Grammar On Bullet Points
Course 1

➢ Basic Sentence Structure in Korean

  • The Korean language is often called an ‘S-O-V language,’ meaning the basic word order of a sentence is Subject-Object-Verb. This is a misconception; in reality, the subject and the object are not set in position and can be switched around. Here are some examples:


Example 1: I study Korean.

나 한국말 공부해요. ( : I  / 한국말 : Korean  // 공부해요 : study )  

"한국말 나 공부해요." ( Directly translated, it means, "Korean - I - study." The word order changed but the core meaning remains the same. )


Example 2: I eat kimchi.

"나 김치 먹어요." ( : I  / 김치 : Kimchi (yum!)  // 먹어요 : eat ) VS.

"김치 나 먹어요." ( In the order of the phrase, it says “kimchi - I - eat.” )

Verbs usually come at the end of a sentence:

  • In most cases, the verb comes at the end of a sentence and it alone is sufficient to be a complete sentence. The Korean phrase “먹어요”, for example, can mean “Eat” in English, telling someone to have some food. Depending on the context, it can also mean “I eat”, “He eats,” “they eat” etc. Compare this with English, where the verb “eat” would only be able to act as an imperative verb / command, telling someone to take action.

The subject of a sentence can be omitted:

  • As seen above, the subject and/or the object are often omitted when they are readily understood from the context. Let's look at some examples: 

Example 1: I study Korean.

나 한국말 공부해요”  

can be said without the subject "나" if it’s understood in the context. Thus, you can have a sentence, “한국말 공부해요” in which the subject 나 "I" is absent but still have it mean " I study Korean."

Example 2: I eat kimchi.

나 김치 먹어요.      

  • Like the previous example, the sentence can be said without the subject "", if it’s readily understood in the context. Thus, you can choose to have a sentence, “햄버거 먹어요” in which the subject "I" is absent but still have it mean "I eat kimchi." 

Raising the intonation at the end makes a statement into a question:

  • In English, switching from a statement to a question requires some change in the word order or an auxiliary verb. In Korean, the change is in the intonation, not in the word order: 


 • 케첩이에요. ↓  vs. 케첩이에요? ↑

   It is ketchup.  vs. Is it ketchup? 

 • 핸드폰이에요. ↓  vs. 핸드폰이에요? ↑

     It is a cell phone. vs. Is it a cell phone? 

 • 아시아예요. ↓  vs. 아시아예요?  ↑

     It is Asia. vs.  Is it Asia? 

 • 수지예요. ↓  vs. 수지예요?  ↑

    She is Susie. vs. Is she Susie?  

As mentioned at the beginning, don't be too concerned with the grammatical aspects of the phrases in this lesson. They are basic expressions and words that come in handy in everyday social interactions. So, for now, let us learn each expression and word by imitating the sound as accurately as we can and associating it with its USAGE. Don't worry - we'll learn the relevant grammar, step by step, very soon!


➢ Basic Terms to Learn: Verb Infinitive; Verb Stem (VS); and Verb Continuative Stem (VCS)


• In this section, we’ll learn a few basic terms and concepts that set the foundation for Korean grammar. Mastering these will make learning advanced Korean grammar significantly easier, as the different forms and extensions of Korean words are derived from the few core forms we will cover in this section.

• In the Korean language, verbs are the only word class that change form depending on tenses, speech styles, and speech levels. (Speech styles and levels in particular might be new concepts for some students. Don't worry; we will study these in depth in the ensuing sections.)  To learn how changes are marked in the verb, we learn three foundational terms: Verbs in Dictionary Form, Verb Stem ( VS ) and Verb Continuative Stem (VCS).

Verbs in Dictionary Form:

• All Korean verbs in "dictionary form" end in ‘[ dah ]’ . Think of this form as representing the bare form of a verb in which no tense or any other linguistic feature is marked, and is the form a verb would appear as in the dictionary. Here are the verbs introduced in this lesson:

Korean Dictionary Form Verbs 다.png

Verb Stem: 

• The Verb Stem ( VS ) is the verb in dictionary form minus [ dah ] at the end. The verb stem can be viewed as the true root and core of a verb, from which different verb forms are derived. Look at the table below:

Korean Verb Stem VCS.png

Verb Continuative Stem:

• One of the forms derived from the verb stem is the verb continuative stem ( VCS ), a.k.a the ‘아/어 form’. Learning how to from the VCS is important because it is embedded in many verb conjunctions and patterns we will learn in our future lessons. For example, the first speech style we're going to learn is formed by adding "" [ yo ] to the VCS. The past tense form also requires the VCS.

