How To Say Something Is Present or Is Absent & What Someone Has or Does Not Have In Korean
Key Points &
The Korean verb 있다 means ‘to be present’ or ‘to exist’. It can also mean ‘to have’ or ‘to possess.’ For example, 남자친구 있어요 can mean “The boyfriend is present” or “The boyfriend has (it),” depending on the context it is said.
The Korean verb 없다 means ‘to be absent or ‘to not exist’. It can also mean ‘to not have’ or ‘to not possess.’ For example, 여자친구 없어요 can mean “The girlfriend is absent” or “The girlfriend doesn’t have (it),” depending on the context it is said.
오늘 : today
시간 : time
약속 : appointment; promise
여자친구 : girlfriend (often abbreviated to 여친)
남자친구 : boyfriend (often abbreviated to 남친)
Verbs in Dictionary Form>
있다 : to be present; to exist; to have
없다 : to be absent; to not exist; to not have
시간 있어요 : I have time
시간 없어요 : I don’t have time
약속 있어요 : I have an appointment
약속 없어요 : I don’t have an appointment
여자친구 있어요? : Do you have a girlfriend?
여자친구 없어요 : I don’t have a girlfriend.
남자친구 있어요 : Do you have a boyfriend?
남자친구 없어요 : I don’t have a boyfriend.
Directions: Assume the role in the situation and utilize one of the phrases learned in this episode.
1-1. You and your friend who is visiting Korea from America are at a cafe specializing in tea. Your friend wants to know if they serve coffee, so you go to the counter to find out.
1-2. The cafe owner tells you they don’t serve coffee. Your friend wants lemonade if they have that. Please find out. (You can start your sentence with ‘그럼 ~’ which means ‘if that’s the case.’)
2-1. You’re having a late-night snack at a small eatery after a long day of touring Seoul. You are wondering if there are buses around the vicinity and want to ask the owner.
2-2. The owner tells you there’s no bus that late at night. You’d respond by saying ‘there’s no bus?’ and find out if taxis are available.
3. You and your colleagues are having drinks after work. In the relaxed and casual atmosphere, one colleague asks you if you have a girlfriend/boyfriend.
4. You want to know if your colleague has time today as you want to finish the joint project soon.
Hello! This is Kay from EssentialKorean.com.
In today’s episode, we’ll feature two basic and very useful verbs: 있다eet-dah and 없다uhp-dah. To say something is present or something exists, we use the verb 있다eet-dah and to say something is absent or doesn’t exist, we use the verb 없다uhp-dah.
When learning a foreign language, the verbs for to be present and to be absent are usually introduced early on. In the case for Korean, these verbs, 있다 and 없다, carry additional meanings beside to be present, and to be absent. The verb 있다 also means to have; and similarly, the verb 없다 also means to not have.
Now, the verbs 있다 and 없다 are in dictionary form. In spoken language, we have a few options to change the verb form. For our lessons, I’ve mostly used the polite-informal (or informal-polite) style since it is the speech style widely used in ordinary day-to-day situations. We’ll also learn the polite-informal, a.k.a. -요 form, for these two verbs: 있어요 for be present or have and 없어요 for be absent or not have.
(있다 to be present & 없다 to be absent)
Let’s first look at some example sentences that tell what is present or absent.
Imagine you’re doing inventory at an office kitchen:
커피 있어요. There is coffee.
커피 없어요. There is no coffee.
주스 있어요. There is juice.
주스 없어요. There is no juice.
컵 있어요. There are cups.
컵 없어요. There are no cups.
Let’s do situational dialogues. Imagine you and your friends are at a cafe in Seoul that is known for its tea selection. You are the only one who can speak Korean, and one of your friends wants coffee, not tea. Here’s how the conversation with the cafe owner can go:
아.. 죄송합니다… 커피 없어요.
커피 있어요? Is there coffee?
아.. 죄송합니다… 커피 없어요. Ah, I’m sorry… There’s no coffee.
So you’re told there’s no coffee served at the cafe. You tell your friend, who in turn asks you to ask the cafe owner if they have lemonade (picky friend!)
그럼 레모네이드 있어요?
아이스 레몬티 있어요.
그럼 레모네이드 있어요? Then, is there lemonade?
아이스 레몬티 있어요. There’s iced lemon tea.
The owner tells you there’s no lemonade but suggests iced lemon tea as an alternative. Your friend wants the iced lemon tea so you order that for him by saying, 그럼 아이스레몬티요. Then, iced lemon tea, please. (if you don't know how this response came up, please listen to Episode 7.
One more situational dialogue example. Imagine you’re having a late-night snack at a cafe after a long day of touring Seoul. You and the owner of the shop are talking about possible means of transportation late at night:
You ask if there are buses: 버스 있어요? Are there buses?
The owner responds, 버스 없어요. There are no buses.
You then ask if there are taxies out on the street: 택시 있어요?
Looking out the glass door, he sees no taxis. He’d say, 택시 없어요.
But don’t worry. He can probably help you get a taxi from a taxi app, which most Koreans have on their phone.
