Grammar is perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of learning a foreign language. Sentence structures, conjugations, and linguistic rules can be hard to keep in mind. But it’s necessary. If you want to become fluent in Korean, you need to master Korean grammar.
In fact, it’s recommended that you understand basic Korean grammar first. When you have a good grasp of the logic of the language, vocabulary and pronunciation will be easier to learn. Luckily, understanding basic Korean grammar rules is easier than you think. Anyone can do it.
The truth is that Korean is one of the easiest Asian languages to learn for English speakers. Although Korean ranks as one of the most difficult languages by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), there are huge advantages when you’re learning it.
Unlike other Asian languages, Korean is not a tonal language. So, Korean pronunciation will be easier to master. The Korean writing system seems scarily different from English. But understanding the Korean alphabet (also known as Hangul) is fairly easy. It’s a highly logical system, so learning Hangul takes less than an hour.
This is a great start when you’re learning Korean. You can quickly understand the basics of Korean grammar, and move on to constructing more complicated sentences.
When you’re saying a basic sentence, each word fulfills a different role. A basic sentence has three major components:
An example of this in English would be:
Mary eats an apple.
“Mary” is the subject because the sentence is about her. The verb is “eats” as it describes Mary’s action. The object is “food” because it explains the focus of Mary’s action. We call this sentence structure Subject-Verb-Object or S-V-O.
Simple sentences, such as “I ran”, “you sneezed”, or “mother comes” have the same sentence structure in both English and Korean: subject + verb. However, when you add an object, there’s a big difference between the two language’s sentence structures. While English is an SVO language, Korean has SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) structures.
This means that the verb always comes last when you’re speaking Korean. This is where the common Korean joke comes from: “Always listen to everything a Korean person says because you’ll only find out at the end what they’re talking about”.
To understand the difference more, here’s a comparison between Korean and English sentence structures.
I have a pen.
I pen have.
I have an apple.
I apple have.
She gave me a pie.
She pie gave me.
If this is confusing for you, don’t worry. There’s a simple trick you can use to easily construct Korean sentences: always end your sentences with a verb or an adjective.
Particles are a foreign concept to English native speakers. There are 20 particles in the Korean language and none of them translate to English. Linguistically they can be compared to suffixes or postpositions best. These syllables in Korean grammar denote a word’s role within a sentence. The difference between them depends on what category the noun they’re attached to belongs to. Adding these at the end of words correctly can make you sound fluent. Here are the most basic and commonly used particles in Korean grammar:
These indicate the topic of the sentence. You place this particle right after the subject. If the subject ends with a vowel, you use [neun] (e.g. naneun). If the subject ends with a consonant, you use [eun] (e.g. dangsin-eun).
를 [leul] or 을 [eul] signifies that a word is the object of the sentence. You use Leul when the last syllable ends with a vowel. And you use Eul when the last syllable ends with a consonant.
It’s attached to a verb indicating something is done in a specific time or place. The word can be translated into English as a preposition in sentences. For example ‘I went jogging at 4 am’ or ‘She has jumped in the pool’.
Understanding the logic of particles and using them correctly can take some time. This video goes into further detail about the usage of the syllables:
Verb conjugation in Korean depends on the context the verb is in. There are three main factors that influence how a verb is spelled:
However, the base of the verb never changes. In English, the verb “try” becomes “tried” in the past tense. The base of the verb changed. In Korean, if you want to change the tense or the politeness of a verb, you add a different thing at the end. You also don’t have to worry about the Korean particle changing when you’re conjugating verbs. There is also no gender or plural form for verbs in Korean, which makes conjugation a lot easier.
Here’s an example with the verb “sada” that means to sell in Korean:
Every Korean verb finishes with [da] in its most basic form. This is only used in the dicitionary. If the verb is currently happening, you use the word [ayo]. And when the action happened in the past, you use the word [sseo-yo].
Making a positive sentence into negative is much easier than regular conjugation. It’s important to note that the following rules don’t apply to 있다 (itda) – to have. (The negative form of 있다 (itda) is 없다 (eopda) – to not have).
There are two ways you can turn a sentence into negative:
Although their meaning is the same, you use them in different situations. With plenty of practice, you’ll naturally acquire which situation fits which negative verb conjugation form.
The Korean language doesn’t have adjectives. Instead, they have descriptive verbs. To describe a noun like an adjective would in English, you need to conjugate the descriptive verb to fit the context.
For example, a descriptive verb for the adjective “small” would be: 작다 “to be small”. As you can see, it ends with 다 [da], therefore it’s a descriptive verb. To create and adjective, you have to connect the descriptive verb to the noun. You do this by replacing 다 [da] with either ㄴ / 은. You use ㄴ [nieun] if the verb ends in a vowel, and 은 [eun] if it ends in a consonant.
작다 small + 말 horse = 작은말 a small horse
예쁘다 pretty + 친구 friend = 예쁜 친구 a pretty friend
This video can show you visually how to conjugate descriptive verbs into adjectives:
Showing respect is extremely important in Korean culture. It’s no wonder this also affects Korean grammar. There are three levels of Korean politeness:
As a foreign language learner, you should learn standard and a bit of formal to get by. Although there won’t be great pressure on you to uphold the Korean hierarchy, you should still respect it. The last thing you want to do is offend someone.
Honorifics in Korean belongs in the formal speech category. However, they show an even higher level of respect. Its most usual use is for customers of stores or restaurants, but also for army officers.
The only way to master Korean grammar is to practice it. Once you understand the logic of the language, you need to apply it. Use these rules to create sentences, and communicate fluently in Korean. There are plenty of ways you can put your Korean grammar knowledge to the test. Here are a few ideas that can get you speaking and writing in Korean fast:
This post tells you about the basics of Korean grammar, but it barely scratches the surface. Korean is a wonderful and rich language and learning it has many great benefits. As you can see now, even its grammar is understandable. Once you’re through this obstacle, Korean fluency is just a skip away. And the fastest way to reach fluency is with OptiLingo.
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