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Grammar Notes Korean

When compared to other Languages, on a fundamental level, the Korean grammar is actually very simple. The most important aspect of speaking Korean is to be aware of WHO you are talking to. Korean culture is heavily hierarchical, so the way you talk to an adult and the way you talk to a child is very different. When in doubt, play it safe and speak formally.

When saying 안녕하세요? [ahn-nyung-ha-seh-yo?] / Hello. It is often slurred together so that in effect, it sounds like this: 안년아세요? [an-nyun-ah-se-yo]
안녕히셰세요 [ahn-nyoung-ee-gay-seh-yo] sounds like, 안니계세요 [an-ni-gay-se-yo]
안녕히가세요 [an-nyoung-ee-ga-se-yo] sounds like, 안니가세요 [an-ni-ga-se-yo]

Nouns are very simple in Korean. There are no tones, articles, genders, and it is not necessary to distinguish between singular and plural.

To connect nouns we use the word 'and'.

남자 [nam-ja] / Man
여자 [yuh-ja] / Woman
소년 [sp-nyun] / Boy
소녀 [so-nyuh] / Girl

Connecting nouns with 'and' uses the formula Noun1 and Noun2. The only thing you need to pay attention to is whether or not Noun1 ends with a consonant or a vowel:

1. If Noun1 ends with a consonant, then we link it with the next noun by adding 과 [kwa] after Noun1.
2. If Noun1 ends with a vowel, then we add 와 [wa] at the end of Noun1.

Here is an example with our most basic form of 'and' which is 와/과 [wa/kwa]:

Man and Woman is 남자와 여자 [nam-ja-wa-yuh-ja] in Korean because 남자 ends withㅏ[ah] which is a vowel.

Boy and Girl is 소년과 소녀 [so-nyuhn-kwa-so-nyuh] because 소년 ends with ㄴ[n] which is a consonant.

The basic sentence structure using verbs in Korean is:

Subject + Object + Verb, whereas in English it is: Subject + Verb + Object.

There is no conjugation based on the subject like what we have in English, such as I am, You are, He is, etc.... Instead we conjugate based on WHO we are talking to.

Verb tenses will be discussed in details in Chapter 6.

Adjectives in Korean come before the noun in the same way that we do it in English. However, adjectives can act like verbs and can be put at the end of the sentence when we are making a statement about something.

If we want to declare that something is good, we will use 좋다 [joht-da] / good like a verb and put it at the end of the sentence like this:

이 셔츠가 좋아요.
This shirt is good.

But if we want to say something about a good shirt, then we change basic form 좋다 [joht-da] to its adjective form 좋은 [joh-eun] by dropping the 다 [da] and adding an 은 [eun].

내가 좋은 셔츠를 샀어요.
I bought a good shirt.

In this sentence, we are not making a declarative statement describing how the shirt is; we are talking about an action that took place with the good shirt. Thus, 좋은 [joh-eun] comes before the word for shirt.

To conjugate a word into its adjective form we drop 다 [da] and replace with:
1. ㄴ [n] - for words whose final syllable ends with a vowel
2. 은 [eun] – for words whose final syllable ends with a consonant

Present Tense

Since formality is very essential in the Korean language, it is discussed below together with how to form the present tense of the verb.

Three levels of formality starting from most informal to most formal:

1. Informal form

소년은 쌀을 좋아해
The boy likes rice.

2. Adding 요 at the end of a verb usually makes it formal enough to speak with most adults.


소년은 쌀을 좋아해요.

3. The final level of formality is by adding ㅂ니다.

소년은 쌀을 좋아합니다.

Generally stick with adding 요 at the end of your sentences and when in doubt, to be overly formal.

Another example, all three of these sentences means: The woman is standing.

여자는 서있어. [yuh-ja-neun-suh-ee-suh]
여자는 서있어요. [yuh-ja-neun-suh-ee-suh-yo]
여자는 서있습니다. [yuh-ja-neun-suh-ee-seub-nee-da]

Past Tense

3 groups of verbs to form the past tense of the verb:

1. Verbs that end with consonants:

먹다 [muhk-da] is the basic form of the verb meaning 'to eat'.

To make it into the past tense, it is conjugated like this:
먹었어 [muhg-uh-suh]
먹었어요 [muhg-uh-suh-yo]
먹었습니다 [muhg-uhs-seub-nee-da]

These are the 3 conjugations starting from least to most formal. Notice that we drop the 다 [da] from the basic form and put either 었어 [uh-suh] 었어요 [uh-suh-yo] or 었습니다 [uhs-seub-nee-da] at the end.

