Word formation: ~다랗다, ~막하다, ~스름하다

While reading the Hobbit, I kept on coming across the word 나지막하다.  I couldn’t figure out what it meant, but eventually asked my wife, and felt dumb for not figuring it out earlier.  It means “somewhat low”, and I could’ve figured out the meaning by looking at the beginning: 나ㅈ, which syllabified differently is 낮 as in 낮다, low.

I’ve read mostly non-fiction until now, so I’m meeting a lot of descriptive words I haven’t seen before.  It really helps to look at just a part of the word, because so many are based on common words.  I’m pretty good at figuring out words from their parts, but I’m having to get used to a lot of new ones that are applied to adjectives:

base+막하다: somewhat ~, ~ish

eg. 나지막하다 (from 낮다), 야트막하다 (from 얕다), 느지막하다 (from 늦다 / 느직하다)

base+다랗다: in some cases very, other cases rather

e.g. 가느다랗다 (가늘다), 커다랗다 (from 크다), 굵다랗다, 깊다랗다

base+스름하다: somewhat~

e.g. 가느스름하다, 누르스름하다, 동그스름하다, 똥그스름하다

The last two illustrate another principle in word formation that you need to be aware of to figure out adjectives: 쌍 letters and aspirated letters are often  used to strengthen the meaning (센말).   This is especially so with 의성어/의태어/colours, but also with any adjective.  So 동그스름하다 means somewhat round, and 똥그스릅하다 is basically the same thing, but stronger.  A “larger” meaning can also be obtained by changing yang to yin vowels, e.g. ㅏ->ㅓ, ㅗ->ㅜ, so 뚱그스름하다 has a larger and stronger meaning.  Neither of the last two are in my 한영 dictionary though, so I’m going of the 국어사전, which doesn’t give much explanation…

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