Lesson 4: Korean Adjectives ~ㄴ/은

Lesson 4: Korean Adjectives ~ㄴ/은


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).

Want to give your brain practice at recognizing these words? Try finding the words in this vocabulary list in a Word Search.

길 = street

거리 = street/road

손 = hand

영어 = English

택시 = taxi

열차 = train

역 = train/subway station

버스 정류장 = bus stop

비행기 = airplane

자전거 = bicycle

아내 = wife

아이 = child

아들 = son

딸 = daughter

남편 = husband

아버지 = father

어머니 = mother

편지 = letter

맛 = taste

식사 = meal

아침 = morning

아침식사 = breakfast

물 = water

사과 = apple

오다 = to come

끝내다 = to finish

춤추다 = to dance

알다 = to know

걷다 = to walk

배우다 = to learn

연습하다 = to practice

생각하다 = to think

살다 = to live

Passive Verbs:
끝나다 = to be finished

위험하다 = to be dangerous

잘생기다 = to be handsome

못생기다 = to be ugly

피곤하다 = to be tired

다르다 = to be different

슬프다 = to be sad

맛있다 = to be delicious

재미있다 = to be fun, to be funny

많다 = to be many of, to be a lot of

행복하다 = to be happy

Adverbs and Other Words:
거기 = there

저기 = there (when farther away)

지금 = now

하지만 = but

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

Common Greeting Words

I wish I could tell you not to worry about these. Of course, I can tell you “don’t worry about these,” but I don’t think that will do. When learning a language, everybody wants to learn these words as soon as possible. I understand that completely, but I have purposely waited to teach you these types of words. In fact, I still don’t want to show them to you – but at this point I am sure you are asking yourself “I’ve gotten this far and I still don’t even know how to say ‘goodbye’ yet!”

In Korean, it is much easier to understand these words/phrases if you also understand why they are used the way they are. Unfortunately, we haven’t reached the point where you can understand this. We will get to that in a few more lessons. Either way, here are some very common phrases which I am sure you are dying to know:

안녕히 가세요 = Goodbye (said to somebody going)
안녕히 계세요 = Goodbye (said to somebody staying)
만나서 반갑습니다 = Nice to meet you
실례합니다 = Excuse me
죄송합니다/미안합니다 = Sorry
이름이 뭐예요? = What is your name?
저의 이름은 ______이에요 = My name is
어디에서 왔어요? = Where are you from?
저는 _______에서 왔어요 = I am from

Using Adjectives ~ㄴ/은

Alright, this won’t help you understand those greeting words any better, but what you are about to learn is a major step in learning Korean. You should remember these two important facts from the previous lesson:

All sentences must end with either a verb or adjective
All verbs/adjectives end with the syllable ‘다’
Although both of those are true (and always will be), let’s look at them more deeply:

All sentences must end with either a verb or adjective
Yes, but verbs and adjectives can ALSO go elsewhere in a sentence. In the previous lesson, you learned this sentence:
저는 배를 원하다 = I want a boat
(나는 배를 원해 / 저는 배를 원해요)

But what if you want to say: “I want a big boat.” In that sentence, there is a verb and an adjective. Where should we put the adjective? In Korean, this adjective is placed in the same position as in English. For example:

나는 배를 원하다 = I want a boat
나는 big 배를 원하다 = I want a big boat

Simple. So we just substitute the Korean word for big (크다) into that sentence?:

나는 크다 배를 원하다 = Not correct. Not by a long shot.

Remember that second rule I taught you?:

All verbs/adjectives end with the syllable ‘다’
– Yes, but the version of the word with ‘다’ as the last syllable is simply the dictionary form of that word and is rarely used. Every verb/adjective in Korean has a ‘stem,’ which is made up of everything preceding 다 in the dictionary form of the word. Let’s look at some examples:
크다 = 크 (stem) + 다
작다 = 작 (stem) + 다
좋다 = 좋 (stem) + 다
길다 = 길 (stem) + 다
배우다 = 배우 (stem) + 다

Word Stem Adjective that can describe a noun Example Translation
크다 크 큰 큰 배 Big boat
비싸다 비싸 비싼 비싼 음식 Expensive food
싸다 싸 싼 싼 것 Cheap thing

Words in which the last syllable of the stem ends in a consonant (작다/좋다/많다) you add ~은 to the stem:

Word Stem Adjective that can describe a noun Example Translation
작다 작 작은 작은 남자 Small man
좋다 좋 좋은 좋은

Looking back to what we were trying to write before:

I want a big boat = 저는 크다 배를 원하다 = incorrect
I want a big boat = 저는 큰 배를 원하다 = correct

The key to understanding this is being able to understand the difference between the following:

음식은 비싸다 = The food is expensive
비싼 음식 = expensive food

The first example is a sentence. The second example is not a sentence. The second sentence needs more words in order for it to be a sentence. You need to add either a verb or adjective that predicates the noun of “expensive food.” For example:

나는 비싼 음식을 먹다 = I eat expensive food
(나는 비싼 음식을 먹어 / 저는 비싼 음식을 먹어요)
The verb “to eat” predicates this sentence.

