Korean Grammar for Beginners

Last Updated on February 24, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
Four multi-ethnic people at a table celebrating - Korean grammar title image

Learning Korean? If you’re studying the Korean language then you’ll need to have your Korean grammar down!

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!

Four multi-ethnic people at a table celebrating - Korean grammar title image

Here is a free PDF guide that you can download and take with you:

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.

eight people communicating with Korean words

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. Note that we’ll mention Korean honorific verbs. Go here if you’re not familiar with them yet.

Korean Conjugation

One of the basic Korean grammar rules you need to learn is conjugation. In Korean grammar, there are 2 things you can conjugate. These are verbs and adjectives.

The conjugations of Korean verbs and adjectives help set the tense, tone, and mood in sentences. In this lesson, we’ll talk about conjugations of verbs 하다 (hada), 이다 (ida),  and 있다 (itda). We’ll also have the opposite of 있다 (itda) which is 없다 (eopda).

Conjugation –

The verb 하다 (hada) generally means “to do” in English. It is usually attached to words to make them either action verbs or descriptive verbs. For example:

공부 (gongbu | study) + 하다 (hada | to do)= 공부하다  (gongbuhada | to study)

요리 (yori | cook)+ 하다 (hada | to do) = 요리하다 (yorihada | to cook)

Below are the conjugation examples of the verb 하다 (hada):

  • 하다 (hada) = standard form
  • 해요 (haeyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel or consonant, present
  • 했어요 (haesseoyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel or consonant, past*
  • 했었어요 (haesseosseoyo) = polite/formal ending verb for nouns ending in a vowel or consonant, past perfect*

Conjugation –

The verb 이다 (ida) is the Korean equivalent of “to be” in English. It is usually used to identify people and objects. When using it to form sentences, it can be used with the following sentence structure:

Subject and particle + Noun입니다

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*
  • (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 (ida) on a casual level, use this form and simply drop the 요 (yo) 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 (ida) to see:

    60 replies to "Korean Grammar for Beginners"

    • Avatar for Carlos Magalhães Carlos Magalhães

      The verb 하다 (hada) has no honorific form?

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Hi, Carlos! It changes to ‘하시다’ in honorific form. ^^

    • Avatar for yanna yanna

      있습니다 (itseumnida) = honorific verb, present
      있습니까? (itseumnikka) = honorific verb, present

      is 있습니까? honorific verb same as 있습니다, i’m thinking that 있습니까? is honorific question verb, present i was thinking that you forgot to type the word *question* or they really the same?? thanks

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        That’s right, Yanna! “있습니까” is a question and it’s the honorific verb form. ^^

    • Avatar for Carmella Carmella

      This is all super helpful, but I was just wondering: All of the conjugations for ‘없다’ are the exact same as the ones for ‘있다’? You just change one part of the word?

    • Avatar for Aileene Aileene

      This is so helpful!! It makes much more sense now when reading and when I want to form simple verb sentences. I’ve already used some of the example sentences as templates and just replaced the object (and made sure the ending verb was the correct one for it based on consonant/vowel ending) and I’m doing it right so far. Thank you!!

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        That’s great. We’re glad that it has been valuable to you. ^^

    • Avatar for Han Minsu/ 한민수 Han Minsu/ 한민수

      In the “Korean Verb Tenses” this blog post says “We’ve already mentioned tenses in the previous sections, here’s a quick rundown of some of them in Korean.”
      Could you send the link to where tenses are taught? Thank you!

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Hi, Minsu! Tenses are only taught in this post, and what we meant by “We’ve already mentioned tenses in the previous sections” is that we have listed the examples of tenses for the words ‘이다’, ‘있다’, and ‘없다’. ^^

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