2. Verbs that end with vowels:

가다 [gah-da] is the basic form of the verb meaning 'to go'.

To make it into the past tense, it is conjugated like this:
갔어 [gah-suh]
갔어요 [gah-suh-yo]
갔습니다 [gahs-seub-nee-da]

Notice that the conjugation is the same except that we put the double 's' [ㅆ] at the bottom of the word before adding the rest of the words.

3. Verbs that end with 하다 [ha-da]: A lot of verbs in Korean end with 하다 [ha-da] and fortunately they are the easiest to conjugate.

좋아하다 [joh-ah-ha-da] is the basic form of the verb 'to like'.

To make it into the past tense, it is conjugated like this:
좋아해 [joh-ah-hey]
좋아해요 [joh-ah-hey-yo]
좋아합니다 [joh-ah-hab-nee-da]

Future Tense

Take a look at the examples below and observe how each verbs are conjugated to future tense, all starting from least respectful and moving up to most respectful.

Basic form: 먹다 [muhk-da] / to eat
먹을거야 [muhg-eul-kuh-ya]
먹을거예요 [muhg-uhl-kay-yo]
먹겠습니다 [muhk-gess-seub-nee-da]

Basic form: 가다 [gah-da] / to go
갈거야 [gahl-kuh-ya]
갈거예요 [gahl-kuh-ay-yo]
가겠습니다 [ga-gess-seub-nee-da]

Study these patterns carefully and apply them to new verbs you learn in the future.

To further explain the use of Prepositions in Korean, take a look at the sample below:

애기는 차 안에 있어요.
The baby is in the car.

In this example, 애기 [ae-gee] means 'The baby', 는 [neun] is the marker for the subject, 차 [cha] means 'car', 안 [ahn] means 'in', 에 [eh] is the particle that indicates a location, 있어요 [eh] is the verb meaning 'is' and because it has 요 at the end, it is formal. Thus, the sentence breaks down in English like this: The Baby (는) Car in (에) is.

Here is a list of prepositions that you can swap with 안 to change the meaning of the sentence.

Under - 밑 [meet] or 아래 [ah-rae]
Behind - 뒤 [dwee]
in front of - 앞 [ahp]
next to - 옆 [yuhp]
on/above - 위 [wee]


Personal Pronouns are not as useful as they are in English, because in Korean you generally refer to people by their title. Be very careful when using a pronoun to talk about someone else because the words you, he, and she are often very rude. Remember that you can generally omit the subject as well. Also, there are 2 versions of most personal pronouns; one for formal situations and one for informal situations.

I/me - 나 [nah] (informal) 저 [juh] (formal)
you - 너 [nuh] (very informal!) 당신 [dahng-sheen](formal)
he - 그 [keu] (informal)
she - 그 녀 [keu-nyuh] (informal)

너는 김치를 좋아해?
Do you like Kimchi?

그 녀가 스테이크를 먹어요?
Does she eat steak?

저는 학생이예요.
I am a student.

we/us - 우리 [oo-ree] (informal) 저희 [juh-ee] (formal)
they/them - 걔네들 [gay-nay-deul] [very informal]

우리가 숙제를 다 했어.
We finished our homework.

걔네들이 뭘 해?
What are they doing?

Remember that we can make any of these pronouns in its possessive form by placing the possessive particle 의 (technically pronounced [eu-ee], but often said as [eh] in conversation) after any pronoun.

나의 [na-eh] / my
나의 자전거는 파란색이야.
My bike is blue.

걔네들의 학교가 거기에 있어요.
Their school is over there.

There are two ways to make negative sentences in Korean.

1. The first way is to simply put 안 [ahn] before the verb.

소년은 쌀을 안좋아해요.
The boy doesn't like rice.

2. The second way is to take the basic form of the verb and put 지 않아 [jee-ahn-ah-yo] at the end of it.

소년은 쌀을 좋아하지 않아요.
The boy doesn't like rice.

Both methods for making negative sentences have exactly the same meaning, so you can use whichever one is most comfortable for you.

Compared to other languages, questions in Korean are actually very easy. When we ask a question in Korean, we don't need to change the sentence at all. Like in English, you just need to put a question mark at the end of the sentence and raise the tone of your voice on the last word.

소년은 쌀을 좋아해요.

This sentence means, The boy likes rice. In order to make it a question, all we have to do is put a question mark at the end and the meaning changes to, 'Does the boy like rice?' And of course when speaking, you want to raise the tone of your voice on the final 요 [yo] to indicate that you are asking a question.