저는 비싼 음식을 좋아하다 = I like expensive food
(나는 비싼 음식을 좋아해 / 저는 비싼 음식을 좋아해요)
The verb “to like” predicates this sentence.

비싼 음식은 맛있다 = Expensive food is delicious
(비싼 음식은 맛있어 / 비싼 음식은 맛있어요)
The adjective “to be delicious” predicates this sentence. Notice that there is no object in this sentence.

(Remember, for the last time – you do not know how to conjugate verbs and adjectives at the end of a sentence yet. This will be introduced in the next lesson. Because you do not know how to conjugate verbs/adjectives at the ends of sentences, examples with un-conjugated forms are presented in this lesson. Remember that these sentences are technically incorrect, but understanding them is crucial to your understanding of the Korean sentence structure.

As with the previous three lessons, I have provided conjugated examples below each un-conjugated example. You will probably not be able to understand these conjugations.)

More examples of using adjectives to describe nouns within a sentence:

나는 작은 집에 가다 = I go to the small house
(나는 작은 집에 가 / 저는 작은 집에 가요)

나는 큰 차를 원하다 = I want a big car
(나는 큰 차를 원해 / 저는 큰 차를 원해요)

나는 잘생긴 남자를 만나다 = I meet a handsome man
(나는 잘생긴 남자를 만나 / 저는 잘생긴 남자를 만나요)

나는 많은 돈이 있다 = I have a lot of money
(나는 많은 돈이 있어 / 저는 많은 돈이 있어요)

나는 뚱뚱한 학생을 만나다 = I meet a fat student
(나는 뚱뚱한 학생을 만나 / 저는 뚱뚱한 학생을 만나요)

In Lessons 1 and 2, I explained that adjectives cannot “act” on objects. Many learners look at the sentences above and say “Hey! Those sentences have an object and an adjective!” Adjectives cannot act on an object to predicate a sentence. This means you cannot use a sentence like this (in either language):

나는 집을 작다 = I small house

However, I didn’t say anything about adjectives and objects being used in the same sentence. Adjectives can be used to describe an object that is being predicated by a verb. I will continue to talk about this in the examples below.

In all of the examples above, notice the difference in function between when an adjective is used to describe a noun compared to when it is used to predicate a sentence. For example:

나는 작은 집에 가다 = I go to the small house
(나는 작은 집에 가 / 저는 작은 집에 가요)
The verb “to go” predicates this sentence.

그 집은 작다 = That house is small
(그 집은 작아 / 그 집은 작아요)
The adjective “to be small” predicates this sentence. Notice that there is no object in this sentence.

저는 큰 차를 원하다 = I want a big car
(나는 큰 차를 원해 / 저는 큰 차를 원해요)
The verb “to want” predicates this sentence.

이 차는 크다 = This car is big
(이 차는 커 / 이 차는 커요)
The adjective “to be big” predicates this sentence. Notice that there is no object in this sentence.

In each of the examples above, even though the adjective always acts as a descriptive word, in the cases when they are placed before nouns to describe them – those nouns are able to be placed anywhere in the sentence (for example, as the subject, object, location, or other places). This same thing happens in English, where I can have a simple sentence like this:

남자는 음식을 먹다 = The man eats food
(남자는 음식을 먹어 / 남자는 음식을 먹어요)

I can use adjectives to describe each noun in the sentence. For example:

행복한 여자는 작은 차 안에 있다 = The happy girl is inside the small car
(행복한 여자는 작은 차 안에 있어 / 행복한 여자는 작은 차 안에 있어요)

You will see some adjectives that end in “~있다.” The most common of these for a beginner are:

맛있다 = delicious
재미있다 = fun, funny

When an adjective ends in “~있다” like this, instead of attaching ~ㄴ/은 to the stem, you must attach ~는 to the stem. For example:

그 남자는 재미있는 남자이다 = that man is a funny man
(그 남자는 재미있는 남자야 / 그 남자는 재미있는 남자예요)

나는 맛있는 음식을 먹다 = I eat delicious food
(나는 맛있는 음식을 먹어 / 저는 맛있는 음식을 먹어요)

The difference here is due to what I call the “~는 것” principle. For now, you do not need to think about why ~는 is added instead of ~ㄴ/은. It is sufficient at this point to just memorize it as an exception. The concept behind this grammatical rule is introduced in Lesson 26 and I continue to discuss it into other Lessons in Unit 2. This concept is related to verbs being able to describe nouns. For example:

“The man who I met yesterday will go to the park that I want to go to”

However, this is very complex and is the whole basis to the ~는 것 principle that I mentioned earlier. As I said, you will begin to learn about this in Lesson 26.

