The Naver dictionary defines 더라 as “A sentence ending used to convey in the present a fact the speaker realised anew from a personal experience”. I don’t know if there is anyone else like me, but when I read the definition the words “fact”, “realised anew”, “experience” made it sound like some profound event and I should be realising something important. Turns out this wasn’t the case at all. It could be something trivial like walking and stepping on dog poo, and the fact you realise is that there is a lot of dog poo here. And later you tell your friend 여기 개똥 진짜 많더라.
In a nutshell there are three parts to using 더라. 1) a personal experience, 2) a fact that you realise from the experience and 3) conveying the fact to someone else.
The experience part of it is always in the past, obviously. The fact can be related to something in the past or future. If it is related to the past it can be either about a past completed event/situation or about a past progressive event/situation.
A past completed event/situation uses verb stem+ 았/었더라. This is used when you didn’t see the event/situation as it was happening and only see what happens afterwards.
- 유나가 오늘 잘 잤더라. “I saw that Yuna sleep well today”. The experience could be seeing her very energetic and happy in the morning. The realised fact is that she slept well.
- 그녀가 살 많이 빠졌더라. “I saw that she lost a lot of weight”. The experience is most likely seeing your friend after not seeing them for awhile.
- 그가 책을 내 책상에 놓고 갔더라. “I saw that he left the book on my desk”. The experience could be you see the book on your desk and deduce the fact that he must have put it there.
- 그녀가 학교에 갔더라. “I saw that she went to school”. The experience is seeing her at school and the realised fact is that she went to school.
For past progressive actions use verb stem+ 더라. It is used when when you see the event/situation as it was happening. You’ll see that in these cases the experience and realised fact is one and the same. Adjectives use this form because there isn’t a clear distinction of start and end with adjectives.
- 여기 개똥 진짜 많더라. “There is a lot of poo here”. The experience is stepping into the poo and the realised fact is that there is a lot of poo here.
- 그가 책을 내 책에 놓고 가더라. “I saw him put the book on my desk”. The experience is seeing him put the book there and leave. The realised fact is the same.
- 어제 춥더라. “I saw it was cold yesterday”. The experience could be first hand experiencing the cold, or seeing people outside in winter clothing. The realise fact is that it is cold.
- 유나가 자더라. “I saw that Yuna was sleeping”. The experience is seeing her sleep and the realised fact is the same.
- 그녀가 학교에 가더라. “I saw that she was going to school”. The experience is seeing her go to school and the realised fact is the same.
- 어쩐지 아이들이 엄청 기대하고 있더라. 이번이 아이들이 처음으로 나가는 해외경험이라고 하네. “No wonder the kids were looking forward to it. They said this is their first overseas travel experience”. The experience is hearing about some new information and the realisation is why they were so excited.
For future tense use verb stem + 겠더라. It is used when you experience something in the past and realise a fact about the future. If you haven’t learnt about the 겠 ending, you may not understand the below.
- 너의 집에 못 놀러가겠더라. “I won’t be able to go to your house”. You can say this to your friend when you realise that you don’t have money for a train ticket, or your injured leg still hasn’t healed, or because you realised you still have too much work.
- 이게 어렵겠더라. “This is going to be difficult”. You can say this when you realise you have too much work, or you realise how challenging something is.
- 사업이 잘 되겠더라. “His business is going to do well”. You can say this when you see that the restaurant food is delicious and the décor is amazing. You couldn’t say this if you already were seeing that the restaurant is very popular.
There is one more thing I want to touch on and that is the difference between 더라 ending versus the plain ending (아/어요). The bottom line is that there isn’t much difference most of the time. To see why, consider in English whether you say “I saw there was a lot of dog poo” versus “There was a lot of dog poo”, the listener receives almost the exact same information. Based on the context, even if you didn’t say “I saw that” it could be very obvious that you’re saying it based on first hand observation.
In another example if you said “there was a lot of people outside the Nike store” it is even more obvious that you saw this first hand and becomes redundant to say “I saw that”. My point is that two different expressions in Korean often map to a single expression in English. English only speakers would never know this and they would never feel a lack of expressive ability right?
I see 더라 as an expression that can be used when you want to tell a fact to someone but its better if you let the listener know that it isn’t a definitive fact. Its just something that is based on your personal experience.
One more final thing. Because 더라 uses personal experience, it is more colloquial sounding than the plain sentence ending. So if you weave it into your story telling it will help break up the monotony of always ending the sentence the same way.