Episode 12
Lesson Recap

Basic Sentence Structure of Korean

Key Points &
  • The word order is not as rigid in Korean as it is in English.

  • The subject and the object in a sentence can be switched around depending on where the speaker wants to put emphasis, but the verb usually comes at the end.

  • The Korean language has an extensive particle system which marks different units of a sentence.

  • The context takes precedence over the word order to interpret meaning in the Korean language.

  • In Korean, raising the intonation at the end of a sentence turns an utterance into a question.

  • 나 한국말 공부해요 : I study Korean

  • 한국말, 나 공부해요 : I study Korean (Korean, I do study)

  • 케첩이에요 : It’s ketchup

  • 케첩이에요? : Is it ketchup?


Directions: True or False?

1. “The Korean language has a rigid sentence structure that the word order determines the meaning.”

2. “The verb usually comes before the object in a Korean sentence.”

3. “You can make a Korean sentence into a question by raising the intonation at the end.”

Episode 12

안녕하세요 여러분! EK 케이쌤입니다

Hello, this is Kay from Essential Korean.com

In this episode,I want to talk about 3 very basic things about the Sentence Structure of Korean.

Are you ready for today’s lesson? Let’s get started!

1.  Is Korean really an S-O-V language?

The first aspect to talk about -- the word order.

The Korean language is often called an S-O-V language, meaning the basic word order of a sentence is Subject-Object-Verb. However, in reality, the position of the subject and the object is not rigidly set but can be switched around. So If you’ve heard that Korean is an SOV language, do NOT take it to be a rule set in stone. Let me explain this with an example sentence, I study Korean. If you asked Koreans how to say I study Korean in Korean, you probably will get a few variations as some will place particles and some may not, and some will give you an informal form and some a formal form.  I will give you a polite informal style in a simple form without any particles. Here you go:

나 한국말 공부해요.

나 means I, 한국말 means Korean language, and 공부해요 means study. Listen again and repeat:

나 한국말 공부해요.  나 한국말 공부해요.   나 한국말 공부해요.

Now, let’s say that you’re working in Korea and have been learning the language. Someone says, You’re not learning Korean, right? To this question, you can say,
아니요. 나 한국말 공부해요, meaning, You’re wrong. I study Korean.

But, you can also choose to respond, 한국말 나 공부해요, putting 한국말 Korean language first and then 나 I next and then 공부해요 study: You’re saying, The Korean language, I do study!

Thus, if you want to emphasize the Korean language, 한국말, you can say the word first, before the subject I - 나 in Korean.

Here is another example. Let’s say you want to say I eat Kimchi. You’d say 나 김치 먹어요.

나: I, the subject of the sentence

김치: the famous Korean cabbage side dish, 김치, the object of the sentence

먹어요: eat, the verb

So the order of the sentence is Subject-Object-Verb, the SOV order.

Now, let’s say that you and your colleagues went out for lunch to a Korean restaurant on the first day at work, and one of them says, you don’t eat 김치, right?

Well, the fact is, you love 김치 and have been eating 김치 for years before coming to Korea! So you’re surprised he just assumed you would not eat 김치. You choose to respond,

김치, 나 먹어요! meaning,  김치, I do eat!

Thus, you can say 나 김치 먹어요 I-kimchi-eat which is in the order of S-O-V; or 김치 나 먹어요 kimchi-I-eat in the order of O-S-V.

This flexibility in the sentence structure we just witnessed in Korean, which is more common in colloquial speech,  is quite different from the English language where the word order in the sentence is quite rigid that changing the word order will change the meaning. In Korean, on the other hand,  the context takes precedence over the word order when it comes to the meaning.

Though the word order is flexible for the subject and object, please note that, In general, the verb usually comes at the end of a sentence. Please listen to the sentences for I study Korean

나 한국말 공부해요.

한국말,  나 공부해요.

And here again are the sentences for I eat kimchi

나 김치 먹어요

김치, 나 먹어요.

2. The Subject of a sentence can be omitted.

Ok. Let’s move onto another aspect to note about Korean sentences.

In Korean, a verb alone is sufficient to be a complete sentence, not only an imperative (a.k.a. Command form)  as we see in English but also as a regular affirmative statement. For example, Eat can only be a command or an imperative, telling someone to take the action of eating. On the other hand, the Korean phrase 먹어요 can mean Eat in English, telling someone to have some food; but also, depending on the context, it can also mean I eat, He eats, they eat, etc.

There’s another verb phrase you heard earlier, 공부해요, which means study. It can mean please study, telling or asking someone to do the action of studying;  but the verb phrase 공부해요 alone can also mean  I study, She studies or they study, depending on the context,

In fact, the subject and/or the object in Korean sentences 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 I 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 means I study Korean.

Example  2 >

I       eat      Kimchi.

나  김치 먹어요.

can be said without the subject 나 I if it’s understood in the context. Thus we can have a sentence, 김치  먹어요 in which the subject 나 I is absent but the sentence still means  I eat Kimchi.

3.  Raising the intonation at the end makes a statement into a question.

Moving onto the next point. 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:

For example, you’d say 

케첩이에요. ↓  to say It is ketchup.

Now, to ask if something is ketchup, you’d say the same sentence but raise the intonation at the end:  

케첩이에요? ↑ Is it ketchup?

케첩이에요. ↓  vs. 케첩이에요? ↑

It is ketchup.   Vs. Is it ketchup?

핸드폰이에요. ↓  vs. 핸드폰이에요? ↑

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

아파트예요. ↓  vs. 아파트예요?  ↑

It is an apartment. vs.  Is it an apartment?

택시예요. ↓  vs. 택시예요?  ↑

It’s a taxi.. vs. Is it a taxi?

Let’s do this with the two featured sentences in today’s episode:

한국말 공부해요  I study Korean 한국말 공부해요 한국말 공부해요

Raise the intonation and make it a question: 한국말 공부해요? Do you study Korean? Let’s hear it.

Right. 한국말 공부해요?

김치 먹어요. I eat kimchi.

Now, raise the intonation and make it a question: 김치 먹어요?    Do you eat kimchi?

Summary >

So here’s the gist of the key points explained about Korean sentences today.

1)  In Korean, the word order is not rigid: the subject and the object in a sentence can be switched around depending on where the speaker wants to put emphasis;

2) The verb usually comes at the end of a sentence; and

3) the speaker can choose to omit the subject or the object of a sentence if it is readily understood in the context. Thus, the context takes precedence over the word order to interpret meaning in the Korean language.

Let’s do a short application practice.

We learned that 뭐 is what in Korean. With this question word, I’ll ask you what you study:

뭐 공부해요? 뭐 공부해요? 뭐 공부해요?

What is your answer?

한국말 공부해요.

컴퓨터 프로그램 공부해요

드라마 공부해요.

Now I’ll ask what you are eating?

뭐 먹어요? 뭐 먹어요? 뭐 먹어요?

김치 먹어요.

햄버거 먹어요.

비빔밥 먹어요

Outro >

Ok, that’s it for today’s episode! See you later in the next one!

고맙습니다. 안녕히 계세요!