The Korean language is full of nuanced words and expressions that when translated to English, often lose their meaning completely. One example of this is the expression “마음에 들다”. Literally translated word by word, "마음에 들다" means to enter one's heart or, something has entered one’s heart. However, it is usually translated as “to like” in English, which would be more accurately described in Korean by saying “좋아하다” (joh-a hada).
마음에 들다 (ma-eum-e deulda) is generally used when you first like someone or something, or when you change your opinion of someone or something and the feeling of liking them or it is new. Simply put, you would not use 마음에 들다 to describe something that you’ve liked for ages, but something that caused the feeling to occur for the first time.
Is a passive action. You are satisfied or pleased with something or someone. You did not intend for it to happen, but something or someone has entered your heart, and the result is that you like it!
This phrase can also be used in the opposite sense, where if you experience something for the first time and you did not like it, you can say that you did not enjoy it. If you want to say that something did not enter your heart, you can make the sentence negative by saying “마음에 안 들어요.”
To illustrate the proper usage of 마음에 들다, let’s take a look at some sample situations where you could use 마음에 들다 in a natural way!
It’s your birthday and someone has given you a present, you have not known this person for long and this is the first present you have received from them. You open it in front of them and it turns out to be something that suits you perfectly! You turn to them and say excitedly: “이거 마음에 들어요.”
I recently gave a friend of mine a bracelet I had made, putting in a lot of effort into making sure the colours would suit her well so she would want to wear it. When I finally gave it to her she was so surprised with how much she loved it and said 마음에 들다. Before knowing exactly what the term meant, I simply thought she was happy and liked it. But in that situation, the term carried a more sentimental nuance of not expecting to love the present so much, but being happily surprised by her feelings toward the gift.
Summer in Korea is hot - and I mean hot - and sunny except for a period of time between July and September when it is rainy season in Korea. In Korean, the rainy season is referred to as 장마 (jangma) and with it comes heavy downpours that sometimes last an entire week! You are known as being someone who loves summer and the hot sunny days that come with the season, but recently you began to take a liking to the rainy days in the middle of the summer.
While chatting with a friend one day at a cafe you look outside the window at the rain falling and say to your friend that these days you really enjoy the rain: “요즘 나는 비가 마음에 들어요.” This is something new to you because it was never something you liked before but only recently started finding comfort in.
In South Korea - and in Seoul especially - there are tons of restaurants to choose from and new “hot places” popping up every day. You like eating Korean food and have some favourite restaurants that you know and love which you frequent. One day you are out with a friend and you both get hungry, she suggests a restaurant nearby that she likes and says that the food is really good! You are skeptical because you have never been there and never heard about it, but agree because she really wants to go! While you are there you try some new Korean dishes that you have never seen on the menu of the restaurants you usually frequent and really take a liking to them! After the dinner is finished and you are getting ready to leave, you tell your friend how much you enjoyed the meal and trying something new, which in Korean you could use the phrase: “이 식당을 마음에 들어요.”
South Korea is a beautiful country with many cities that all offer something new and different from the next. Because of the relatively small size of the country, getting from one city to the next is especially easy thanks to the country's high-speed KTX train system. However, since moving to Korea you have spent most of your time in Seoul exploring and getting to know the city that you live in. One day, someone suggests you take a weekend trip to Busan in the south, since the dialect (사투리), food, and feeling of the city is much different than in Seoul!
You spend the weekend there exploring Busan City and at the end of the trip, after just a short time you have discovered a place that you love as much as Seoul! You did not know what to expect and did not think you would feel this way about Busan, the city has entered your heart and you have a newfound affinity to this place. You can express this feeling by saying: “부산을 마음에 들어요.”
In Korea, a popular way of meeting people is through blind dates (소개팅) set up by close friends or family members! These people know you well and believe that they have someone that would be a good match for you. You have recently been on some dates and been disappointed with each of them, so your friend suggests a blind date! She has someone in mind that she knows and thinks you would get along with well, so she sets up a date for you. You have never met this person before and do not know what to expect, so you don’t really have any expectations for the date to go exceptionally well. But after meeting the person you end up hitting it off and talking for hours, it’s better than you could have imagined and you are blown away by your connection. You text your friend after to tell her about your day and how the date went and you say to her how happy you are: “오늘 마음에 들었어요.”
When you first use this phrase it might feel a bit like you are guessing in which situations it feels right to use, the best way to understand 마음에 들다 is to listen to examples of how locals use it in sentences. It is not something that you will hear as often as 좋아하다 - since this is easier to use in different situations - but when you do hear 마음에 들다, take note of the situation that has just occurred, or the subject of the conversation! Once you understand the feeling behind 마음에 들다, it is a super easy phrase to use to further express yourself when speaking Korean.