• Below are the general rules for creating the VCS from the dictionary form. Please note that several groups of verbs do not follow the general conjugation rules. These are called ‘irregular verbs’. Many basic verbs in Korean fall into this category, and we will learn them as they come. For now, here are the three basic rules to learn:

Korean Verb Continuative Stem Verb Conju

RULE 1: The verb continuative stem ( VCS ) is dictated by the vowel in the last syllable of the verb stem.


 • 괜찮다 [ gwen-chan-dah ] to be OK

The verb stem of 괜찮다 is 괜찮, and the vowel in the last syllable ( :ㅏ ) dictates what the VCS is (in this case, 아 is added to 괜찮 to make the VCS 괜찮; this is explained further in Rule 2).

*If the verb stem is single-syllable, then the VCS is simply dictated by the vowel in the one syllable.

RULE 2: If the last syllable of the verb stem ( VS ) contains a vowel ㅏor ㅗ, add to the stem to create the verb continuative stem ( VCS ).


 • 좋다 [ joh-dah ] to be good

( ㅈ + ㅗ + ㅎ ) is a single syllable verb stem ( VS ) which contains the vowel, ㅗ. Therefore, add to the stem to create

is the VCS of the verb 좋다 ‘to be good.’

RULE 3: If the last syllable of the verb stem ( VS ) contains a vowel other than ㅏor ㅗ, then add 어 to the stem to create the verb continuative stem (VCS).


 • 먹다 [ muhk-dah ] to eat

( ㅁ + ㅓ + ㄱ ) is a single-syllable verb stem ( VS ) which contains the vowel , which is, obviously, not or . Therefore, add to the stem to create ;

is the VCS of the verb 먹다 ’to eat.’

We will practice this more, so don't worry if any parts are confusing. This is the basis for much of the grammar we tackle in the future, and will be elaborated on in later lessons.


➢ Informal-Polite Speech Style in Present Tense: VCS+ = VS + (아/어)

• The informal-polite speech style is marked in the verb at the end of the sentence and it’s the first speech style we will learn to use. For the present tense form, we simply add ‘[ yo ]’ to the verb continuative stem ( VCS ).

* The verbs 이다 and 아니다 are irregular verbs in that they do not follow the rules explained above. We'll discuss details in the ensuing sections.

* The verb 이다 has two forms. 예요 follows nouns ending in a vowel and 이에요 follows nouns ending in a consonant.

Korean Informal Polite Style 어요

➢ Speech Styles and Speech Levels in Korean

What Are Korean Speech Styles?

Speech styles refer to the degree of formality of speech and are expressed by changing the ending of a verb from its dictionary form. The speaker determines the speech style based on the kind of relationship that exists between the speaker and the listener and/or the situational setting in which the conversation takes place.

• There are quite a few speech styles, but we'll focus on the two speech styles used in colloquial speech: ‘polite’ and  ‘casual’ (a.k.a. 'intimate') speech styles. If you’ve heard the terms 존댓말 [ john-deht-mahl ] and 반말 [ bahn-mahl ], they’re referring to the topic of speech styles, 존댓말 being the 'polite styles' and 반말 being the 'casual style'. 

• The polite speech style keeps a certain degree of distance between the speaker and the listener while the casual speech style, when used appropriately, creates a close relational atmosphere.

Polite Styles:

• We'll discuss two polite styles that are used in spoken language: informal-polite and formal-polite styles.

• The informal-polite style is marked with a '' [ yo ] at the end of a verb. As the term suggests, this speech style is polite enough that you can use it with strangers, yet does not sound too formal or rigid. This is the first speech style we'll learn to use throughout the next few courses.

