Korean Grammar for Beginners
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.
Let’s learn the basics of Korean grammar!
Is Korean grammar difficult?
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Korean grammar is difficult or easy. Like many Asian languages, it’s quite different from English. But it follows rules and sentence structure that makes sense. 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 structure like this.
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 structure, such as English, this may sound confusing and incorrect.
Korean, Japanese, and to some extent German, all use SVO in their grammar. You’ll understand why this 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:
- 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, the verb needs to be conjugated based on the context. This means that Korean verbs follow certain 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).
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 it 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 베트남사람이에요. (jeoneun beteunamsaramieyo) = I am a Vietnamese person
- 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:
- 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:
- 나는 남동생이 있어요 (naneun namdongsaengi isseoyo) = I have a little brother
- 나는 가방이 있어요 (naneun gabangi isseoyo) = I have a bag
Conjugation – 없다 (eopda)
Next, 없다 (eopda) is the opposite of 있다, meaning “to not have”. It is conjugated the same as 있다. Here are 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
Korean Verb Tenses
We’ve already mentioned tenses in the previous sections, here’s a quick read-through of them in Korean.
- V + ㅂ니다/습니다 (mnida/seumnida) = honorific verb, present
- V + 아요/어요 (ayo/eoyo) = polite/formal verb, present
- V + 야/이야 (ya/iya) = casual/informal verb, present
- V + 았어요/었어요 (asseoyo/eosseoyo) = polite/formal verb, past
- V + 았어/었어 (asseo/eosseo) = casual/informal verb, past
- V + 겠어요 (gesseoyo) = polite/formal verb, future
- V + ㄹ/을 거예요 (l/eul geoyeyo) = polite/formal verb, future
- V + 겠어 (gesseo) = casual/informal verb, future
- V + 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 structure to follow in a given situation. It also 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 the other negative verb forms.
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 미국사람 안이에요 (naneun miguksaram 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 미국사람이지 않아요*
*Note: This is not typically the most natural way to express it, although it is grammatically correct.
These two 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 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. Stick with us and we'll make Korean language learning fun and easy!
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