Usually you won’t notice a corrupt hard drive under Mac OS X unless it tells you so or because you checked your hard drive in Disk Utils.
If it is broken to some degree Disk Utils will let you fix them or tells you to reformat your hard drive. In some cases that is not an option.
In my case I had a broken hard drive that wouldn’t let me resize the partitions and I wasn’t able to install Linux on a separate partition. Everything failed. My DuperDrive only reads CDs. So no OS X install DVD to run DiskUtils from another drive. Runing the Disk Utils from the recovery partition didn’t let me fix or reformat the hard drive either (because it’s on the same hard drive after all) and the internet recovery mode didn’t even start. Neither the USB recovery disk I created.
Being smart I burned on another Mac a rare CD-sized Lubuntu Distro which I also intended to install on my main Mac. It offers gparted, the Linux partition manager. Running that from another medium brought hope to fixing the hard drive partition mess. It failed. It said something about a corrupt catalog on the mac partition and wasn’t able to fix it. Not being able to fix the problem in one place also meant no resizing the partition in the other place. And I was stuck with the same old disk.
Turning out to be even smarter than that I remembered single mode for my Mac. I rebooted the Mac and started up in single mode. Now this has two advantages: first it is the system loaded in memory and second it has all the mac specific tools on board (unlike gparted with Linux tools). Running fsck on the mac partition worked its way through broken b-trees and corrupt catalog data and in the end I had a working hard drive with no more errors and I was able to resize the partition to create free space on it which Lubuntu magically filled with Linux.
I don’t exacly remember the fsck comman I used but it was something simple. Like, fix that partition when you find errors.