-아 보다 / -어 보다 – to give it a try

First of all, how to attach it. -아 보다 / -어 보다 is used with verbs only. Attach it by following these rules. Technically, there is a space in between the -어 / -아 and the 보다, but you’ll often see it written with no space.

This is one of the few grammatical principles that I never include in my grammar lessons. The reason is the nuance is not definable in a single sentence, and also it doesn’t really chance the meaning of the word it’s attached to by a significant amount.

The verb 보다 means “to look at” / “to see”. The grammatical principle we’re learning in this lesson is actually simply the addition of 보다 to another verb to create a compound verb. You can read a bit about compound verbs in The Beginner’s Toolbox.

Adding -아보다/-어보다 creates a meaning of “to try something”. But we’re not talking about trying in the sense of struggling to do something. We’re not saying, “I’m trying to learn Korean.” That implies effort. We’re saying more like, “I’m trying coke.” See the difference? It’s more like “to give something a try”.

This nuance is pretty subtle, and in most cases it wouldn’t even be necessary to include “to try X” when translating it to English.

Very often, this principle gets added to verbs when telling someone to do something.

Examples:

FAKE LOVE:
어봐. 사랑해 말해봐. ~ “Smile. Say you love me.”
Original verbs: 웃다 – to smile, to laugh & 말하다 – to speak, to say
Although there may be a nuance of “try smiling” or “try saying you love me”, it’s not such a strong nuance that I would translate the line as “Try smiling. Try to say you love me.”

So What:
더 크게 소리질러봐. ~ “Shout louder.”
Original verb: 소리 지르다 – to yell, to shout

I Need U:
나 무슨 짓을 해봐도 ~ “No matter what I do/try to do.”
Original verb: 하다 – to do

Save Me:
내 심장소릴 들어봐 ~ “Listen to the sound of my heart.”
Original verb: 듣다 – to hear, to listen to