Wednesday, November 28, 2012


     Last week, I was scolded by my superior when I made a mistake saying "1/4" of a can of some chemical needed for work.

     Some months before that, I asked how "1/4" is said in Korean from the same guy. I know how to say "half of something" as it's commonly used to tell time.  Half past 1 o'clock is Hanshi Pan (1시 반).  Breaking that down, "hana" is "one," "shi" is "hour," and "pan" means "half."
"But what about this?" I asked as I wrote the figures 1/4 on a piece of paper.
"Sabun-ui il. (4분의 일)" He said as he nods with content, knowing he taught me something.

Since it was verbal, I couldn't figure out how it was written so I couldn't break it down.  What I noticed, though, is it was read denominator first then numerator.  Sounds simple but it takes some adjusting.  But then I thought of other ways of reading fractions.  We used to say, "one over four" especially when giving scores on tests or some sport.  So I asked, "Il dae sa-nun? (일 대 사는?)" and he just nodded.  I guess that should be easier since it's read the same way in English: Numerator before denominator.

     So last Saturday at work, when I mis-spoke the fraction 1/4 saying, "Il dae sa (일 대 사)" my superior loudly corrected me.  I wouldn't blame him getting angry.  We were talking about mixing chemicals for the next day's work, after all.  I think he noticed my confused expression 'cause he came beside me to explain with hand gestures now.
"You divide the can by four." He says making chopping motions with his hand on the can.
"Then one of them is number one, the next is number two."  He continued.

     This time I understand in my mind I spelled it wrong (4번에 일).  When speaking of fractions, say 1/4 for example, it should be analyzed as:
Out of the four divisions (사분의) is the first part (일).  That's Sabun-ui il.

     Understanding it, though, doesn't change the fact that it's read the other way around from English.  Denominator before numerator.

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