I tried to sum up the 3 main definitions of this grammatical principle in the title, but it really can’t be done. Just ignore the title, and let’s pull this thing apart. But first:
How to attach it:
When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a consonant, use 으로.
When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a vowel, use 로.
We’ll look at examples further down.
What it means:
There are actually three things that -(으)로 can mean. You will know which it is through…… context. Always and forever.
Meaning 1: “via, using, with”
This usage will not always be translated to the same English word, but you’ll find that its meaning is more or less the same. Let’s see some English sentence examples.
- “I made this out of play-doh.” In Korean, we would attach -(으)로 to “play-doh”. In other words -(으)로 means “out of” or “using” the thing it’s attached to.
- “I built this house with my own hands.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “hands”. In other words -(으)로 means “using” or “via” the thing it’s attached to. Not so different from the example above, is it? But obviously no one builds a house out of hands, so we know that this is the more suitable definition of -(으)로.
- “They’re singing in Korean.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “Korean”. In other words -(으)로 means “using” or “via” the language it’s attached to. I would say this definition is identical to the first one, but for some reason we use a different word in English.
- “I had ramen for supper.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “supper”. This one seems a little different, and maybe it is, but it’s not so hard to understand.
- “This restaurant is famous for its garlic bread.” ~ Here we’d attach -(으로) to garlic bread. If you think about it, “This restaurant is famous via its garlic bread”, while not being a natural English sentence, makes sense. So this meaning isn’t really different either.
Meaning 2: “toward”, “to”, or “into”
“He walked toward the stage.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “stage”.
“I want to go back to the time when I was a teenager.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “time”, because that’s what we want to go to.
“Her words went right into my heart.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “heart”.
You’ll sometimes see this use of -(으)로 combined with -에게 (-에게로) with no change in meaning. -에게 also means “to X”.
Meaning 3: “into” or “as”
“I was born as a butcher’s son.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “son”.
“I suddenly turned into a goat.” Here we’d attach -(으)로 to “goat’.
All clear? Perfect. Let’s look at lots and lots of examples.
K-pop 아이돌로 태어나 다시 환생한 artist. ~ “Born as a K-pop idol. reincarnated as an artist.”
Original noun: 아이돌 – idol
아이비와 거친 나무로 된 mic ~ “The mic made of ivy and coarse wood”
Original noun: 나무 – wood, tree
Boy With Luv
그때 니가 내게 줬던 두 날개로 ~ “[flying] with the two wings you gave me back then.”
Original noun: 날개 – a wing
Also Boy With Luv
태양이 아닌 너에게로 ~ “not toward the sun, but toward you.”
Original noun: 너 – you
Make It Right
되돌아가자 그때로 ~ “Let’s go back to that time.”
Original noun: 그때 – that time, back then
7년의 걱정이 드디어 입 밖으로 ~ “7 years of worry, finally out of my mouth.”
Original noun: 밖 – the outside of something (So the literal translation would be “towards the outside of my mouth.”)
70억 개의 빛으로 빛나는… ~ “Shining with the light of 7 billion people”
Original noun: 빛 – light
넌 나의 기억을 추억으로 바꿀 사람. 사람을 사랑으로 만들 사람 ~ “You are the person who turns my mundane memories into cherished ones”
Original nouns: 추억 – memory & 사랑 – love
Best of Me
너의 언어로 말을 하고 ~ “I’m speaking your language.”
Original noun: 언어 – language
One final note:
There is a separate grammatical principle -대로 that, as you can see, looks similar to this one. We’ll study that in a separate lesson.