• The formal-polite style, on the other hand, is both polite and formal; more so than informal-polite which ends in -yo. This is why people adopt the formal polite speech style in business settings or other social settings that call for formality.  We'll discuss more details about formal-polite style at some point in future; for now, just remember two things:  One, questions in the formal-polite style will end with 니까  [ nee-kkah ]; and statements (declarative) with -니다 [ nee-dah ] in the formal style. '안녕하십니까?', a greeting which literally means “have you been well’ is an example of a question in the formal-polite style; and  '감사합니다' and '고맙습니다' are a couple examples of statements in the formal-polite style. 

Casual Styles (a.k.a Intimate Styles):

• As casual speech styles create a close relational atmosphere when used appropriately, they are used between friends and siblings, and, depending on the kind relationship, between parents and children. For example, personally, I use polite style with my father and use casual style with my mother. I started using the polite style with my father at an early age when, one day, my mother ordered me and my brothers to use  the polite style with my dad to show the respect that 'the head of the family” deserves. She never asked me and my brothers to use 존댓말 to her though. In my own case, my son and I have always have used 반말 to each other. I made the choice of not asking him to use  존댓말  to me because I wanted the intimate speech style to help create a more close and informal relationship so he can communicate with me more openly. These are just a few examples that reflect the fluid nature of adopting a speech style and how it would differ depending on one’s belief system and even individual personality.  

• Linguistically, “[ yo ]” is absent in the intimate or casual style. So the 반말 form of, say, 있어요 is 있어; 없어요 - 없어; 그래요  - 그래, and so on. 

• However, that is not to say that we can take away the YO at the end of phrases in the polite style and always turn them into the intimate speech style or 반말. Forming 반말 is a little more complicated than that. Think of the phrase 안녕하세요: You can’t make 반말 out of this by simply dropping  the YO from it. Also, one has to be cautious about switching to the ‘casual’ speech style because it CAN make the speaker sound rude and impudent when the other party in the conversation does not perceive the nature of the relationship in the same light or with the same level of interpersonal proximity. If these rules seem confusing, please don’t worry: we'll cover this in detail with far more examples in due time.

• If you are a K-drama fan, you might run into a scene where people quarrel over the speech style one uses because the other party interprets it as an act of rudeness. You might also run into a scene where people explicitly talk it out and mutually agree to switch from polite style to intimate style because they want to have a closer relationship. In a recent episode of a popular drama I watched, one of the female characters cries over the fact that the guy who she's been in love with for a long time continues to speak to her in the polite speech style. She witnesses him using 반말 to another girl who also likes the same guy (and therefore is now her love-interest rival) even though he has just recently met her. This is a good example of how one's choice of speech style can result in both positive and negative outcomes, as well as adverse and favorable interpretations, depending on who uses it and how. Interesting, right? Well, the speech styles (and speech levels which are discussed in the next section) are difficult concepts to grasp for beginners but it is a fascinating aspect of the Korean language!

Please give yourself some time and you'll slowly but surely get to see how they work in the language and the kind of role they play in interpersonal relationships =)

What Are Speech Levels?:

• In the previous section, we learned that the speaker determines the speech style based on the relationship between the speaker and the listener and the situational setting in which the conversation takes place. Speech levels, on the other hand, concern the hierarchy among three parties involved in a given context: the speaker, the listener, and the referent who is being referred to in the conversation.

• For example, if you were talking to your close friend about your boss, you would be the speaker, the close friend would be the listener, and your boss would be the referent. (Please note here that the listener can also be the same as the referent in a situation; for example, if the speaker is talking to his/her boss about what the boss said in the past.)

• There are three levels to consider:

  • 'Neutral': This level does not connote any hierarchical relationship. It is used when the speaker and the referent is on the equal level or when the referent is lower than the speaker or the listener;

  • 'Honorific': This level elevates the referent. It is used when the referent is higher than the speaker and the listener.

  • 'Humble': This level humbles an agent performing an action to the referent. It is used when the referent is higher than the speaker and the listener.

