[when do we plan?]

A curious difference between English and Korean is the way we refer to future intentions.

In English, we say the phrase “I plan to” in present tense to indicate something we intend to do in the future: I plan to go home.

Like English, Korean has several different structures to indicate different levels of intentionality. In English, we construct these forms out of various words that color the meaning: I’m thinking of going; I mean to go; I plan to go. In Korean, it’s done with verb endings that don’t have independent meaning.

For the strongest level of intentionality short of I will — translated by my textbook as plan to — Korean uses the form ~기로 하다 (~giro hada). And what strikes me as interesting is that the past tense — ~기로 했어요 (~giro haesseoyo) — is used where we use the present.

Here’s an example:

Korean: 오늘 저는 집에 가기로 했어요. (Oneul jeoneun jip-e gagiro haesseoyo.)

Translation: I plan to go home today.

Literal translation: I planned to go home today.

I think the Korean formulation is more accurate in a certain sense. By the time something is set as your intention, you’re done with the planning. Of course, the Korean grammar form doesn’t quite literally mean to plan, so it’s hard to say. Still, the idea is that you set your intention in the past, and now that intention carries on separate from your ongoing creation of it. In English, by contrast, if you say I planned to go home today, the implication is that you now have a different intent; only by maintaining the plan in the present tense — by continuing to plan — do you demonstrate that your will remains firm.