Beginner 1 > Lesson 2-1

Lesson 2-1. More Differences between 은/는 vs 이/가

Before taking this class, please note that the example sentences are more advanced than the ones given in the previous lesson (Lesson 2.) You can disregard any grammar points that you haven’t learned yet, because this lesson’s purpose is to understand how 은/는 & 이/가 works specifically. However, if you get continuously lost midway while taking this lesson, you can come back to it after you have learned other basic grammar in this course, like object marking particles, verb/adjective conjugation and so on. It would be better to come back when you have more understanding about Korean grammar and are more comfortable with Korean sentence structure. If you believe that you are okay to proceed regardless, then it’s perfectly fine to go with it!


Subject Marking Particles: Advanced usages and differences  


These cannot be used in isolation and must be at the END of the noun (hence post-preposition) 

There are 2 types: 

 Topic marking particles Subject marking particles  
Preceding noun with 받침 은  (e.g. 이것은) 이 (e.g. 이것이)    
Preceding noun without 받침 는 (e.g. 저는) 가 (e.g. 제가) 



When to use / 


There are 4 times when 은/는 should be used: 


1. General statement:  

When you are giving general statements/facts about a noun 

제 이름은 빅키입니다 – my name is Vicky  

저는 여자입니다 – I am a woman  

저는 한국인입니다 – I am Korean  


2. Put emphasis on the general fact of the subject 

You can think of this as meaning “when it comes to SUBJECT, …” 

e.g., 제니는 자고 있어요 – Jennie is sleeping  

this puts emphasis on the fact that she is sleeping  


3. When it is the MAIN subject in a sentence  

The main subject is the subject that governs the rest of the subordinate clauses in a sentence. 

For example, in the sentence “I hope you are happy”, I acts as the main subject governing the subordinate clause “you are happy” and so you is the minor subject. 

Therefore, particles would be attached like this: 

  행복하길 바래


4. When used for contrast 

You can use this particle when trying to show the distinction between two opposing facts or situations. 

e.g., Jenny isn’t here but Lisa is – 제니가 없지만 리사 있어요  

In this way, it shows the contrast between the states of the two subjects 

Note how the particle is added to the second subject to show the difference between the first and second clauses. 


When to use / 


There are 4 times 이/가 should be used: 


1. Emphasis on the subject being/doing the action  

You can think of this as pinpointing a certain person out of a large crowd and attributing a state or action to them  

For example, imagine a mother asking her 4 children “Who ate this?”, the child who did might lift a hand and say, “I did.” 

Because of this, 이/가 would be used, forming 제요 


2. When you have more to say about the subject 

Here, follow-up sentences would be related to the subject in the initial sentence 

e.g., 내가 마트에 갔어. 근데 거기서 제프를 만난거야. 반가웠어. – I went to a mart. And I saw Jeff there. It was nice to see him  


3. When the subject is NOT the main subject of the sentence  

Using the same example as above, “I hope you are happy”, I acts as the main subject and you is the minor subject. 

Therefore, particles would be attached like this: 

 네 행복하길 바래  


4. Fixed expressions 

There are certain verbs that always use the 이/가 particle.  

Examples include 있다 (there is) and 없다 (there isn’t) 

Therefore, unless the subject is being used for contrast, 이/가 would now be used as the particle for general statements. 

e.g., 연필이 있어요 – There is a pencil (general statement) 

         제니가 없어요 – Jennie isn’t here (general statement) 

         제니는 없어요 – Jennie isn’t here (in contrast to all the others that are) 


A: 제니가 없어요. 어디 있는지 알아요? – Jennie isn’t here. DO you know where she is? 

B: 저도 몰라요. 리사는 있어요 – I don’t know either. (But) Lisa is here 


Therefore, N+ / + /없다 = general statement
and N + / + /없다 = contrast 



Further examples and explanations 


a) 호비가 웃으면 저는 행복해요 – When Hobi smiles, I am happy  

The main subject “I” governs the whole sentence and so uses the 은/는particle 

Hobi acts as the minor subject and so used the 이/가 particle  


b) 내가 도와줄게 – Let me help you  

To put emphasis on it is I who’ll help you, the 이/가 particle is used  


c) 그 사람은 안 도와줄 건데 나는/내가 도와줄게 – He won’t help you but I will help you  

Here, either 은/는 or 이/가 can be used depending on whether you want to put emphasis on the contrast between the two people (unlike him, I will help) or the fact that is it you that will help  


d) A: 누구의 이름이 빅키인가요? – whose name is Vicky? 

제 이름 빅키입니다 – My name is Vicky  

There is then emphasis on the subject doing/being something 


e) A: 제니는 어때요? – How is Jennie? 

B: 제니는 예뻐요 – Jennie is pretty 

This is a general fact that Jennie is pretty and so 은/는particle is used  


f) A: 누가 예뻐요? – Who is pretty? 

B: 제니가 예뻐요 – Jennie is pretty  

Emphasis is on the specific subject being pretty and so 이/가 particle is used 


g) A: 제니 뭐해요? – What is Jennie doing? 

B: 제니는 지금 자요 – Jennie is sleeping right now 

This is a general fact about Jennie  


h) A: 제니한테 전화해보세요 – call Jennie 

B: 제니가 자요. 그래서 못해요 – Jennie is sleeping, so I can’t  

Here, the follow-up sentence is related to the subject in the first sentence and so 이/가 is used BUT제니는 is also an option since it could be putting emphasis on the general state of the subject* 


*In these cases, a good alternative would be to completely remove the particles and just say “ 제니 자요” but be careful of this since sometimes particles are needed in order to communicate the right meaning (e.g., when differentiating the main and minor subjects) 



i) 우리는 네가 웃길 바래 – We hope that you smile.  

은/는particle is attached to “We” the main subject and이/가 particle is added to “you” the minor subject  


j) 친구들이 널 괴롭혀도, 나는 널 응원해 – Even if you friends bully you, I will cheer for you  

은/는particle used to contrast between “I” and the person’s “friends” 


k) A: 저는 아침을 먹었어요  

B: 저도 먹었어요  

C: 저는 안 먹었어요  

은/는particle used to contrast between person C and people A and B 


l) 나는 한국을 좋아해요 – I like Korea  

A general statement and so 은/는particle is used 




Topic marking particles: / Subject marking particles: / 
General statements/facts 

Puts emphasis on the subject being/doing the action  


Puts emphasis on the general fact of the subject 


When you have more to say about the subject 


Highlights the MAIN subject in a sentence  


When the subject is NOT the main subject of the sentence  


Contrasts two different facts/situations 

Fixed expressions