Lesson 7: Korean Irregulars

Lesson 7: Korean Irregulars

Vocabulary

The vocabulary is separated into nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs for the purpose of simplicity.

Click on the English word to see information and examples of that word in use (you probably won’t be able to understand the grammar within the sentences at this point, but it is good to see as you progress through your learning).

A PDF file neatly presenting all of these words, example sentences and extra information can be found here.

Nouns:
눈썹 = eyebrow

교사 = teacher

반 = class of students in school

직장 = location of work

벽 = wall

털 = hair (not on head), fur

머리카락 = hair (on head)

저녁 = dinner, evening

점심 = lunch, noonish

옷 = clothes

Verbs:
찾다 = to search for, find

공부하다 = to study

가르치다 = to teach

일하다 = to work

짓다 = to build

가지다 = to own, to possess

잠그다 = to lock

잊다 = to forget

돕다 = to help

주다 = to give

맞다 = to be correct

Adjectives:
쉽다 = to be easy

덥다 = to be hot

그립다 = to miss (a thing)

귀엽다 = to be cute

춥다 = to be cold

어렵다 = to be difficult

더럽다 = to be dirty

바쁘다 = to be busy

같다 = to be the same

안전하다 = to be safe

딱딱하다 = to be hard, to be rigid

부드럽다 = to be soft

가능하다 = to be possible

불가능하다 = to be impossible

Adverbs:
일찍 = early

오전 = morning

오후 = afternoon

매일 = everyday

여름 = summer

가을 = fall

겨울 = winter

봄 = spring

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.

Irregulars

As with all languages, there are some irregular conjugations that you need to know. Irregulars are applied to certain verbs or adjectives when adding something to the stem of the word. Korean grammar is based on these “additions” that are added to stems. I mentioned this in Lesson 5, but I want to reiterate it here.

There are hundreds of additions that you can add to the stem of a verb or adjective. Some of these additions are conjugations and some of them are grammatical principles that have meaning in a sentence.

You have learned about some of these additions now. For example:

~ㄴ/는다 to conjugate to the plain form
~아/어 to conjugate to the informal low respect form
~아/어요 to conjugate to the informal high respect form
~ㅂ/습니다 to conjugate to the formal high respect form
~았/었어 to conjugate to the informal low respect form in the past tense
~ㄴ/은 added to an adjective to describe an upcoming noun
In future lessons, you will learn about many more of these additions. For example, some of them are:

~ㄴ/은 후에 to mean “after”
~기 전에 to mean “before”
~기 때문에 to mean “because”
~아/어서 to mean “because”
~(으)면 to mean “when”
~아/어야 하다 to mean “one must”
~아/어서는 안 되다 to mean “one should not”
Notice that some of these additions start with a vowel, and some of them start with a consonant. Most of the irregulars are applied when adding a vowel to a stem. The ㄹ irregular that is introduced at the end of the lesson is the only irregular that applies when adding a consonant to a stem.

Let’s look at one example before I introduce each irregular one by one. Let’s say we want to conjugate the word “어렵다” into the past tense using the informal low respect form. The following would happen:

어렵다 + ~았/었어 = 어려웠어

Here, you can see that the actual stem of the word changed. This is referred to as the “ㅂ irregular” because the same phenomenon happens with many (but not all) words whose stem ends in “ㅂ”.

As I mentioned previously, most of these irregulars are applied when adding a vowel to a stem. Although there are many additions that start with a vowel, the only ones that you have learned about to this point are the conjugations taught in Lessons 5 and 6:

~아/어
~아/어요
~았/었어
~았/었어요
~았/었습니다
~았/었다
As such, this lesson will present the Korean irregulars and how they change as a result of adding these conjugations. In later lessons when you learn about other additions, you can apply what you learned in this lesson to those concepts. For now, let’s get started.

