[Korean grammar] -아/어 봤자 Expressing Futility


가: 지금 가면 막차를 탈 수 있을지 몰라요. 빨리 지하철역으로 가 봅시다.
You might be able to catch the last train if you leave now. Please hurry to the train station.
나: 지금 12시가 훨씬 넘어서 지하철역에 가 봤자 막차는 이미 출발했을 거예요.
It’s already way past midnight, so it’s no use going to the train station since the last train has probably already left.

가: 부모님께 용돈을 받는데 왜 아르바이트를 해요?
You get an allowance from your parents, so why do you have a part-time job?
나: 용돈을 받아 봤자 지하철 타고 다니고 밥 몇 번 사 먹으면 남는 게 없거든요,
Even with my allowance, I hardly have anything left after paying for my subway commute and a few meals.

This expression is used to indicate that there’s no use even trying what is stated in the preceding clause or that doing so would not live up to expectations. It is used to refer to something that has not occurred yet as a form of supposition.

• 얼굴이 아무리 예뻐 봤자 모델이 될 수는 없을 거예요. 자야 씨는 키가 작잖아요.
No matter how pretty your face, you probably can’t become a model. You’re (too) short, Jaya.
• 부장님은 내가 솔직하게 말해 봤자 내 말을 믿지 않으실 거예요.
It doesn’t matter how honest 1 am to the department chief. She won’t believe me.
• 오늘같이 추운 날은 이 외투를 입어 봤자 소용없을 거예요. 차라리 옷을 여러 개 입으세요.
On a cold day like today, it’s no use (just) wearing this overcoat. You should wear multiple layers of clothing.

1. This expression is also used to indicate that what is stated in the preceding clause is not that great or noteworthy.
• 그 일이 어려워 봤자 지난번 일보다는 쉬울 거예요. 며칠 안에 끝낼 수 있으니까 걱정하지 마세요.
Even if the task is difficult it should be easier than the last one. You can finish it in a few days, so don’t worry.
• 아이가 밥을 먹어 봤자 얼마나 많이 먹겠어요? 그냥 먹고 싶은 대로 먹게 가만 둡시다.
The child won’t eat a lot of food anyway, so let’s just let him/her eat what he/she wants.

2. Past tense forms cannot come before or after -아/어 봤자.
• 여기에서 거기까지 적어도 한 시간은 걸리니까 지금 갔 봤자 늦을 거예요. (X)
   여기에서 거기까지 적어도 한 시간은:걸리니까 가 봤자 늦었어요. (X)
->여기에서 거기까지 적어도 한 시간은 걸리니까 지금 가 봤자 늦을 거예요. (〇)

3. However, the form -아/어 봤자 -았/었을 거예요 can be used when supposing what likely happened in a past situation.
가: 양강 씨에게 그때 그 일을 하지 말라고 얘기했어야 되는데 안 한 게 후회가 돼요.
I should have told Yang Gang not to do that back then, and now I regret not doing so.
나: 그때 얘기해 봤자 듣지 않았을 거예요. 더 이상 신경 쓰지 마세요.
He wouldn’t have listened to you even if you had told him back then. Please don’t worry about it any more.

>> You can click on the title of each grammar below to learn about the other grammars which also express ‘Futility’:
01 -(으)나 마나
02 -아/어 봤자

>> Full of Intermediate grammars: Click here 


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