such as talking with friends, family, or acquaintances of similar age or familiarity, you can use a more casual expression.


“What was that?” in its casual form is “그게 뭐였어?” (geuge mwoyesseo?)


  • When speaking informally, it is common to drop the subject “그게” (geuge) and say “뭐였어?” (mwoyesseo?), which still translates as “What was that?”
  • Remember to adjust your speech level based on the relationship and familiarity with the person you’re talking to.
  • Intonation plays a significant role in showing your curiosity or surprise in such situations.


Let’s say you’re out with your friends, and you all hear an unexpected noise. You can ask, “그게 뭐였어?” (geuge mwoyesseo?) to find out what it was.

Regional Variations:

While Korean is primarily standardized, regional variations may exist, especially in dialects. However, for a basic phrase like “What was that?”, the variations across regions are minimal. The formal and informal forms mentioned earlier are widely understood and accepted throughout Korea.

Final Tips:

– It’s important to listen carefully when someone responds to your question. They may provide additional context or clarification that can improve your understanding.
– Don’t be afraid to ask for repetitions or further explanations if you don’t catch what was said.
– Practice saying the phrases out loud to improve your pronunciation and intonation.
– Expand your vocabulary by learning related words, such as “sound” (소리 – sori) or “noise” (소음 – soeum), which can enrich your conversations.
– Engage in language exchanges or find conversation partners to practice real-life situations.
– Embrace the learning process and have fun exploring the Korean language!

By now, you have a solid understanding of how to say “What was that?” in Korean. Remember to use “그건 무슨 소리였어요?” (geugeon museun soriyeosseoyo?) in formal settings and “그게 뭐였어?” (geuge mwoyesseo?) in informal situations. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll be confidently communicating in Korean!

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