How To Say ‘Can’t’ In Korean

Sometimes you come across moments where you have to express that you are not able to or allowed to do something. Sometimes these moments may also come your way when you are residing in Korea. As such, it is important, or at least convenient, to sit down for a moment and learn how to say can’t in Korean. And you’re in luck – today’s lesson will cover just that!

A man showing a stop sign with his hand

How to Say ‘Can’t’ in Korean – 80/20*


     Can’t (impossible) – bulganeung | 불가능

     Can’t (do) – ㄹ/eul su eopda | ㄹ/을 수 없다

     Can’t (don’t) – ㄹ jul moreuda | ㄹ 줄 모르다

     Can’t (don’t) – mothada | 못하다

     Can’t (allow) – ~myeon andoeda | ~면 안되다


How to remember (association):

     I can’t bathe without soap, dad. (수 없다/su eopda)

*80/20 Pareto Principle – The 20% you should learn that will give you 80% of the results.


Can't read Korean yet? Click here to learn for free in about 90 minutes!


‘Can’t’ in Korean

The closest option to the word ‘can’t’ as vocabulary would be 불가능 (bulganeung), which translates to ‘impossible’, or that something cannot be done. However, to learn how to say can’t in Korean, you need to be aware that it is more often expressed as a part of grammar rather than new vocabulary. There are a few grammar patterns with which you can express this, depending on what meaning you are after.

The first grammar pattern with which to say can’t in Korean is -ㄹ/을 수 없다 (-ㄹ/eul su eopda). For example, if you combine it with the verb 가다 (gada), which means ‘to go’, you get 갈 수 없다 (gal su eopda), which translates to ‘can’t go’. Of course, you will need add more to the sentence for it to make sense.

The second option to use is -ㄹ 줄 모르다 (- ㄹ jul moreuda). This is the structure you can use to express that you do not know how to do something, for example if you do not know how to cook.

The third one is -면 안되다 (- myeon andoeda). This one you will use when you want to say that someone is not allowed to do something.

Another option in some cases is 못하다 (mothada). This is similar to -ㄹ 줄 모르다 (- ㄹ jul moreuda), although it is often used together with the word 잘 (jal) to indicate that one is not good at something rather than that one doesn’t at all know how to do something.

Baby bathing

To remember how to say can’t in Korean we’ll create an English association for it. This can be any word, phrase, or image that helps you recall the Korean word and its meaning. We’ll create an association for the first grammar pattern: 수 없다 (su eopda).

So how can we remember 수 없다 (su eopda)? It sounds like you’re saying soap dad.


I can’t bathe without soap, dad(수 없다/su eopda)

A word of caution about Romanization

While it is possible for you to study the words in this article simply by reading their romanized versions, it will come in handy for you to be able to read Hangeul if you ever wish to come to Korea. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet, and not difficult to learn. In fact, you can learn it in just 90 minutes.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with Hangeul, life in Korea will suddenly seem so much easier and the country won’t appear so foreign for you. So, if you’re serious about learning Korean, why not learn Hangeul today?


Sample Sentences



1. 미안하지만 오늘 만날 수 없어요. → I’m sorry but I cannot meet today.

(mianhajiman oneul mannal su eopseoyo.)


2. 저는 아직 스페인어를 하나도 할 줄 몰라요. → I cannot speak any Spanish yet.

(jeoneun ajik seupeineoreul hanado hal jul mollayo.)



1. 더 이상 그 남자의 말을 믿을 수 없어서 헤어졌어. → I could no longer believe in his words so I broke up with him.

(deo isang geu namjaui mareul mideul su eopseoseo heeojyeosseo.)


2. 오늘 술 마시면 안돼. → We can’t drink today.

(oneul sul masimyeon andwae.)


Want more Korean phrases? Click here for a complete list!


Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto


Was this post helpful?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *