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Today we’ll teach you the basics of Korean grammar so you can start forming sentences that mean exactly what you want to say.
Ready to become a grammar master? Let’s learn the basics of Korean grammar!
Below, we’ll explain Korean grammar using Hangeul (Korean Alphabet) and in romanized English. You can learn the Korean Alphabet in under an hour here.
Is Korean grammar difficult?
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Korean grammar is difficult or easy. Like many Asian languages, the grammar is quite different from English. But like the grammar of any language, Korean grammar follows rules and sentence structure that makes sense. You just need to get used to the primary quirk of its grammar. You may know that English basic grammar follows the structure:
SUBJECT (S) + VERB (V) + OBJECT (O)
For example, I (subject) study (verb) Korean (object). Most languages have a SVO grammar structure like this. The action leads the object so you know what is happening before you know what it’s happening to.
How are Korean sentences structured?
Basic Korean grammar, on the other hand, uses the order:
SUBJECT (S) + OBJECT (O) + VERB (V).
For native speakers of languages that use the SVO grammar structure, such as English, this may sound confusing and incorrect.
Korean, Japanese, and to some extent German, all use SOV in their grammar. You’ll understand why this kind of grammar makes sense when forming a Korean sentence later in the lesson. For now, here are some examples of the sentence structure of Korean to help you get acquainted with the grammar:
- 나는 오렌지를 먹었어요 (naneun orenjireul meogeosseoyo) = I + orange + ate = I ate an orange
- 오빠가 축구를 해요 (oppaga chukgureul haeyo) = Big brother + football + to do = My big brother plays football
- 나는 친구를 만나요 (naneun chingureul mannayo) = I + friend + to meet = I meet my friend
To understand why the Korean language uses grammar like this, you need to understand a bit about Korean verbs and how they work.
Basic Korean Verbs
In Korean grammar, the verb needs to be conjugated based on the context. This means that Korean verbs follow certain grammar rules that control how they’re spelled.
You’ll conjugate the word depending on its tense, level of politeness and whether the connecting vocabulary ends in a vowel or consonant. However, the form does not change depending on the subject! So you don’t have to worry about the Korean particle changing (a topic for another article). Let’s dive a bit further on this grammar point with some examples of conjugation.
Conjugation – 이다 (ida)
Here are conjugation examples for the verb 이다 (ida) – to be:
- 입니다 (imnida) = honorific verb, present tense
- 입니까 (imnikka) = honorific question verb, present
- 이에요 (ieyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a consonant, present
- 예요 (yeyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel, present
- 이었어요 (ieosseoyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a consonant, past*
- 였어요 (yeosseoyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel, past*
- 야 (ya) = casual/informal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel, present
- 이야 (iya) = casual/informal ending verb for nouns ending in a consonant, present
*Note: if you wish to use the past tense for 이다 on a casual level, use this form and simply drop the 요 from its tail
You may be thinking, “that’s quite a bit of vocabulary to remember!”
It gets easier with practice, and this grammar rule allows sentences to be more specific. Read these example sentences for 이다 to see:
- 저는 조아나입니다. (jeoneun joanaimnida) = I am Joana
- 몇 살입니까? (myeot sarimnikka) = How old are you?
- 저는 베트남 사람이에요. (jeoneun beteunamsaramieyo) = I am a Vietnamese person
- 저는 가수예요. (jeoneun gasuyeyo) I am a singer.
- 그는 군인이었어요. (geuneun guninieosseoyo) He was a soldier.
- 그는 좋은 친구였어요. (geuneun joheun chinguyeosseoyo) He was a good friend.
- 나는 남자야. (naneun namjaya) = I am a man
- 나는 경찰이야. (naneun gyeongchariya) = I am a police officer
In the case of 이다, you only connect it to a noun, essentially emphasizing the statement.
Conjugation – 있다 (itda)
Let’s look at another verb, 있다 (itda) – to have. Here are its basic conjugations in Korean grammar:
- 있습니다 (itseumnida) = honorific verb, present
- 있습니까? (itseumnikka) = honorific verb, present
- 있었습니다 (isseotseumnida) = honorific verb, past
- 있어요 (isseoyo) = polite/formal verb, present*
- 있었어요 (isseosseoyo) = polite/formal verb, past*
*Note: to create the casual/informal form, simply use these without the 요 at the end
You’ll notice that 있다 conjugates much like 이다, with only slight changes in the letters because of the word itself.
