Korean Particles (~는/은 and ~를/을)

Korean Particles (~는/은 and ~를/을)

Most words in a Korean sentence have a particle (a fancy word to say ‘something’) attached to them. These particles indicate the role of each word in a sentence – that is, specifically which word is the subject or object. Note that there is absolutely no way of translating these particles to English, as we do not use anything like them.
The following are the particles you should know for this lesson:

는 or 은 (Subject)
This is placed after a word to indicate that it is the subject of a sentence.
Use 는 when the last letter of the last syllable of the subject is a vowel. For example:
나 = 나는
저 = 저는

Use 은 when the last letter of the last syllable of the subject is a consonant. For example:
집 = 집은
책 = 책은

를 or 을 (Object)
This is placed after a word to indicate that is the object of a sentence.
Use 를 when the last letter of the last syllable is a vowel. For example:
나 = 나를
저 = 저를

Use을 when the last letter of the last syllable is a consonant. For example:
집 = 집을
책 = 책을

We can now make sentences using the Korean sentence structure and the Korean particles.

1) I speak Korean = I는 Korean을 speak
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “Korean” (the object)

2) I like you = I는 you를 like
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “you” (the object)

3) I wrote a letter = I는 letter을 wrote
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “letter” (the object)

4) I opened the door = I는 door을 opened
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “the door” (the object)

5) My mom will make pasta = My mom은 pasta를 will make
은 is attached to “my mom” (the subject)
를 is attached to “pasta” (the object)

I am sure that you will be tempted to start substituting Korean words into those constructions to make real Korean sentences. However, at this point, that is too complicated. The goal of this lesson is to familiarize yourself with the structure of Korean sentences.

The same could be done for sentences with adjectives. However, remember that sentences with adjectives will not have an object:

1) My girlfriend is pretty: My girlfriend은 is pretty
:”은” is attached to “my girlfriend” (the subject)

2) The movie was scary = The movie는 was scary
:”는” is attached to “the movie” (the subject)

There is one more particle that you should be aware of before we go any further.

에 (Place or time)
We haven’t talked about places or times yet, but if you do an action at a time, you must attach the particle “에” to the word indicating the time.
“에” is also attached to a word to indicate that it is a place in the sentence. I want to write more about what “에” does, but at this point, it would only confuse you. For now, it is sufficient to know that “에” is used to indicate a place in a sentence.
Again, it is hard to translate these particles into English, but, “에” plays the role of the underlined words in the following sentences:

1) I went at 3pm
2) I went to the park

Sentences with a place/time can also have an object in them. For example:

3) I ate hamburgers at 3pm

If I were to write those same sentence using Korean structure and particles, they would look like this:

1) I는 3pm에 went
2) I는 park에 went

3) I는 hamburgers을 3pm에 ate
In these cases, “at 3pm” or “to the park” act as adverbs (a word that tells you when, where, how, how much). There is no set place for an adverb within a sentence, and it can generally be placed anywhere (except the end). Adverbs will be discussed at length in Lesson 8.

Again, the purpose of this first part of Lesson 1 was to familiarize yourself with the different Korean particles and sentence structure. This knowledge will act as your base for upcoming lessons when you will apply yourself to make actual sentences with verbs/adjectives in Korean. While you will have to wait a little bit to create those types of sentences, we can now talk about creating actual Korean sentences with the word “to be.”

To be: 이다

Now its time to learn how to make an actual sentence using the word ‘to be.’ English speakers often don’t realize how difficult this word is in English. Look at the following examples:

I am a man
He is a man
They are men
I was a man
They were men

In each of those sentences, the word ‘to be’ is represented by a different word (is/am/are/was/were) depending on the subject and tense of the sentence. Luckily, in Korean, the same word is used to represent is, am, are, was and were. This word is 이다

이다 should not be thought of as a verb or an adjective in Korean, as in most cases it acts differently. I will teach you how 이다 differs from verbs and adjectives as it becomes important (in future lessons).

