Beginner’s Guide To Basic Korean Grammar

By OptiLingo

One of the most intimidating aspects of learning the Korean language for English Speakers is the very different words, alphabets, and structures. The Korean language sounds very different compared to the languages in the West Germanic category where English belongs to. It will also seem like the intonation and pronunciation is harder to grasp.

The truth is, the Korean language is one of the easiest languages to pick up for an English speaker. The Korean alphabet which is known as hangul looks complicated and uneasy to use. However, it is really similar to the modern English alphabet when you understand how it works. The Korean language is actually one of the easiest Asian languages to learn.

To master the Korean language, one must have a good grasp of its grammar. Even tho the pronunciation, vocabulary, and the alphabet of a language is also important, it is recommended to understand its grammar first. This is essential in stringing words to form a sentence. Once you know the basic grammar rules, the other aspects will be easier. The good news is, it is kinda easy to learn Korean grammar fast.


Basic Particles of the Korean language

When it comes to learning the grammar of a language, it is important to study its sentence structure. The order of your sentence will determine how fluent you are in a language. Korean sentences are also similar to the English sentences in which they both use a subject, a verb, and an object.

A subject is the one the sentence is all about. The verb is what the subject is doing. The object is the one that the subject is interacting with. To further explain, here’s an English sentence.

Mary is eating her food.

Mary is the subject here because the sentence is about her. The verb is “eating” as it describes what Mary is doing. The object is “food” because it answers what Mary is eating. This sentence structure is called the Subject-Verb-Object or the S-V-O.

Knowing the subject of the sentence is important in making a Korean sentence. In English, a particle is used with verbs to make phrasal verbs. In Korean, particles are attached at the end of the subject. There are 20 particles in the Korean language and none of them are translatable to English. Only the basic particles will be discussed in this article and those are [neun], [eun], [leul], [eul], and [e].

Neun and Eun are used to indicate a sentence’s subject. It would be placed right after the subject and will be used based on the word’s ending letter. If the subject ends with a vowel, use [neun] (e.g. naneun). If the subject ends with a consonant, use [eun] (e.g. dangsin-eun).

Leul and eul are used to indicate the sentence’s object. Leul is used when the last syllable ends with a vowel. Eul is used when the last syllable ends with a consonant.

And last but not least is [e], which is used to indicate a specific time or specific place. The [e] is attached at the end of the word which indicates the specific time or place.


Korean Sentence Structures

Building a sentence in Korean is where the things would be confusing. The difference lies in the sentence structure of a typical Korean sentence. In the English language, the S-V-O or the subject-verb-object sentence structure is used. In the Korean language, the S-O-V structure is used. What you think is a grammatical error in English is a proper grammar in Korean.

To understand the difference more, tackle the lesson with an example.


In English, sentences like these are correct:

  1. I have a pen.
  2. I have an apple.
  3. She gave me a pie.


In Korean, the above examples are grammatically incorrect and you will find yourself corrected with:

  1. I pen have.
  2. I apple have.
  3. She pie gave me.

In order to not get confused, a lot of people are using a good trick when stringing a sentence in Korean. That is to always end your sentences with a verb or an adjective.


Basic and Descriptive Statements

If you’re a beginner Korean speaker and you would want to learn Korean grammar fast, you’ll stick with the basics first. There is what we call the basic statements or simple statements that are only used for simple conversations and conveying simple information.


1. Subject-Verb

This is one of the most basic sentences in Korean and English on some occasions. You can create a simple and grammatically correct Korean sentence just by stringing the subject and the verb. Words like “I ate” or “I ran” or “She sneezed” or “Mother comes” are considered to be correct.


2. Subject-Object-Verb

This sentence structure is the most popularly used in Korea. It is easy to understand once you know the trick, but it would be so confusing at first, especially if you’re an English native speaker. This is so far one of the biggest difference between the two languages. An example of this is “Susan to the store she went.” I know it sounds incorrect, but practice and is a good start to be familiar in the system of this language.

Descriptive statements are harder to grasp. Instead of using the conjugated verb in an S-V-O structure, the Subject-Descriptive Verb or alternatively, Subject-Adjective structure is used, ending the descriptive verb with the particle [ieyo].

  • SVO Example: She is perfect.
  • SDV+particle: Perfect-ieyo.

[ieyo] is only used when the word you’re conjugating ends with a consonant. An example is the word “salam” which means a person. To use the particle, you can say “salam-ieyo”.

[ye-yo] is used if the word being used ended with a vowel. As per this example, the word “yeoja ai” or “girlish” will be used. To use [ye-yo], the word will be used like “yeoja ai-ye-yo”.

[-i an-ieyo] is used in a negative descriptive verb. For example, if a girl is not girlish in someone’s perspective, it can be said that she is “yeoja ai-i an ieyo”.


Verb Tenses

TIn English, to change the tense, it is needed to change the word. For example, the word “try” will be replaced with “trying” during the present tense and “tried” during the past tense. In Korean, they attach tenses to the base word. These particles are more complicated.

First, we’ll have an example. The verb “sada” in Korean means to sell.

  • Korean: Sada -> Sayo -> Sa-sseo-yo
  • English: Buy -> Buying -> Bought

The base form of the verb is indicated using the word [da]. If the verb is currently happening, the word [ayo] is used. When the action happened in the past, the word [sseo-yo].