ㅅ Irregular

If the last letter of a word stem ends in ㅅ (for example: 짓다 = to build), the ㅅ gets removed when adding a vowel. For example, when conjugating:

짓다 = to make/build
짓 + 어 = 지어
나는 집을 지어 = I build a house

짓 + 었어요 = 지었어요
저는 집을 지었어요 = I built a house

Notice that this only happens when adding a vowel. When conjugating to the plain form, for example, you only add “~는다” to a stem and thus ㅅ does not get removed. For example:

집을 짓는다 = to build a house

The reason this irregular is done is to avoid changing the sound of a word completely after conjugating it.

Pronouncing 짓다 sounds like ‘jit-da.’
Pronouncing 지어 sounds like ‘ji-uh’
Pronouncing 짓어 sounds like ‘jis-suh’

The third one (which is incorrect) completely changes the sound of the word stem when a vowel is added (from ‘jit’ to ‘jis.’ Whereas in the second one, the sound of the word stem only changes from ‘jit’ to ‘ji,’ which is much smaller of a difference (especially considering the ‘t’ in the pronunciation of 짓 is not aspirated – which makes it barely audible). I know that is confusing, but if you can’t understand why it is done, that’s fine. Just know that it must be done.

Some other examples of words that follow this irregular are (these words are too difficult for you right now, but I’m just showing you):

낫다 = better (adjective) – You will learn more about this word in Lesson 19
잇다 = to continue (verb)

Common words that this does not apply to are:
웃다 (to laugh) = 저는 웃었어요 = I laughed
벗다 (to take off clothes) = 저는 저의 옷을 벗었어요 = I took off my clothes
씻다 (to wash) = 저는 저의 손을 씻었어요 = I washed my hands

Here is a table with the word “짓다 (to build)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

짓다 = build Past Present Future
Informal low 지었어 지어 짓겠어
Informal high 지었어요 지어요 짓겠어요
Plain form 지었다 짓는다 짓겠다
Formal high 지었습니다 짓습니다 짓겠습니다
Note that when a word stem has ㅅ as the fourth consonant, this irregular does not apply. For example, this does not apply to 없다, which you will learn about in the next lesson.

ㄷ irregular

If the last letter of a word stem ends in ㄷ (for example: 걷다 = to walk), the ㄷ gets changed to ㄹ when adding a vowel. This is only done with verbs. For example:

걷다 = to walk
걷 + 어 = 걸어
저는 걸어요 = I walk

걷 + 었어요 = 걸었어요
저는 걸었어요 = I walked

I don’t mean to confuse you, but I will:

걷다 means “to walk.” When conjugating, by adding a vowel it changes to 걸어
Another meaning of 걷다 is “to tuck.” But this meaning of 걷다 does not follow the irregular rule. So, when conjugating, by adding a vowel is simply stays as 걷어.
걸다 means “to hang.” When conjugating, by adding a vowel it stays as 걸어

Confusing enough? Let’s look at all three:

걷다
To walk 걷다
To tuck 걸다
To hang
Past Formal 걸었어요 걷었어요 걸었어요
Present Formal 걸어요 걷어요 걸어요
Future Formal 걷겠어요 걷겠어요 걸겠어요
Honestly, though, the whole 걷다/걷다/걸다 thing is probably the most confusing part of this conjugation, and don’t worry too much about it. “Walk” is a word that is used much more frequently than “tuck,” so it is not something that comes up a lot.

The reason this conjugation is done is simply because the sounds flows off your tongue better. It is similar to pronouncing the word “butter” in English. When pronouncing “butter” we don’t say “butt-tter,” we just say “bud-er.” Like the ㄷ irregular, it is simply to avoid saying a hard consonant.

This is done to most stems ending in ㄷ, common words that this does not apply to (like 걷다 = to tuck) are:
받다 (to get/receive) = 돈을 받았어요 = I received money
묻다 = 묻어요 (to bury) = 저는 저의 강아지를 묻었어요 = I buried my dog
닫다 = 닫아요 (to close) = 저는 문을 닫았어요 = I closed the door

Here is a table with the word “걷다 (to walk)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

걷다 = walk Past Present Future
Informal low 걸었어 걸어 걷겠어
Informal high 걸었어요 걸어요 걷겠어요
Plain form 걸었다 걷는다 걷겠다
Formal high 걸었습니다 걷습니다 걷겠습니다

ㅂ Irregular

If the last letter of a word stem ends in ㅂ (쉽다 = easy), the ㅂ changes to 우 when adding a vowel. 우 then gets added to the next syllable in the conjugated word.

