처음 vs. 먼저 vs 일단

A friendly commenter asked and so he shall receive: 처음 vs. 먼저. However, I want to add a bit of extra curiosity to the mix. Enter: 일단.

먼저
Is the Korean version of 先 (먼저 선) which means to "come first". This is indeed the same 선 found in 선생님 (先生님), which in turn can be roughly translated to "person of respect who was born first". This might help to answer the question of why some people who clearly are not teachers by profession get called "선생님". As an aside, in archeologic/geographic terms, 선 can also be used to express "Proto" or "Pre" as in 선캄브리아 (Pre-Cambrian Time) and 선코카소이드 (Proto-Caucasoid). However, it's not a 1:1 match as 原 (원) is another hanja that expresses this meaning. Just keep in mind that it means "to come before" or "first of all" in terms of order.

먼저 가겠습니다
I'm going to leave early*
(*said to coworkers when leaving the lunch table or office before them)

먼저 하세요
You do it first*
(*said to someone you don't know or is higher than you that it's fine of they do whatever they are doing before you. Think of drinking water at a fountain or walking through a door)

먼저 가요
You go first*
(*said to someone leaving a party without any hard feelings)

먼저 할래?
Do you want to do it first?

먼저 이겼다!
I won!
I finished first!

닭이 먼저인가 달걀이 먼저인가?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?


처음
Is also a native Korean expression to signify the first or beginning of something. What distinguishes it is the nuance of being the first time for something. It doesn't imply order but instead an experience or action.

처음 처럼
Like the first time

처음 뵙겠습니다
Nice to meet you
(lit. I'll see you for the first time)

처음부터 기분이 좋았어요
처음부터 마음에 들었어요
I liked it from the beginning

오늘 처음으로 운전했어요
Today was the first time I drove.

그러면 남자친구를 언제 처음 만났어요?
In that case, when did you first meet your boyfriend?

와. 처음 봤어요
Wow. That's the first time I saw it.

이곳에 처음 오신 건가요?
Is this your first time to this place, sir?

그녀는 처음에는 그렇지 않았어요.
She wasn't like that at the beginning.


일단
Is based on (一旦) and means pretty much the same thing as the other examples. Instead of defining it as "first" or "once" though, I would say it's more like "for the time being" and "for the moment". To me, it signifies a temporary fix; a reaction to save a poorly planned event. Perhaps even a conditional clause like "first do this and then...". However, replacing it for the word "once" is also seemingly acceptable.


일단 술을 마시기 시작하면 너무 많이 마시다.
Once I start drinking, I drink too much.

일단 결심하면 고수해야돼요.
Once you make a decision, you should stick with it.

일단 우리집으로 오면 그때 말해 줄게. 알았어?
For the time being, just come home and I'll tell you then. Okay?

여보 어디가요? 일단 우회전하고 좌회전이라고 했어요.
Honey where are you going? I said turn right first, then turn left.

일단 밥을 먹고 그렇게 하자.
For the moment being, let's eat and then do that.

그렇게 춥지 않아. 일단 물 속에 들어오면 괜찮는데...
It's not that cold. Once you get in the water, it's not that bad...

One Response to “처음 vs. 먼저 vs 일단”

Patrick said...

Thanks, man. This is great. Really generous of you. I really appreciate it.