• The speaker determines which speech level to use based on the relationship among the three parties or, more accurately, based on the speaker's perception of this relationship. (Disagreement in how people perceive the relationship can result in adverse feelings and negative impressions about the speaker. As you become more familiar with Korean culture and how people relate to one another hierarchically, these concepts will become clearer. Until then, we'd advise you to err on the conservative side when it comes to choosing speech styles and levels.

• Like speech styles, speech levels are marked with verbs. However, there are a number of nouns that are considered 'honorific' and 'humble'. We won't discuss them here; we'll learn them as they come.

• Any verb can be made into an honorific form in Korean, owning to the '시' infix that can be added to the verb stem and mark the honorific aspect. However, there is no such infix or set way to change a verb into a humble form and there are only a handful of 'humble' verbs in Korean. 드리다 [ d_-ree-dah ] and 여쭤보다 [ yuh-jjwuh-boh-dah ] are those humble verbs and we'll use them for examples to illustrate the difference between 'neutral', 'honorific', and 'humble' levels below.

Examples of 'Neutral' : 주다 'to give' in neutral form

1. Speaker=I (giver); Listener=Mr. Kim who is a colleague; Referent (receiver)=Mr. Kim

  • 내가 Mr. Kim한테 줄 거예요. I will give you, Mr. Kim.

2. Speaker=I (giver); Listener=Mr. Kim who is a colleague; Referent (receiver)=Mr. Park who works for Mr. Kim and me

  • 내가 Mr. Park한테 줬어요 . I gave to Mr. Kim.

Examples of 'Honorific' : 주시다 'to give' in honorific form (hon.)

1. Speaker=I; Listener=Mr. Kim who is a colleague; Referent (giver)=사장님, the president, our boss: I am talking to a colleague of mine about our boss. I would use our boss's action of giving in the honorific form:

  • 사장님이 우리한테 주실 거예요. The president will give (hon.) to us.

​2. Speaker=I; Listener=my son (receiver); Referent (giver)=my son's grandmother (i.e. my mother): I am talking to my son that his grandmother will give to him. I would use his grandmother's (i.e. my mother's) action of giving in the honorific form. (Note the speech style is in 반말, the 'intimate' or 'casual' speech style, since I'm talking to my son.):

  • 할머니가 너한테 주실거야. Grandma will give (hon.) to you.

Example of 'Honorific' : 잡수시다 'to eat' in honorific form

1. Speaker=I; Listener=my teacher; referent=the teacher: I am asking my teacher if she has had lunch yet. I would use the teacher’s action of eating in the honorific form:

  • 선생님, 점심 잡수셨어요? Teacher, have you eaten (hon.) lunch yet?

2. Speaker=I; Listener=my colleague; referent=our boss: I am talking to my colleague about our boss having lunch now. The boss's action of eating would be in the honorific form.

  • 팀장님이 점심 잡수세요. Our team leader is eating lunch.

Example of 'Humble' : 드리다 to give in humble form (hum.)

1. Speaker=I; Listener=my secretary; referent=the president of the company: I am talking to my secretary that I gave a report to the president of the company. My action of giving to the president would be in the humble form. (Note the speech style is in 반말, the 'intimate' or 'casual' speech style, since I am talking to my secretary who is much younger than me and has been working for me for a long time.):

  • 내가 사장님한테 리포트 드렸어. I gave (hum.) the report to the president.

2. Speaker=I; Listener=my friend; referent=my son and my father: I am talking to my friend about my son giving something to my father (i.e. his grandfather). I would describe my son's 'giving' something to my father in the humble form. (Note the speech style is in 반말, the 'intimate' or 'casual' speech style, since I'm talking to my friend.):

  • 우리 아들이 아버지한테 드렸어. Our son gave (hum.) to my father.

Example of 'Humble' : 여쭤보다 to ask in humble form (hum.)

1. Speaker=I; Listener=my secretary; referent=the president of the company: I am asking my secretary to ask the president of the company. I would describe the secretary's action of asking the president in the humble form. (Note the speech style is in 반말, the 'intimate' or 'casual' speech style, since I am talking to my secretary who is much younger than me and has been working for me for a long time.):

  • 사장님한테 여쭤봐. Ask (hum.) the president.