있다 operates more like an adjective than a verb, changing how it works with particles. Hopefully, these examples will help illustrate that:
- 질문이 있습니다. (jilmuni issseumnida) I have a question
- 질문이 있습니까? (jilmuni issseumnikka) Do you have a question?
- 저는 여자친구가 있었습니다. (jeoneun yeojachinguga isseossseumnida) I had a girlfriend
- 나는 남동생이 있어요 (naneun namdongsaengi isseoyo) = I have a little brother
- 나는 가방이 있어요 (naneun gabangi isseoyo) = I have a bag
- 나는 남자친구가 있었어요. (naneun namjachinguga isseosseoyo) I had a boyfriend
- 나는 약속이 있었어요. (naneun yaksoki isseosseoyo) I had an appointment
Conjugation – 없다 (eopda)
Next, 없다 (eopda) is the opposite of 있다, meaning “to not have”. It is conjugated the same as 있다. Here are some grammar examples:
- 저는 언니가 없어요 (jeoneun eonniga eopseoyo) = I don’t have a big sister
- 나는 차가 없어 (naneun chaga eopseo) = I don’t have a car
- 나는 시간이 없었어요 (naneun sigani eopseosseoyo) I didn’t have time
- 나는 현금이 없어요 (naneun hyeongeumi eopseoyo) I don’t have cash
Korean Verb Tenses
We’ve already mentioned tenses in the previous sections, here’s a quick rundown of some of them in Korean.
- Verb + ㅂ니다/습니다 (mnida/seumnida) = honorific verb, present
- Verb + 아요/어요 (ayo/eoyo) = polite/formal verb, present
- Verb + 야/이야 (ya/iya) = casual/informal verb, present
- Verb + 았어요/었어요 (asseoyo/eosseoyo) = polite/formal verb, past
- Verb + 았어/었어 (asseo/eosseo) = casual/informal verb, past
- Verb + 겠어요 (gesseoyo) = polite/formal verb, future
- Verb + ㄹ/을 거예요 (l/eul geoyeyo) = polite/formal verb, future
- Verb + 겠어 (gesseo) = casual/informal verb, future
- Verb + ㄹ/을 거야 (l/eul geoya) = casual/informal verb, future
One plus about Korean verbs is that they generally stick to their conjugation rules, which makes it easier to know the correct grammar structure to follow in a given situation. This helps with deciding what to include in your grammar and vocabulary studies.
Korean Negative Verb Form
Turning sentences into negatives was already mentioned when we introduced you to 없다. Let’s briefly go over some other negative verb forms in Korean grammar.
By adding 안 (an) in front of the verb, excluding 있다, you are creating a negative. For example:
- 오늘 수업을 안들어요 (oneul sueobeul andeureoyo) = I don’t have a class today
- 나는 미국 사람 아니에요 (naneun miguk saram anieyo) = I am not an American
By adding ~지 않다 (~ji anta) to the verb stem, you are also creating a negative. Like this:
- 오늘 수업을 듣지 않아요
- 저는 미국 사람이지 않아요*
*Note: This is not typically the most natural way to express it, although it is grammatically correct.
These two grammar forms are identical in their meaning. With practice, you’ll learn which situations 안 and ~지 않다 sound most natural for.
One note before you finish is their use with the verb 하다. With 안, you will add the negative right in front of 하다, breaking it into an object + verb, like this:
- 요리하다 → 요리를 안했어요 (yorireul anhaesseoyo) = to cook → did not cook
With ~지 않다 you will keep the it intact and instead add the negative at the end, like this:
- 요리하다 → 요리하지 않았어요 (yorihaji anasseoyo) = to cook → did not cook
Again, both grammar forms are correct so practice to get a feel for what sounds most natural for you!
Congratulations! You have now learned the basics of Korean grammar. It's not that hard to learn Korean after all. This is an essential first step in learning Korean and we've got lots more great Korean lessons to help you learn Korean. You might be interested in these topics as well:
- Get a plan for learning Korean here
- If you're thinking of living, traveling, or moving to Korea, go here
- Head over here if you are interested in K-Pop, K-Dramas, or Korean movies
- Check out this page for lots of useful Korean phrases
- Get some of the most common Korean words here
- Go here to learn about Korean culture
Stick with us and we'll make Korean language learning fun and easy!
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