[Korean grammar] (이)나 Expressing Choice

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가: 아키라 씨, 정말 오랜만이에요.
Akira, it’s really been a long time.
나: 그러네요. 오래만이에요. 우리 오랜만에 만났는데 차 한 잔 마시면서 이야기할까요?
You’re right. Long time no see. Since it’s been so long, why don’t we go and catch up over some tea or something?

가: 엄마, 친구하고 놀고 올게요.
Mom, I’m off to play with my friend.
나: 이제 그만 놀고 책이나 좀 읽어.
Stop playing and read a book or something.

This expression is used to indicate that although something is not really one’s first choice, it is fine as the second-best option. This expression is also used when the speaker wants to express a view that anything is fine because he/she does not have any particular preference in mind.

• 할 일도 없는데 산책이나 할까?
We’ve got nothing to do, so how about taking a walk?

• 돈이 부족하니까 카페라떼 대신에 아메리카노 마셔야겠어요.
I’m low on money, so I think I’ll have to drink an Americano or something rather than a cafe latte.

• 오늘 오후에 시간 있으면 인사동에 갑시다.
If you’ve got time this afternoon, let’s go somewhere like Insadong.

1. When attached to nouns indicating a particular time, 에나 must be used, while both (이)나 and 에나 can be attached to nouns indicating a place.
• 오후에는 조금 바쁘니까 이따 저녁에 만납시다.
• 미국은 너무 머니까 가까운 일본에나 다녀오자.
= 미국은 너무 머니까 가까운 일본이나 다녀오자.

2. The past tense cannot be used after ‘(이)나’. Moreover, sentences that end in the imperative or propositive form sound the most natural with this expression.
• 여행이나 했어요. (X)
->여행이나 합시다. (〇)
여행이나 할까요? (〇)

3. This expression should be used together with an expression indicating one’s intention or will.
• (저는) 여행이나 했어요. (X)
->(저는) 여행이나 할래요. (〇)
• (저는) 여행이나 하고 싶어요. (X)
->(저는) 여행이나 하려고 해요. (〇)

The expression (이)나 can carry a number of different meanings as described below. It is important to learn them well to avoid confusion.
⑴ Used to enumerate or express a choice between two or more things.
• 저는 돈이 있으면 책이나 CD 사는 것을 좋아합니다.
I like to buy books or CDs when I have money.

(2) Used to indicate that the amount of something is more than expected.
• 배가 고파서 밥을 3그릇이나 먹 었어요.
I was hungry and ate (as many as) three bowls of rice.

(3) Used to indicate that while something may not be the best choice, it is satisfactory as the second-best option.
• 우리 심심한데 영화 봅시다.
We’re bored, so let’s go to see a movie or something.

>> You can click on the title of each grammar below to learn about the other grammar which also expresses ‘Choice’:
01 아무 + (이)나/아무 + 도
02 (이)나
03 (이)라도
04 -든지 -든지 
05 -(으)ㄴ/는 대신에

>> Full of Intermediate grammar: Click here 

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