Sometimes however, 이다 is somewhat similar to adjectives. Remember that sentences ending with adjectives do not have objects in them. Whenever a sentence is predicated by an adjective, there will be no object in the sentence. Only sentences with verbs have objects. Let’s look at some examples:

I eat hamburgers (eat is a verb, the object is a hamburger)
I meet my friend (meet is a verb, the object is my friend)
I study Korean (study is a verb, the object is Korean)
I listen to music (listen is a verb, the object is music)

All of those sentences (can) have objects because the verb is the predicate of the sentence. However, in sentences that are predicated by adjectives:

I am pretty
I am beautiful
I am hungry
I am smart

This means that we can never use the particle ~을/를 in a sentence predicated by an adjective (because ~을/를 denotes that there is an object). The object particle is also not used when using the word “이다.” The basic structure for a sentence predicated by “이다” is:

[noun은/는] [another noun] [이다]

For example:
I는 man이다 = I am a man

Now substitute the words for “man” and “I:”

나 = I
남자 = man

나는 + 남자 + 이다

이다 gets attached directly to the noun. So, the above construction looks like:

나는 남자이다 = I am a man

It is very important that you remember that ~를/을 is not attached to words in sentences with “이다.” The following would be very incorrect:

나는 남자를 이다.

이다 is the only word that acts like this, and is one of the reasons why you should treat it differently than other verbs or adjectives.

The focus of this lesson (and Lessons 2 and 3) is to introduce you to simple Korean sentence structure. Until you reach Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 you will not be exposed to the conjugations and honorifics of Korean verbs, adjectives and 이다.

In reality, these words are never (or very very rarely) used without these conjugations and honorifics. Therefore, while I stress the importance of understanding the structure of the sentences presented in this Lessons 1, 2, 3 and 4 do not use the sentences in any form of communication with Korean people, as they will most likely not be understood. In order to completely understand what is presented in Lessons 5 and 6 (and for the rest of your Korean studies), it is essential that you understand what is presented in these first four lessons – even though they may be seen as “technically incorrect.”

For all of the “technically incorrect” (un-conjugated) sentences presented in Lesson 1 – 4 I will provide a correct (conjugated) version of the same sentence in parenthesis below the un-conjugated version (one formal and one informal conjugation). Note one more time that you will not understand these conjugations until Lessons 5 and 6 (for verbs and adjectives) and Lesson 9 (for 이다).

Other examples of 이다 in use:

나는 여자이다 = I am a woman
(나는 여자야 / 저는 여자예요)

나는 선생님이다 = I am a teacher
(나는 선생님이야 / 저는 선생님이에요)

나는 사람이다 = I am a person
(나는 사람이야 / 저는 사람이에요)

나는 ______이다 = I am a _______
(나는 _______ 이야 / 저는 _____이에요)
You can substitute any noun into the blank space to make these sentences.

This and That (이/그/저)

You can see in the vocabulary above that the word for “this” is 이 in Korean.
We use 이 in Korean when we are talking about something that is within touching distance (For example: this pen – i.e. the one I am holding). Just like in English “이” (this) is placed before the noun it is describing. For example:

이 사람 = This person
이 남자 = This man
이 여자 = This woman
이 차 = This car
이 탁자 = This table
이 의자 = This chair

Unfortunately, there are two words for “that”: 그 and 저. Early learners of Korean are always confused with the difference between “그” and “저.”

We use 그 when we are talking about something from a previous sentence or from previous context, regardless of if you could see it or not. Providing examples would be too difficult right now because you do not know any Korean sentences. However, if I were to say: “I don’t like that man [when your friend mentioned him in a previous sentence].” The word “that” in that sentence would be how “그” is used.

We use 저 when we are talking about something that we can see, but cannot touch because it is too far away.

We can place “그” or “저” before a noun to describe “this” or “that” thing just like we did with “이.”

