When learning a new language, the most important aspect to master is grammar. And this is no different when you are learning the Korean language. After all, grammar serves as the foundation of effective communication. So if you want to converse with a native speaker in fluent Korean, you will definitely have to brush up on your Korean grammar.
While Korean grammar is noticeably different from its English counterpart, it still follows specific rules and sentence structures. So once you are able to get used to the quirks of Korean grammar, you will be conversing in Korean in the written and spoken form in no time. However, as a novice embarking on your Korean learning journey, you might not be sure of where to begin. As such, let us share what you need to know about Korean grammar.
Given that English is the main spoken and written language in Singapore, many of us will be familiar with basic English grammar, which typically follows the sentence structure: subject (S) + verb (V) + object (O). For example, "I (S) ate (V) a mango (O)".
Conversely, basic Korean grammar generally reverses the positioning of its verb and object, resulting in the following sentence structure: subject (S) + object (O) + verb (V). As such, for Singaporeans who are familiar with the English language, Korean may sound confusing to us initially.
As a rule of thumb, those who are new to the Korean language should note that the basic Korean sentence structure typically ends with a verb. Let us share a sentence structure guide that you can memorise, which will be hugely beneficial to your learning journey.
1. Subject (S) + Noun (N)
Similar to the English language, the combination of a subject and noun is used to describe what the subject – a person or an object – is. When speaking or writing in English, connecting words such as 'is' or 'be' are used to express the connection between the subject and subject complement. For example, "Jack is a lawyer".
However, in Korean, to establish the connection between the two words, we will put the two words next to each other and include 입니다 (im-ni-da) to the last word. For example, "조쉬는 학생입니다. (Jo-shwi-neun hak-saeng-im-ni-da.)", which translates to "Josh is a student".
2. Subject (S) + Verb (V)
It is crucial to remember that conjugation does not apply to people or numbers in the Korean language. The verb form remains the same regardless of the subject. For instance, in English, you are expected to include the letter 's' after the word 'cook' if you are referring to a singular subject, like "Jack cooks". However, this does not apply to Korean.
3. Subject (S) + Adjective (A)
In the English language, adjectives are words that modify nouns. However, in Korean, adjectives can also be used as verbs. As a result, the term can change depending on the tense. For example, the Korean word for pretty is 예뻐요 (ye-ppuh-yo), but if you want to phrase it as 'was pretty', then the word changes to 예뻤어요. (ye-ppuh-ssuh-yo).
In the Korean language, nouns, 명사 (myeong-sa, 名词), are made plural by adding 들 (deul) at the end. However, it is vital to note that this is not applicable for every noun, as some are already in their plural forms.
When learning a new language, one of the most basic things we learn first is the noun. By building our vocabulary and knowledge of the language by understanding nouns, we can learn to construct simple phrases and sentences, and this is no different for the Korean language.
Korean pronouns, 대명사 (dae-myeong-sa, 代名词), are a crucial aspect of Korean grammar, as they form the foundation of daily conversations. Unlike the English language, Korean pronouns vary according to the seniority of your conversational partner. Filial piety and respect are essential values to the Koreans. As such, when speaking to someone of higher social status or position, the Koreans will use formal pronouns. Misusing the wrong honorifics may make you seem rude to your conversational partner even though there is no intention to offend.
Korean particles, 조사(jo-sa, 助词), are the equivalent of prepositions in the English language. They are used to denote a relationship to another word or element in the sentence. For instance, the woman on the bus. Unlike the English language, however, Korean particles are placed after the noun instead of preceding it. Let us share some basic Korean particles and their types. The particle used differs depending on whether it follows a consonant or a vowel at the end of the noun.
|Type of Particle||Form following a consonant||Form following a vowel|
|Subject / Topic marking particle||은 eun||는 neun|
|Subject / Identifier particle||이 i||가 ga|
|Object marking particle||을 eul||를 reul|
As you can see, based on the context and phrasing, the subject particles are used interchangeably, depending on what fits the speech or sentence best.
Adjectives are an essential tool when learning a new language. They help us paint a clearer picture of the nouns we are referring to, making both prose and the spoken word easier and more interesting. And the same logic applies to Korean adjectives, 형용사(hyeong-yong-sa, 形容词).
While the grammar for the English language and Korean language are generally different, when describing nouns using Korean adjectives, they utilise the following sentence structure of adjective + noun, similar to how we describe nouns in the English language.
Korean is a unique language. In Korean grammar, the verb, 동사(dong-sa, 动词), has to be conjugated based on the context. As such, Korean verbs have to follow specific grammar rules that dictate how they are written.
For example, you need to conjugate the Korean word based on the level of formality, its tenses, and whether the connecting word ends in a consonant or vowel. But, depending on the subject, the word form does not change. As such, you need not have to worry about the Korean particles changing.
There is one essential thing a learner has to take note of regarding Korean adjectives and verbs – both include the following character '다'. While it may initially be confusing to differentiate between the two terms, do not fret! With sufficient practice, you will be more adept at recognising which is a verb and which is an adjective.
There are two things you can conjugate in Korean grammar – verbs and adjectives. Korean conjugations are essential to express the tense, tone, and meaning of our speech or sentences. Fortunately, Korean verbs tend to stick to their conjugation rules, making it simpler for you to understand the proper grammar structure to follow in any given situation.
Learning a new language can be fun and filling, but there is no doubt it requires significant dedication and practice. If you find yourself struggling with the fundamentals of the Korean language, you might want to consider signing up for Korean courses.
Having a dedicated instructor to guide you on your learning journey and provide pointers and helpful tips on learning Korean can also help you avoid common beginner mistakes, thereby allowing you to speed up your learning process.