This is mostly done with adjectives. Many verbs end with ㅂ but this rule is rarely applied to verbs (some of the few verbs where this rule applies are: 줍다 (to pick up), 눕다 (to lie down)). For example:

쉽다 = to be easy
쉽 + 어 = 쉬 + 우 + 어 = 쉬워
그것은 쉬워 = That thing is easy

어렵다 = to be difficult
어렵 + 어요 = 어려 + 우 + 어요 = 어려워요
그것은 어려워요 = That is difficult

귀엽다 = cute
귀엽 + 어요 = 귀여 + 우 + 어요 = 귀여워요
그 여자는 귀여워요 = That girl is cute

In the words “돕다” (to help) and “곱다” (an uncommon way to say “beautiful”) ㅂ changes to 오 instead of 우. For example:

돕다 = to help
돕 + 았어요 = 도 + 오 + 았어요 = 도왔어요
저는 저의 어머니를 도왔어요 = I helped my mother

Note: The ㅂ in 돕다 and 곱다 changes to 오 only when ~아/어 (or any derivative like ~았/었다 or ~아/어요) is added. When adding any other vowel, ㅂ changes to 우. As of now, you haven’t learned when you would need to add a different vowel. For example, in future lessons you will learn about adding ~ㄹ/을 to verbs. When this gets added to 돕다, it changes to 도울. This isn’t immediately pressing to you now, but you should make a mental note of it.

Because the ㅂ irregular is found in adjectives, you will be conjugating it not only at the end of a sentence, but also in the middle of a sentence (before a noun). Remember the difference between these two sentences.

사과는 크다 = Apples are big
나는 큰 사과를 좋아한다 = I like big apples

In the first sentence, ‘big’ is an adjective that describes the noun (apple) at the end of the sentence.
In the second, ‘big’ describes the apple (as ‘a big apple’) and then “like” acts on the noun. In Lesson 4, you learned how to describe a noun by placing an adjective with ~ㄴ/은 before it. Adding ~ㄴ/은 to adjectives where the stem ends in “ㅂ” causes this irregular to come into play.

When placing an adjective (who’s stem ends in “ㅂ”) before a noun to describe it, you add ~ㄴ to the newly formed 우/오 syllable:

귀엽 + ㄴ = 귀여 + 우 + ㄴ = 귀여운
저는 귀여운 여자를 좋아해요 = I like cute girls

More examples:
쉽다 = easy
쉽 + ㄴ = 쉬 + 우 + ㄴ = 쉬운
저는 쉬운 일을 했어요 = I did easy work

부드럽다 = soft
부드럽 + ㄴ = 부드러 + 우 + ㄴ = 부드러운
나는 부드러운 손이 있어= I have soft hands

춥다 = cold
춥 + ㄴ = 추 + 우 + ㄴ = 추운
저는 추운 날씨를 좋아해요 = I like cold weather

Note that in most irregulars, the word changes differently if the last vowel in the stem is ㅗ OR ㅏ. However, in the ㅂ irregular, except for 돕다 and 곱다, all applicable words are changed by adding 우.

아름답다 = beautiful:
아름답 + 어요 = 아름다 + 우 + 어요 = 아름다워요
그 여자는 아름다워요 = That girl is beautiful

새롭다 = new
새롭 + 어요 = 새로 + 우 + 어요 = 새로워요
그 학교는 새로워요 = That school is new
그것은 새로운 학교예요 = That (thing) is a new school

Probably the most confusing of all irregulars, mainly because it seems strange that ㅂ can change to 우/오. The reason this happens is similar to the ㅅ irregular. As you know already, when pronouncing a syllable with the last letter ㅂ, you don’t really pronounce the ‘B’ sound. If you don’t know what I mean, check out the Pronunciation guide. But, if you add a vowel after ㅂ the sound of ‘B’ would be pronounced. The purpose of the irregular is to eliminate the ‘B’ sound which isn’t actually in the word. Confusing? Yes, I know, but again, you don’t really need to care about why it is done.