The only time the sentence changes because it is a question is when we use the formal tense 습/ㅂ 니다 [seub/b nee-da].

How do you do?

This is the formal form [ㅂ니다] but you can see that at the end, 다 [da] has been replaced with 까 [kka]. Remember that when asking a question with the formal form, replace the final 다 with a 까.

Question Words:
뭐 [mwo] – what
언제 [uhn-jeh] – when
어디 [uh-dee] – where
누구 (noo-goo) – who
왜 [way] – why
몇 [myuht] - how many (used any time you are asking a question about a number)


The question word where 어디 [uh-dee].

소년은 어디에 있어요?
Where is the boy?

Since we are asking about where the boy is, 어디 [uh-dee] is marked with the 에어디 particle which indicates location. Remember that when we want to say, Something is somewhere, we use the verb 있다 [eet-dda] which is conjugated into 있어요 [ee-suh-yo].


We have 4 words that can all mean 'what' in English. They are:

1. 뭐 [mwo] / what
2. 무슨 or 어떤 [moo-seun ] or [ uh-ddun] / which or what
3. 몇 [myuht] / how many (used with any number)

소녀는 뭐를 먹어요?
What is the girl eating?

If we break this sentence down, we can see that 소녀 [so-nyuh] means girl, 는 [neun] is the marker for the subject, 뭐 [mwo] means 'what', 를 [reur] is the marker for the object, and 먹어요 [muh-guh-yo] means eat with a 요 [yo] put on the end to make it more formal.

For 무슨 [mooseun] and 어떤 [uh-ddun], these two words have the same meaning and are virtually 100% interchangeable. They can mean what, which, and what kind of.

차는 무슨 색깔이예요?
What color is the car?

In the sample sentence 차 [cha] means car, 는 [neun] is the marker for the subject, 무슨[moo-seun] means 'what' and it is attached to the thing you are asking about which in this case is the color, 색깔 [sayk-kal] means color, and 이예요 [ee-aye-yo] is the verb meaning 'to be'.

어떤 차를 좋아해요?
What kind of cars do you like? (It can also mean Which car do you like? depending on the context.)

어떤[uh-ddun] means 'what kind of', 차 [cha] means car, 를 [reur] is the object marker, and 좋아해요 [joh-ah-hay-yo] is the verb 'to like'. Again, 어떤is placed in front of the noun you are asking about.

When we compare two things in Korean, we usually follow this form:

A + subject marker + B보다 [boh-da] / + 더 [duh] / + adjective (in verb form). This means that A is more something than B.

소가 고양이보다 더 커요.
The cow is bigger than the cat.

Superlative Comparison

How to say that something is the biggest or the best, let us take a look at the example below:

사진에서 나오는 동물주에서 코끼리가 제일 커요.
The elephant is the biggest animal in the picture.

Although the sentence seems to be complicated, you just have to note that the word 제일 [jay-eel] / the most comes before the adjective 커 [kuh] / big, to change the adjective to its superlative form.

The Korean number system can be a little confusing at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes very natural. There are two number systems in Korean.

Korean is heavily influence by Chinese, so there is the Pure Korean number system and the Sino-Korean number system.

Number: Pure Korean / Sino-Korean
0 : 공 [gohng] / 영 [young]
1 : 하나 [ha-na] / 일 [eel]
2 : 둘 [dool] / 이 [ee]
3 : 셋 [set] / 삼 [sam]
4 : 넷 [net] / 사 [sa]
5 : 다섯 [da-suht] / 오 [oh]
6 : 여섯 [yuh-suht] / 육 [yook]
7 : 일곱 [eel-gohb] / 칠 [cheel]
8 : 여덟 [yuh-dub] / 팔 [pahl]
9 : 아홉 [ah-hohb] / 구 [goo]
10 : 열 [yuhl] / 십 [sheeb]

To make a number bigger than 10 in either system, simply say the word for 10 and then the word for whatever you want to be in the one's column.

To say 14: 십사 [sheeb-sa], because 십 [sheeb] means 10 and 사 [sa] means 4.

To make a number bigger than twenty, simply put 10 after the number you want to represent the ten's value.

24 would be: 이십사 [ee-sheeb-sa], because 이 [ee] means 2, 십 [sheeb] means 10, and 사 [sa] means 4.

Please note that in the Pure Korean System, there are actual words for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90, so this rule only applies to the Sino-Korean system.

When to use each system?:
The general rule is that when counting small values, like anything from 1-20, we use the Pure Korean system. Anything bigger than 20 is generally counted with the Sino-Korean system.