이 사람 = This person
그 사람 = That person
저 사람 = That person

이 남자 = This man
그 남자 = That man
저 남자 = That man

이 여자 = This woman
그 여자 = That woman
저 여자 = That woman

이 의자 = This chair
그 의자 = That chair
저 의자 = That chair

이 탁자 = This table
그 탁자 = That table
저 탁자 = That table

Again, although the English translations of “그” and “저” are the same, it is important to remember that they are not the same word in Korean.

One of the most common words in Korean is “것” meaning “thing.” When 이, 그 or 저 are placed before “것,” the result is a compound word. Therefore, when placing “것” after 이, 그 or 저, there should not be a space between the two. In other words, the following are words in and within themselves, and not two separate words:

이것 = this thing
그것 = that thing
저것 = that thing

We see this same phenomenon happen with other common words that you learn in future lessons. You don’t need to worry about this now, but we see this same thing happen with the word 곳 (meaning “place”) and 때 (meaning “time”).

With these words, the word “thing” isn’t necessary in the English translation. Let me explain.

I’ll use “that” as an example, but the same idea can be applied to the word “this.”

“That” can be placed before a noun to describe it. As we saw earlier:

That person
That man
That woman

However, it can also be a noun itself. For example:

I like that

In this type of English sentence, “that” is referring to some thing that you like. It is a noun. It is a thing.

Therefore, the sentence could just as easily be said as:

I like that thing

I don’t like to use grammatical jargon in my lessons, but if you know what these words mean, it could be helpful. In both English and Korean, “that” can be a determiner (as in, “I like that man”), and it can also be a pronoun (as in “I like that”). When used as a determiner in Korean, you should place 그 before a noun. When used as a pronoun in Korean, the word 그것 is used.

In this same respect, while “이, 그 and 저” translate to “this, that and that” respectively, and are placed before nouns to indicate “this noun, that noun and that noun,” “이것, 그것 and 저것” are nouns (they are pronouns). Therefore, they do not need to be followed by the redundant word “thing,” although their meanings would be exactly the same:

I like this
I like this thing

I like that
I like that thing

We can now use these nouns as subjects or objects in a sentence. We will look at how they can be used with “이다” next.

Using This/That with 이다

Remember, 이다 translates to “to be” and is conjugated as “am/is/are” in English. Now that we know how to use 이, 그 and 저 (and 이것, 그것 and 저것), we can now make sentences like this:

That person is a doctor

We can start by putting those words into the Korean structure:

That person는 doctor is

And then changing the English words to the appropriate Korean words:

그 사람은 + 의사 + 이다
그 사람은 의사이다
(그 사람은 의사야 / 그 사람은 의사예요)

More examples:
그 사람은 선생님이다 = That person is a teacher
(그 사람은 선생님이야 / 그 사람은 선생님이에요)

이것은 탁자이다 = This (thing) is a table
(이것은 탁자야 / 이것은 탁자예요)

저것은 침대이다 = That (thing) is a bed
(저것은 침대야 / 저것은 침대예요)

그 사람은 남자이다 = That person is a man
(그 사람은 남자야 / 그 사람은 남자예요)

그 사람은 여자이다 = That person is a woman
(그 사람은 여자야 / 그 사람은 여자예요)

그것은 차이다 = That (thing) is a car
(그것은 차야 / 그것은 차예요)

이것은 나무이다 = This (thing) is a tree
(이것은 나무야 / 이것은 나무예요)

Wow! That was an extremely difficult lesson. If you were to pick up another Korean text book, I am sure the first chapter would be much easier than this. Trust me though; learning this at the start will be very useful to you later on. When I was learning how to speak Korean, it took me months to realize some of these things (not because they were hard, but because I was using a text book that never taught me the reason why things are the way they are in Korean).

Before you move on, make sure you understand the simple Korean sentence structure presented in this first lesson. Also, remember that the sentences not in parentheses are technically incorrect (or very very uncommon) because they have not been conjugated.

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