This is done to some words ending in ㅂ. Some common words in which this does not apply:

좁다 (narrow) = 이 방은 좁아요 = This room is narrow
넓다 (wide) = 이 방은 넓어요 = This room is wide (Korean people often describe a room/place being “big” by saying it is “wide”
잡다 (to catch/grab) = 저는 공을 잡았어요 = I caught the ball

Here is a table with the word “춥다 (cold)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

춥다 = cold Past Present Future
Informal low 추웠어 추워 춥겠어
Informal high 추웠어요 추워요 춥겠어요
Plain form 추웠다 춥다 춥겠다
Formal high 추웠습니다 춥습니다 춥겠습니다
Adjective form 추운 날씨 = cold weather

ㅡ Irregular

If the final vowel in a stem is ㅡ (for example: 잠그다 = to lock), when adding ~아/어, you can not determine whether you need to add ~어 or ~아 to the stem by looking at ㅡ. Instead, you must look at the vowel in the second last syllable. For example, in the word “잠그다”, the second last syllable in the stem is “잠”, and the vowel here is ㅏ. Therefore, as usual, we add ~아 to 잠그. For example:

잠그다 + ~아/어
= 잠그아

In cases like this where a word ends in “ㅡ” (that is, there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”) and is followed by ~아/어 (or any of its derivatives), the ~아/어~ the “ㅡ” is eliminated and the addition of ~아/어~ merges to the stem. For example:

잠그다 = to lock
The last vowel in the stem is ㅡ. The vowel in the second last syllable is ㅏ, so we add ~아.
For example: 잠그 + 아
Because there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~아 replaces ㅡ.
잠그 + 아 = 잠가

This would be the same in the past tense as well, for example:

잠그 + 았어요 = 잠갔어요
저는 문을 잠갔어요 = I locked the door

Let’s look at another example:

바쁘다 = to be busy
The last vowel in stem is ㅡ. The vowel in the second last syllable is ㅏ, so we add 아.
For example: 바쁘 + 아
Because there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~아 replaces ㅡ.
바쁘 + 아요 = 바빠요
저는 바빠요 = I am busy

Let’s look at another example:

예쁘다 = pretty
The last vowel in the stem is ㅡ. The vowel in the second last syllable is not ㅏ or ㅗ, so we add 어.
For example: 예쁘 + 어
Because there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~어 replaces ㅡ.
예쁘 + 어요 = 예뻐
그 여자는 예뻐요 = That girl is pretty

Some stems only have one syllable. For example, the stem of 크다 is just 크. In this case, we know that we need to use the ㅡ irregular, but there is no previous syllable to draw on to determine what should be added to the stem. In these cases, ~어 is added to the stem. For example:

크다 = to be big
The last vowel in the stem is ㅡ. 크 is the only syllable in the stem, so we add 어
For example: 크 + 어
Because there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~어 replaces ㅡ
크 + 어요 = 커요
그 집은 커요 = That house is big

This same rule applies when adding ~아/어 to words where, not only is the last vowel in the stem ㅡ, but all the vowels in the stem are ㅡ. For example, in the word “슬프다,” not only does the stem end in “ㅡ” but the vowel in the second last syllable is also “ㅡ”. In this case as well, ~어 should merge to the stem. For example:

슬프다 = to be sad
The last vowel in the stem is ㅡ. The second last vowel in the stem is also ㅡ, so we add 어
For example: 슬프 + 어
Because there is no final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~어 replaces ㅡ
슬프 + 어요 = 슬퍼요
저는 아주 슬퍼요 = I am very sad

Sometimes the last vowel of a stem is ㅡ, but the stem ends in a consonant. In these cases, all of the above rules still apply, but the addition of ~아/어 does not merge to the stem (because it is blocked by the consonant). For example:

긁다 = to scratch
The last vowel in the stem is ㅡ. 긁 is the only syllable in the stem, so we add 어
For example: 긁 + 어
Because there is a final consonant after “ㅡ”, ~어 does not merge to the stem
긁 + 어요 = 긁어요
저는 머리를 긁었어요 = I scratched my head

