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Lesson 1. Beginner’s Guide to Korean Grammar

[7 Basics in Korean Grammar]

1. Word Order

The basic Word Order in a Korean sentence with a Subject and Verb is “S + V” i.e., Subject comes first and then the Verb.

Ex. 저는 공부해요 = I study.

Here, 저는 (I) = Subject and 공부해요 (study) = Verb.


Ex. 저는 먹어요 = I eat.

Ex. 저는 일해요 = I work.

Ex. 저는 자요 = I sleep.


However, when an Object is added to these sentences, the format becomes “S + O + V” i.e., Subject first, followed by the Object and finally the Verb.

Ex. 저는 한국어를 공부해요 = I study Korean.

Here, 저는 (I) = Subject, 한국어를 (Korean language) = Object, 공부해요 (study) = Verb.


Ex. 저는 김치를 먹어요 = I eat Kimchi.

(Note that this is different than English where we follow the SVO format!)


2. Verbs

Verbs in Korean are grouped as follows:



Korean Verbs have a Base/Dictionary Form that are then changed i.e., Conjugated into Basic Present, Past and Future Tenses to form sentences. A verb’s Base Form has no tense and so is generally conjugated with the help of Conjugation Rules.



a. Base Form.

All Verbs in Korean end with “ – .” The -다 ending indicates that the Verb is in its most basic form.

Ex. 먹 = to eat, 가 = to go, 자 = to sleep, 울 = to cry.

b. Verb Stem.

       A Verb Stem in a Korean Verb is the part right before “ -다 ”

       Ex. 다 = to eat, 다 = to go, 다 = to sleep, 다 = to cry.


While Conjugating Korean Verbs from their Base forms, you change the Verb Stems into Present, Past or Future Tense forms according to their respective Conjugation Rules.


Verb (in Base Form) Present Tense Past Tense Future Tense
먹다 (to eat) 먹어 (eat/eating) 먹었어 (ate) 먹을 거야 (will eat)
보다 (to watch) 봐 (watch/watching) 봤어 (watched) 볼 거야 (will watch)
공부하다 (to study) 공부해 (study/studying) 공부했어 (studied) 공부할 거야 (will study)

Most Verbs follow the Conjugation Rules and so are called Regular Verbs. However, some verbs do not follow these Rules. They are known as Irregular Verbs.



3. Sentence Endings

As seen above, Korean Sentences end in Verbs. However, these Verbs are combined with something known as ‘Sentence Endings’ to form full, natural sentences. Sentence Endings help determine the mood or feel of a sentence and help make the sentence more nuanced. There are a number of sentence endings in the Korean language having different meanings and feel to them. Some examples are: -잖아, -지, -군요, -네, etc.

Basic Sentence Endings that you would require as a beginner in Korean Language are explained below-

*In Plain 반말 form, no Sentence Endings are attached. Simply Conjugate the Verbs.


(Note that in the Korean language, we have Formal and Informal ways of speaking.

반말 = Informal language & 존댓말 = Formal language.

반말 is used when speaking casually among close friends, family or with little children and in casual settings only.

존댓말 is used when speaking to someone who you need to show respect towards. This can be people who are older than you, teachers, superiors and most importantly strangers you have met for the first time and anyone with whom you do not have a casual relationship with.)



반말 (Informal) 존댓말 (Formal)
우리는 한국어를 공부해 (We study Korean)

–          우리는 한국어를 공부해요.

–          우리는 한국어를 공부합니다.

(We study Korean)

제프는 세수를 했어 (Jeff washed his face)

–          제프는 세수를 했어요.

–          제프는 세수를 했습니다.

(Jeff washed his face)


4. Adjectives

In Korean, Adjectives are treated exactly like Verbs! They are also known as Descriptive Verbs. They are Verbs that show traits of a noun. Since they are just like Verbs, Adjectives also have a Base form that is later Conjugated into Present, Past and Future forms following the same rules as Verbs.


Ex. 지수는 예뻐= Jisoo is pretty.   (예쁘다 = to be pretty, 예뻐 = is pretty)

Ex. 제프는 똑똑했어 = Jeff was smart.   (똑똑하다 = to be smart, 똑똑했어 = was smart)


In the above sentences, the Adjectives ‘Pretty’ and ‘Smart’ work as Verbs in the sentence and hence follow the Noun.


*However! When forming sentences like ‘Pretty Jisoo’ or ‘Smart Jeff’, where Adjectives come before a Noun, Adjectives are directly modifying the Noun in the sentence. In such cases, sentences will use a Modifier as shown below:

Ex. 예쁜 여자 = a pretty woman

Ex. 똑똑한 강아지 = a smart dog



5. Adverbs

Adverbs in Korean come before a Verb in a sentence.

Ex. 저는 평화롭 자요 = I sleep peacefully.

Ex. 저는 즐겁게 일해요 = I work joyfully.


Similar to English, many Adverbs in Korean come from Adjectives.

Here, 평화롭게 meaning ‘peacefully’ comes from the Adjective 평화롭다 meaning ‘to be peaceful’

and 즐겁게 meaning ‘peacefully’ comes from the Adjective 즐겁다 meaning ‘to be joyful.’



6. Particles

Particles in Korean are also known as ‘post-position’ as they are placed after a Noun. They are attached to Nouns. For better understanding, you can relate them to the English Prepositions like ‘in, at, by, for’ and so on.

The two most common particles are ‘Subject-marking Particles’ and ‘Object-marking Particles’. They are placed after the Subject and Object of a sentence, respectively to clarify which is the Subject and which is the Object in a Korean sentence.

Subject-marking Particles Object-marking Particles
은/는 & 이/가 을/를

Ex. 저는 학생이에요 = I am a student.

Here, the Subject-marking particle 는 is attached to 저 (I) to mark it as the Subject in the sentence.


Ex. 제프가 저를 좋아해요 = Jeff likes me.

Here, the Object-marking particle 를 is attached to 저 (I) to mark it as the Object in the sentence, while 가 marks 제프 (Jeff) as the Subject.



7. Conjunctions

Conjunctions or sentence connectors are words like ‘and, but, so, therefore’ in English. They connect two or more sentences.

Ex. 지수는 예뻐요. 그리고 제프는 똑똑해요 = Jisoo is pretty and Jeff is smart.

Ex. 제프는 열심히 일해요 하지만 저는 열심히 놀아요 = Jeff works hard but I play hard.


Korean Conjugations can also be merged with the verbs before them without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Ex. 지수는 예쁘고 제프는 똑똑해요 = Jisoo is pretty and Jeff is smart.

Here, the Conjunction 그리고 (and) merges with the descriptive verb 예쁘다 (to be pretty) to form 예쁘고.

Ex. 제프는 열심히 일하지만 저는 열심히 놀아요 = Jeff works hard but I play hard.

Here, the Conjunction 하지만 (but) merges with the verb 일하다 (to work) to form 일하지만.