2. Speaker=I; Listener=my friend; referent=my friend's mother: I am asking my friend if she asked her father. I would describe her action of 'asking' her father in the humble form. (Note the speech style is in 반말, the 'intimate' or 'casual speech style, since I'm talking to my friend.):

  • 아버지한테 여쭤봤어? Did you ask (hum.) your father?

Speech Styles & Speech Levels


• There are numerous factors that can play a role in determining the speech styles and the levels. Age, kinship, ranks in the workplace, the context of the conversation, and even one's personality are such some examples. Sometimes one factor can play a major role, and at other times multiple factors can affect the speech level and style. The tricky part is that not all relationships and settings can be clearly defined and understood.  Moreover, not everyone perceives them in the same way; subtle, intricate interpersonal relationships and contextual settings can result in discrepancies among the participants of a conversation. 

• Faulty perceptions revealed in one's speech may cause socially adverse effects. Novice students should take a conservative approach to speech styles and levels. Most expressions and phrases presented in Essential Korean are in the informal-polite style, with honorifics wherever appropriate, in order not to sound too rigid, yet sound courteous and respectful.

• System of speech levels and styles inherent in the Korean language is complex (and interesting!), and requires more in-depth discussion than can be undertaken here. No one whose native language doesn't have these linguistic aspects can grasp the novel concepts and implications completely at first. But surely, as we progress and become more exposed to the Korean language, what seems foreign now will become clear. Just be patient and give it time!

➢ Verb of Identification 이다(& 아니다)

The forms of 이다

• The verb ‘이다' [ ee-dah ], which means “to be," follows a noun phrase and identifies what the noun is. 

• The verb ‘이다' [ ee-dah ] is special in two ways :

1) Unlike other verbs, it has two informal-polite styles.

○ for a noun ending with a vowel: N예요;

○ for a noun ending with a consonant: N이에요.

Example 1: nouns ending with a vowel

햄버거: hamburger → 햄버거예요. “It is a hamburger.”

샐러드: salad → 샐러드예요.  “It is a salad.”

컴퓨터: computer → 컴퓨터예요.  “It is a computer.”

Example 2: nouns ending with a consonant

: pen → 이에요.  “It is a pen.”

베이글 : bagel → 베이글이에요.  “It is a bagel.”

: cup → 이에요.  “It is a cup.”

2) In writing, unlike other verbs, 예요/이에요 immediately follows a noun it identifies without any space.


• O 햄버거예요. It is a hamburger.   

X 햄버거( )예요.

• O 컴퓨터예요. It is a computer.  

X 컴퓨터(  )예요.

• O 펜이에요. It is a pen.

X 펜(   )이에요.

• O 베이글이에요. It is a bagel.  

X 베이글(   )이에요

• The verbal ending ‘ [ dah ]’ ( which is different from - in the dictionary form ) marks that the sentence is a statement in the formal-polite style. The verbal ending '까 [ ggah ]’, on the other hand, marks a question in the formal-polite style. The formal-polite of the verb ‘이다 [ ee-dah ]’ is ‘입니다 [ eem-nee-dah ]’ for a statement and ‘입니까 [ eem-neek-ggah ]’ for a question.


햄버거입니다.  It is a hamburger. 

햄버거입니까? Is it a hamburger?

컴퓨터입니다. It is a computer.   

컴퓨터입니까?  Is it a computer?

입니다.  It is a pen.              

입니까?  Is it a pen?

베이글입니다.  It is a bagel.    

베이글입니까?  Is it a bagel?

Except for a few useful expressions, we’ll focus on learning the informal-polite style ( a.k.a. the yo-style ) for now. So, for the time being, you can set aside the formal-polite style.


➢ Verbs of Existence / Possession 있다 & 없다

Korean Verb of Existence and Verb of Possession.png

• To talk about whether something is present or absent, we use the verbs "있다" [ eet-dah ] and "없다" [ uhp-dah ] respectively:


커피 있어요. There is coffee.

커피 없어요. There is no coffee.

주스 있어요. There is juice.

주스 없어요. There is no juice.

택시 있어요. There is a taxi.

택시 없어요. There is no taxi.

버스 있어요. There is a bus.

버스 없어요. There is no bus.