Another example where we find a single-syllable word with “ㅡ” as the only vowel is “듣다 (to hear)”

듣다 = to hear
Last vowel in stem is ㅡ. There is no syllable preceding 듣, so we must add 어.
듣 ends in a consonant, so 어 does not get added directly to the syllable.
듣 + 었어요 = 듣었어요

But wait! Don’t forget the ㄷ irregular. In this example, both ㅡ and ㄷ irregulars are used:

듣 + 었다 = 들었다
저는 쥐를 들었어요 = I heard a mouse

An irregular to this already irregular rule is “만들다 (to make).” Even though the second last syllable in the stem has the vowel “ㅏ”, ~어~ is added instead of ~아~. For example:

만들다 + ~아/어요
= 만들어요

Here is a table with the word “잠그다 (to lock – which is a verb)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

잠그다 = lock Past Present Future
Informal low 잠갔어 잠가 잠그겠어
Informal high 잠갔어요 잠가요 잠그겠어요
Plain form 잠갔다 잠근다 잠그겠다
Formal high 잠갔습니다 잠급니다 잠그겠습니다
And here is a table with the word “예쁘다 (pretty – which is an adjective)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

예쁘다 = pretty Past Present Future
Informal low 예뻤어 예뻐 예쁘겠어
Informal high 예뻤어요 예뻐요 예쁘겠어요
Plain form 예뻤다 예쁘다 예쁘겠다
Formal high 예뻤습니다 예쁩니다 예쁘겠습니다

Finally, here is a table with the word “만들다 (to make – which is a verb)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far.

만들다 = to make Past Present Future
Informal low 만들었어 만들어 만들겠어
Informal high 만들었어요 만들어요 만들겠어요
Plain form 만들었다 만든다 만들겠다
Formal high 만들었습니다 만듭니다 만들겠습니다
You will learn how 만든다 and 만듭니다 are formed later in the lesson when you learn about the ㄹ irregular.

르 Irregular

If the final syllable in a stem is 르 (마르다), it is conjugated differently when adding ~아/어. This irregular only applies when adding ~아/어(or any of its derivatives) to a stem and not when adding any other grammatical principles that starts with a vowel or consonant. Up until now, you haven’t learned about any of these other grammatical principles, that can start with anything other than ~아/어~, so don’t worry about this distinction too much.

When adding ~아/어 to these words, an additional ㄹ is created and placed in the syllable preceding 르 as the last consonant. The 르 also gets changed to either 러 or 라 (depending on if you are adding 어 or 아). This is done to both verbs and adjectives (the only exception is 따르다 = to follow/to pour). This is difficult to explain, and much easier to show with examples:

다르다 = different
다르 + 아요 = 다 + ㄹ + 라요 = 달라요
그것은 달라요 = That thing is different

빠르다 = to be fast
빠르 + 아요 = 빠 + ㄹ + 라요 = 빨라요
그 남자는 빨라요 = That man is fast

부르다 = to call somebody’s name
부르 + 었어요 = 부 + ㄹ + 렀어요 = 불렀어요
저는 저의 누나를 불렀어요 = I called my sister

Here is a table with the word “고르다 (to choose – which is a verb)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

고르다 = choose Past Present Future
Informal low 골랐어 골라 고르겠어
Informal high 골랐어요 골라요 고르겠어요
Plain form 골랐다 고른다 고르겠다
Formal high 골랐습니다 고릅니다 고르겠습니다
And here is a table with the word “마르다 (thin – which is an adjective)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~아/어 (or one of its derivatives like ~았/었어요) is added to the verb stem.

마르다 = thin Past Present Future
Informal low 말랐어 말라 마르겠어
Informal high 말랐어요 말라요 마르겠어요
Plain form 말랐다 마르다 마르겠다
Formal high 말랐습니다 마릅니다 마르겠습니다
Adjective form 마른 여자 = thin girl

ㄹ Irregular

Okay, last one, I promise.

