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Beginner 2 > Lesson 20

Lesson 20. How to say “or” (noun(이)나, Verb-거나)


1. Noun + (a)  

To link two nouns together, you use the (이)나 particle.  

You can use this by adding it to the first noun in the “or phrase.”  


NOUN + (이)나 + noun 

(NOUN or noun) 


If the noun has 받침, 이나 is added, whereas if the noun doesn’t have 받침, only 나 is added. 



A train or a car – 기차나 차… 

Older brother or sister – 오빠나 언니… 

Dinner or dessert – 저녁이나 디저트… 

The moon or the stars – 이나 별… 


When used in sentences, it can be attached to both subjects and objects to maintain this “or” translation.  

In this case, it is more natural to remove any other particles/grammar points from the first option before (이)나 is added. 

In this way, any particles only appear on the second noun, for example: 

차로나 배로 (X)By car or by boat 차나 배(O)
귀걸이를이나 목걸이 (X)The earrings or the necklace 귀걸이나 목걸이 (O)


Example Sentences  

Do you have a dog or a cat?  

강아지나 고양이를 키워요? 


I will meet either my friend or my boyfriend tomorrow.

내일은 친구나 남자 친구를 만날 거야 


Either my mum or dad will ask you.  

엄마나 아빠가 너한테 물어볼 거야  


I will buy my daughter either a necklace or a book. 

딸한테 선물로 목걸이나 책을 사줄 거예요.

2. Verb/Adjective + 거나 


When creating the “or” meaning with verbs or adjectives, you use the construction: 

STEM + 거나 

(Regardless of 받침 or no 받침) 


Again, -거나is only added to the first option in the “or phrase.” 

The tense of these phrases is normally determined by that of the final verb of the sentence, for example:  


Present –  

I want to either order a pizza or go to a restaurant, but I’m still deciding.

피자를 주문하거나 식당에 가고 싶은데 아직 결정하고 있어요. 


Past –  

저는 어렸을 때 친구들이랑 등산을 거나 수영을 했어요.
When I was young, I went either hiking or swimming with friends.


NB: -거나 can also be added to the past stem of a verb/adjective if that action has already been completed. In this way, you can indicate that this action happened in the past, without the final verb of the sentence having to also be a past action.  


If you’ve lost it or broken it, dad will get upset. 

그거 잃어버렸거나 부러졌으면 아빠가 화내실 거야. 


If you were bored or wanted to chat, you could have contacted me. 

심심했거나 얘기하고 싶었으면 저에게 연락할 수 있었잖아요. 


Future –  

If I’m not too busy or too tired, I will call you later.  

제가 너무 바쁘거나 피곤하지 않으면 나중에 전화할게요.


NB: normally, future verb stems aren’t used with this construction and instead replaced with present tense verb stems, especially if the sentence ends in a future tense verb  

e.g.  I will (/might) rest or sleep at home – 저는 집에서거나 잘 거예요.  


Sometimes, -거나 is added to BOTH options, but in this case, the final verb become 하다. 

For example:  

I will either buy a cake or make one.  = 케이크를 사거나 만들거나 할 거예요. 
Our family watches TV or plays game whenever we get bored. = 저희 가족은 심심하면 TV를 보거나 게임을 하거나 해요.


More Examples :

I’ll either stay here or study in the library.  

여기 있거나 도서관에서 공부할 거예요. 


Even if this grammar is too hard or you are confused, don’t give up.  

이 문법이 너무 어렵거나 헷갈려도 포기하지 마세요.  


If I earn more money or the price gets cheaper, I will buy that product. 

내가 돈을 더 벌거나 가격이 싸지면 그 제품을 살 거예요.  


When I went on holiday with my family, I was always either eating or shopping.

가족들이랑 같이 여행을 갔을 때, 나는 항상 밥을 먹거나 쇼핑하고 있었어. 


I hope the bus isn’t too full or too slow. 

버스에 사람이 너무 많거나 너무 느리지 않았으면 좋겠어요.  


I want to have 3 girls or 2 boys.  

딸 세 명이나 두 아들을 낳고 싶습니다.  


3. Sentence + 아니면 


아니면 also means “or,” and it literally means “if not.”

To connect two sentences, you would simply add “아니면” between the two. For example, 


Are you going to send this by post? Or give it to her yourself? 

이거 우편으로 보낼 거예요? 아니면 직접 줄 거예요?

You can also use it with a noun, like: 

An aunt or an uncle  

이모 삼촌 / 이모 아니면 삼촌  

As well as this, it can be used in combination with -거나 and -(이)나 


I want to either order a pizza or go to a restaurant, but I’m still deciding. 

피자 주문하거나 아니면 식당에 가고 싶은데 아직 결정하고 있어요.  


4. (이)나, -거나 vs 아니면 

When they are used in questions, they have slightly different meanings.

For example,

이거 우편으로 보내거나 직접 줄 거예요? vs. 이거 우편으로 보낼 거예요? 아니면 직접 줄 거예요? 

The former question is asking whether at least one of these two options will be your choice (it’s a yes or no question), and the second one is asking which specific one (only one) choice you’ll make.

In a type of question where you ask which one choice the other person prefers/will choose, using sentence + 아니면 would sound more natural. 


Does the skirt suit me better or the pants?

치마가 더 잘 어울려요? 아니면 바지가 더 잘 어울려요? (O)

바지 스커트가 잘 어울려요? (X) – This question is asking if at least one of these two options suit me.

Do you think I passed or not passed?

합격을 했을까요? 아니면 안 했을까요? (O)

합격을 하거나 안 했을까요? (X) – This question does not make sense at all.