To be a lot of: 많다

A good way to practice your understanding of how adjectives can be used to describe a noun in a sentence or to predicate an entire sentence is to apply your knowledge to the word “많다.” 많다 is an adjective that describes that there is “many’ or “a lot” of something. Its translation to English usually depends on how it is used in a sentence. For example, when used to describe nouns in a sentence, it can be used in the following way:

나는 많은 음식을 먹다 = I eat a lot of food
(나는 많은 음식을 먹어 / 저는 많은 음식을 먹어요)

나는 많은 돈이 있다 = I have a lot of money
(나는 많은 돈이 있어 / 저는 많은 돈이 있어요)

나는 많은 아내가 있다 = I have a lot of wives (ha!)
(나는 많은 아내가 있어 / 저는 많은 아내가 있어요)

Now, if we use “많다” to predicate a sentence, it can be used like this:

사람이 많다

In your Korean studies, you need to realize that it is never effective to think of a Korean sentence as an exact translation in English. The fact is, Korean and English grammar are completely different, and trying to force the rules/structure of English into Korean is unnatural. If we stuck with the translation of “a lot of” for the meaning of “많다” and forced the English translation to the sentence “사람이 많다”, we would get:

People are a lot of

… But that clearly is not accurate. Instead, what is the sentence “사람이 많다” describing? It is describing that there is a lot of something, therefore, the translation should be:

사람이 많다 = there is a lot of people
(사람이 많아 / 사람이 많아요)

Therefore, when 많다 predicates a sentence, its translation is usually “There is/are a lot of…”. Here is another example:

음식이 많다 = there is a lot of food
(음식이 많아 / 음식이 많아요)

Of course, this can be applied to very complex sentences as well, but this is just the very beginning. Eventually, you will be able to make a sentence like:

There are a lot of singers who become famous and spend all of their money too quickly

This sentence as well would also end in “많다.” The structure would basically be:

(singers who become famous and spend all of their money too quickly)가 많다

You are still very far from understanding how complex sentences like that work, but I want to show you that the content you learned in this lesson brings you one step closer.

Also notice that the particles 이/가 are attached to the subjects in sentences ending with “많다.” There are some words where the use of the particles ~이/가 on the subject of the sentence is more natural than the use of ~는/은. 많다 is one of these words. We will continue to tell you in which situations it is more natural to use ~이/가 instead of ~은/는 as we progress through our lessons.

Particle ~도

~도 is another particle that is very useful in Korean. It has the meaning of “too/as well.” It can replace the subject particles (는/은) OR the object particles (를/을), depending on what you are saying “too” with. For example:

저도 한국어를 말하다 = I speak Korean as well (In addition to other people)
(나도 한국어를 말해 / 저도 한국어를 말해요)

which is different from:

저는 한국어도 말하다 = I speak Korean as well (in addition to other languages)
(나는 한국어도 말해 / 저는 한국어도 말해요)

Make sure you notice the difference between the previous two examples. In English these two are written the same, but sound different when speaking. In the first example, you are emphasizing that YOU also speak Korean, in addition to other people that you are talking about. In the second example, you are emphasizing that (in addition to other languages), you also speak Korean.
See the two examples below for the same issue:

저도 사과를 먹다 = I eat apples as well
(나도 사과를 먹어 / 저도 사과를 먹어요)

저는 사과도 먹다 = I eat apples as well
(나는 사과도 먹어 / 저는 사과도 먹어요)

Notice the difference in pronunciation in English. The first one has the meaning of “other people eat some apples, but I too eat some apples.” The second example has the meaning of “I eat some other food as well, but I also eat apples.” It is important to recognize that whatever noun “~도” is attached to is the thing that is being expressed as “too.” More examples:

More examples:
나도 그것을 알다 = I know that, too
(나도 그것을 알아 / 저도 그것을 알아요)

나도 피곤하다 = I am tired, too
(나도 피곤해 / 저도 피곤해요)

나의 딸도 행복하다 = My daughter is happy, too
(나의 딸도 행복해 / 저의 딸도 행복해요)

아들 Good son
많다 많 많은 많은 돈 A lot of money

st of the time, when you deal with a verb/adjective, you eliminate ~다 and add something to the stem.

When you want to make an adjective that can describe a noun, as in:

small boy
big boat
delicious hamburger
soft hand

you must eliminate ‘~다’ and add ~ㄴ or ~은 to the stem of the adjective.

Words in which the last syllable of the stem ends in a vowel (크다/비싸다/싸다) you add ~ㄴ to the last syllable:


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