As you know, there are times when you must choose between two things to add to a stem. For example:

~아/어 means you must choose between adding ~아 or ~어
~ㄴ/은 means you must choose between adding ~ㄴ or ~은
~ㅂ/습 means you must choose between adding ~ㅂ or ~습
~ㄹ/을 means you must choose between adding ~ㄹ or ~을

As you know, you choose the correct addition based on the stem.

If the final letter of a stem is ㄹ AND you add any of the following:

~ㄴ/은
~ㄴ/는
~ㅂ/습
~ㄹ/을

The first option (~ㄴ/ ~ㅂ / ~ㄹ ) should be used. In addition, the ㄹ is removed from the stem and the ~ㄴ / ~ㅂ / ~ㄹ is add directly to the stem. Let’s look at each one individually.

ㄹ Irregular: Adding ~ㄴ/은 to words

You have learned about adding ~ㄴ/은 to adjective stems when describing nouns. Usually, you add ~ㄴ directly to the stem of an adjective ending in a vowel, and ~은 to the stem of an adjective ending in a consonant, for example:

크다 = 큰 남자
작다 = 작은 남자

When adding ~ㄴ/은 to a stem which ends in ㄹ, the ㄹ is removed and ㄴ is added to the stem:

길다 = long
길 + ㄴ = 긴
저는 긴 거리를 건넜어요 = I crossed the long street

멀다 = far away
멀 + ㄴ = 먼
저는 먼 병원에 갔어요 = I went to a far away hospital (a hospital that is far away)

There will be times when you have to add ~ㄴ/은 to verbs stems as well, but you haven’t learned about this yet. I introduce this concept in Lesson 26, and then talk about the irregular being applied in Lesson 28. I don’t want you to think about this too much until those lessons, but just so you know, the concept is the same as adding ~ㄴ/은 to an adjective. For example:

열다 = to open
열 + ㄴ = 연

Although you haven’t learned about adding ~ㄴ/은 to stems, you have learned about adding ~ㄴ/는다 to verb stems. Normally, you add ~ㄴ다 to the stem of a verb ending in a vowel, and ~는다 to the stem of a verb ending in a consonant. For example:

나는 집에 간다 = I go home
나는 밥을 먹는다 = I eat rice

But when adding ~ㄴ/는다 to a verb stem that ends in ㄹ, you must remove ㄹ and add ~ㄴ다 to the verb stem:

나는 문을 연다 = I open the door
나는 케이크를 만든다 = I make a cake

ㄹ Irregular: Adding ~ㅂ/습 to words

You have also learned about adding ~ㅂ/습니다 to verb and adjective stems when conjugating in the Formal high respect form: Normally, you add ~ㅂ니다 to the stem of a word ending in a vowel, and ~습니다 to the stem of a word ending in a consonant. For example:

Verbs:
저는 집에 갑니다 = I go home
저는 밥을 먹습니다 = I eat rice

Adjectives:
그 여자는 예쁩니다 = That girl is beautiful
이 방은 넓습니다 = This room is big/wide

But when adding ~ㅂ니다 to the stem of a word that ends in ㄹ, you must remove ㄹ and add ~ㅂ directly to the stem. For example:

Verbs:
저는 문을 엽니다 = I open the door
저는 케이크를 만듭니다 = I make a cake

Adjectives:
그 병원은 멉니다 = That hospital is far
그 여자의 머리카락은 깁니다 = That girls hair is long

머리 can mean ‘head’ or ‘hair’ depending on the context. If you want to specifically mention your hair, you can say “머리카락” always means the hair on one’s head. 머리 or 머리카락 does not refer to the hair on an animal, or the body hair of a human. This hair is referred to as “털” and extends to most of the hair that can be found on animals (fur, the wool on a sheep, etc)

Here is a table with the word “열다 (to open – which is a verb)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. The irregular conjugations are in bold. Notice that this only occurs when ~ㄴ or ~ㅂ is added to the verb stem.