• To remark that someone has or does not have something (possession), we use the same verbs, "있다" [ eet-dah ] and "없다" [ uhp-dah ] respectively:


커피 있어요. I have coffee.

커피 없어요. I don’t have coffee.

주스 있어요. I have juice.

주스 없어요. I don’t juice.

컴퓨터 있어요. I have a computer.

컴퓨터 없어요. I don’t have a computer.

Note the difference in usage and meaning between the verbs of identification "이다" [ ee-dah ] and "아니다" [ ah-nee-dah ] and the verbs of existence / possession "있다" [ eet-dah ] and "없다" [ uhp-dah ]. English speakers often confuse these two sets of verbs due to the fact that, in English, the verb ‘to be’ is used both to identify and to express existence.

For example, the verb used in the English sentences “there is a bagel” and “it is a bagel” is the same: ‘to be’. On the other hand, the Korean equivalent sentence for “there is a bagel” would be “베이글 있어요” (inflected from 있다, the verb of existence) and for “it is a bagel” would be “베이글이에요” (inflected from -이다, the verb of identification).


➢ Questions with Question-Words

  • You can ask what, where, when, who, how much ( price ), how, and why by simply attaching -예요 [ yeh-yo ] to these question-words. Review the question-words ( a.k.a. WH-words ) and listen to the audio.

  • Questions with WH-words:  

Korean Question words.png

➢ Verb of Identification 아니다

• While the verb 이다 identifies what something is, the verb 아니다 states what something is NOT. 

• Unlike the verb 이다, which cannot stand alone but always has to follow a noun phrase, the verb 아니다 can be said by itself, or with a noun, as in the following dialogues: 


Q : 컴퓨터예요? Is it a computer?

A :  컴퓨터 아니에요. It’s not a computer. 

Q : 오렌지 주스예요? Is it orange juice?

A : 오렌지 주스 아니에요. It’s not orange juice. 

Q : 브라이언이에요? Is it Brian?

A :  브라이언 아니에요.  It’s not Brian. 

Q : 한국이에요? Is it Korea? 

A :  한국 아니에요. It’s not Korea. 

Remember: 이다 is the only verb which follows a noun phrase without a space in writing. In all other cases, there is a space between the verb and the noun that follows.


➢ Conjunctions “and”: 그리고 & 하고

• Both 그리고 [ g_-ree-goh ]  and 하고 [ hah-goh ] are ‘and' in English.  However, their usages are distinctly separate. The former, 그리고, is used when connecting sentences and, sometimes, nouns when one wants to have an obvious break or express emphasis. On the other hand, the latter, 하고, is used exclusively to connect nouns. In writing, there is no space between the word 하고 and the noun it follows, whereas the word 그리고 is written with a space before and after it:

Example 1:

• a notebook and a pencil ( 공책 [ gohng-chehk ]: notebook; 연필 [ yeon-peel ]: pencil ):

> 공책하고 연필 vs.  공책 그리고 연필 

Example 2:

• Pointing at objects, one at a time: ( It's ) a notebook.  And, ( it's ) a pencil.     

  > 공책이에요. 그리고 연필이에요 . vs. X 공책이에요. 하고 연필이에요.


➢ “(Noun), please”; “I/You mean (noun)” : “N요.”

• When asking for a thing in English, we can use the form, “( Noun ), please.” In Korean, you can simply add ‘요’ after the noun.

Examples :

At a cafe or a restaurant:

1. 오렌지 주스요. “Orange juice, please.”

2. 커피요. “Coffee, please.”

3. 샐러드요. “Salad, please.”

• “N요” is also used to replace the verb phrase in a complete response to a question as shown in A2 in the examples below:


Examples :

1. Q : 뭐예요? What is it?

A1 : 커피예요. It is coffee.  /  A2 : 커피요. Coffee.

2. Q : 뭐 먹어요? What are you eating? 

A1 : 피자 먹어요. I’m eating pizza.   /  A2 : 피자요. Pizza.

3. Q : 뭐 봐요?  What are you watching?  

A1 : 신문 봐요. I’m watching the news.   /   A2 : 뉴스요. The news.