열다 = open Past Present Future
Informal low 열었어 열어 열겠어
Informal high 열었어요 열어요 열겠어요
Plain form 열었다 연다 열겠다
Formal high 열었습니다 엽니다 열겠습니다
And here is a table with the word “길다 (long – which is an adjective)” being conjugated using all the honorific forms you have learned so far. Notice that this only occurs when ~ㄴ or ~ㅂ is added to the verb stem (it would happen when ~ㄴ is added, but you don’t add ~ㄴ/는 to an adjective when you conjugate it like this. There are times, however, when this would happen, but you haven’t even gotten close to learning about them yet. For example, in Lesson 76, we talk about the addition of ~ㄴ/는데 to clauses. This would make 길다 turn into 긴데. Please don’t even think about looking ahead until Lesson 76 until you’ve finished with this lesson, and the 69 lessons in between.

길다 = long Past Present Future
Informal low 길었어 길어 길겠어
Informal high 길었어요 길어요 길겠어요
Plain form 길었다 길다 길겠다
Formal high 길었습니다 깁니다 길겠습니다
Adjective form 긴 거리 = long road
I don’t want to confuse you too much more because I am sure you are already really confused. Just the amount of content on this page alone is enough to make somebody cry. That being said, I think it is a very good exercise to try to compare how the words 듣다 and 들다 differ in their conjugations. Don’t worry about the meaning of 들다 yet (it is a very complex word that has many meanings), but just assume it is a verb in this case. For now, let’s just focus on how they are conjugated.

Notice that when conjugating 듣다, you need to consider the following irregular patterns:

ㄷ irregular (because it ends in ㄷ)
ㅡ irregular (because the final vowel is ㅡ)
The following table shows how 듣다 should be conjugated across the honorifics and tenses you have learned so far:

듣다 = to hear Past Present Future
Informal low 들었어 들어 듣겠어
Informal high 들었어요 들어요 듣겠어요
Plain form 들었다 듣는다 듣겠다
Formal high 들었습니다 듣습니다 듣겠습니다
Notice when conjugating 들다, you need to consider the following irregular patterns:

ㄹ irregular (because it ends in ㄹ)
ㅡ irregular (because the final vowel is ㅡ)
The following table shows how 들다 should be conjugated across the honorifics and tenses you have learned so far:

들다 Past Present Future
Informal low 들었어 들어 들겠어
Informal high 들었어요 들어요 들겠어요
Plain form 들었다 든다 들겠다
Formal high 들었습니다 듭니다 들겠습니다
I feel that comparing these two is a very good exercise because you can see that sometimes, because of the irregular conjugations, 듣다 might look exactly like 들다. For example, in all of the past tense conjugations, there is no way to distinguish between the two based on sound, and the only way to distinguish them is by context in a sentence.

There is no easy way around memorizing stuff like this. The only words of encouragement I can give you is that – as you become more and more familiar with the language, and as you expose yourself to it more and more, it does become second nature. I know you can’t believe that now, but it does.

ㄹ Irregular: Adding ~ㄹ/을 to words

You have yet to learn any situation where you would need to add ~ㄹ/을 to a stem, so don’t worry about this too much now right now. I will show you the examples, but you won’t be able to understand them. Just try to see how the irregular works within these examples, and I will re-present these again when you learn how to deal with adding ~ㄹ/을.

Normally (just like with other similar additions), you would add ~ㄹ to the stem of a word ending in a vowel, and ~을 to the stem of a word ending in a consonant. For example:

작다 + ~ㄹ/을 = 작을
크다 + ~ㄹ/을 = 클

However, when you add ~ㄹ/을 to a stem of a word that ends in ㄹ, the ㄹ is dropped and ㄹ is attached directly to the stem. In effect, you removed something and replace it with exactly the same thing. For example:

갈다 + ㄹ/을 = 갈
빨다 + ㄹ/을 = 빨

Again, that is just for your reference. I will teach you more about this irregular when I teach you about the specific grammar within it in Lesson 9. You will also see this irregular applied again in Lesson 28.

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ㄹ Irregular – Adding Anything that Starts with a “Solid” ㄴ or ㅅ

As of now, you have not yet learned about adding anything that starts with a solid ㄴ or ㅅ to a stem, so don’t worry about this too much now. What I mean by “solid ㄴ” is that – any addition where you add something that starts with “ㄴ,” but there is no choice of having to add ~ㄴ or something else. For example, even though the plain form conjugation “~ㄴ/는다” starts with “~ㄴ”, there is a choice of having to add “ㄴ” OR “는”. This irregular only applies to grammar additions that start with “ㄴ”, and there is no alternate addition. For example, as you will learn later, a grammatical addition to form a question is ~니. There is no alternate addition to this. For example, it is not ~ㄴ/니.

I will show you the examples of how this works, but you won’t be able to understand them. Just try to see how the irregular works within these examples, and I will re-present these again when you learn how to deal with adding a solid ~ㄴ and ~ㅅ.

When you add a solid ~ㄴ or ~ㅅ to a stem of a word that ends in ㄹ, you must drop the ㄹ from the stem, and add the solid ~ㄴ or ~ㅅ after the stem:

For example:

열다 + ~나(요) = 여나요
열다 + ~니 = 여니
열다 + ~는 = 여는
열다 + ~냐 = 여냐

열다 + ~세요 = 여세요

Again, that is just for your reference. I will teach you more about those irregulars when I teach you about the specific grammar within them. Specifically, you will learn about adding ~니 and ~나 to stems in Lesson 21; you will learn about ~는 in Lessons 26, 27 and 28; and will learn about~세요 in Lesson 40.

As of now, you have not yet learned about adding ~는 or ~ㅅ to a stem, so don’t worry about this too much now. I will show you the examples, but you won’t be able to understand them. Just try to see how the irregular works within these examples, and I will re-present these again when you learn how to deal with adding ~는 and ~ㅅ.

Make sure that you realize that you have not learned any grammatical principle where “~는” is added. The addition of “~는” is not the diary form conjugation that you learned in Lesson 5. That conjugation is ~ㄴ/는다 – where, depending on the stem of the verb, you might need add ~ㄴ다 or ~는다. The “~는” addition is not the same, and will be talked about in Lessons 26, 27 and 28, but try not to worry about it now.

Just to make my point clear – the diary form present tense conjugation of “열다” is “연다” (based on the information earlier). It is not 여는다.

Adding ~ㄴ/은 to Adjectives

I mentioned this in some of the sections above, but I would like to organize it all here. In Lesson 4, you learned how to add ~ㄴ/은 to adjectives to describe an upcoming noun. Some irregulars will come into play when adding doing this because of the possibility of adding a vowel to a stem. Let’s look at the word “어렵다” as an example. 어렵다 has a consonant as its final letter, which means that ~은 must be added (instead of ~ㄴ). Therefore, we end up with:

어렵은

Because of this, now we now have the final consonant “ㅂ” followed by a vowel, which causes the ㅂ irregular to be applied. The correct conjugation of 어렵다 + ~ㄴ/은 is therefore “어려운.”

Below is a table that shows how irregular adjectives can change because of adding ~ㄴ/은:

Irregular Example Word Does this apply? Application
ㅅ Irregular 낫다 (better) YES 나은
ㄷ Irregular NA NA NA
ㅂ Irregular 쉽다 (easy) YES 쉬운
ㅡ Irregular 바쁘다 (busy) NO 바쁜
르 Irregular 빠르다 (fast) NO 빠른
ㄹ Irregular 길다 (long) YES 긴

That’s it! Wow that is a lot of irregulars.

Note that these irregulars do not apply to word stems ending with a four-letter syllable. For example, the ㅅ irregular does not apply to 없다, which you will learn about in the next lesson.

Check out our Irregular Guide if you are confused (I’m sure you are!).

Everybody is confused when they learn these irregulars. Eventually you will reach a point where all of these will come natural to you. Whenever you learn a new word where the stem ends in ㅅ/ㄹ/ㅂ/ㄷ/르/ㅡ just make a mental note about how you should conjugate that word in the future. I don’t even have to think about these irregulars anymore because they just flow out naturally. If you can’t memorize them all right now, just try to understand them, which will allow you to recognize them later. Eventually, you will memorize them simply from using and hearing them so much.

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