(있다 to have & 없다 to not have)
Moving on to the next point. I’ve mentioned that to remark someone has or does not have something, we use the same verbs, 있다eet-dah and 없다uhp-dah. Let’s take a closer look at them.
For example sentences, I’ve been using English-borrowed words that have become part of the Korean language to make things easy for beginning students. Now that we’ve had 12 lessons, I’ll start using non-English-borrowed words in example sentences. Here are 5 nouns I’d like to introduce in this episode:
One: 오늘 which means today in Korean
Two: 시간 which means time in Korean;
Three: 약속. The word 약속 can mean two things in Korean: appointment or promise;
Four: 여자친구, which is often abbreviated to 여친, means girlfriend in Korean;
Five: 남자친구 whose abbreviated term is 남친, means boyfriend in Korean;
Please repeat after me this time:
Today in Korean (2 syllables): 오늘 오늘 오늘
Time in Korean (2 syllables): 시간 시간 시간
appointment or promise in Korean (2 syllables): 약속 약속 약속
Girlfriend (4 syllables but can be contracted to 2 syllables) 여자친구 여자친구 여자친구 or 여친 여친 여친
Boyfriend 남자친구 남자친구 남자친구 or 남친 남친 남친
Now, let’s put them into use in situational dialogues.
Imagine a situation where you and your colleagues are having dinner and drinks after work. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual and, unlike at the office, they start talking about personal things. Your party is on the topic of boyfriends and girlfriends, and one colleague asks you if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend: 여자친구 있어요? Or 남자친구 있어요?
How would you answer the question? If you have a girlfriend, you’d say, 네 여자친구 있어요, or simply 네 있어요. If you don’t, you’d say 아니요, 여자친구 없어요. Or simply 아니요, 없어요.
If it’s a boyfriend that you have or you don’t, you’d say 네, 남자친구 있어요 or 아니요 남자친구 없어요.
Let’s go to a different situation. Imagine you and your colleague are talking about a project which is due soon. First, your colleague asks if you have time today to work on it:
오늘 시간 있어요?
오늘 today 시간 time 있어요 have, bring them together with a rising intonation to indicate a question:
오늘 시간 있어요? Do you have time today?
Note that there is no pronoun you in the sentence. Do you recall the previous episode, Episode 12 on Basic Sentence Structure of Korean, where we discussed that the subject and/or object of a sentence can often be omitted when it’s readily understood from the context? That’s what is happening here. No subject is mentioned in the sentence because we know that it’s you that he’s asking about.
Let’s practice this phrase, do you have time today in Korean. Repeat after me:
오늘 시간 있어요? 오늘 시간 있어요? 오늘 시간 있어요?
Now, your schedule is full so you have to let him know you don’t have time today. We can replace 있어요 with 없어요 to say I don’t have time today - 오늘 시간 없어요 오늘 today 시간 time 없어요 not have; and bringing them all together, 오늘 시간 없어요 which means I don’t have time today. However, especially in this situation where you’re in a team and both you and your colleague want to meet the deadline, you don’t want to sound terse or sound like you don’t care. We’re not like that right?
You can add the wonderful particle 은 after 오늘 to suggest that you only don’t have time today but other days are open. This is because the particle 은 after 오늘 in the sentence 오늘은 시간 없어요 emphasizes today and suggests that for today at least, or as for today you don’t have time; and other days may be ok, without you saying it out loud. If this is confusing, don’t worry: particles, as one of the most difficult parts of learning Korean for beginners, will get their own episodes.
Let’s practice this phrase, As for today, I don’t have time in Korean. Repeat after me:
오늘은 시간 없어요 오늘은 시간 없어요 오늘은 시간 없어요
Let’s expand your answer. Let’s add that you have an appointment: 약속 있어요 - 약속 appointment and 있어요 have; so 약속 있어요 in this context would mean I have an appointment.
Let’s practice this phrase, I have an appointment in Korean. Repeat after me:
약속 있어요 약속 있어요 약속 있어요
Now, here’s an exchange of the dialogue:
Colleague: 오늘 시간 있어요?
You: 오늘은 시간 없어요. 죄송합니다. 약속 있어요…
Colleague: Do you have time today?
You: As for today, I don’t have time. I’m sorry. I have an appointment.
Before I let you go, let’s do a short quiz.
Q1. Your colleague is showing you some photos he took this weekend. He points at a lady in one of the photos and says, 여친이에요. You didn’t know he had a girlfriend! How would you respond to your colleague?
You can say a few things: For one 아 그래요? 아 정말요? You guys look good together! (You haven’t learned how to say, you guys look good together” in Korean, so just you’d say it in English). You can also say 아 여자친구 있어요? if you didn’t know he had a girlfriend. So again, here are possible responses. 아 그래요? 아 정말요? 아 여자친구 있어요?
Q2: You’re showing your colleague the photos you took this weekend and in one of the photos is a friend who’s visiting Korea from the U.S.. Pointing at your friend, he asks if it’s your boyfriend. How would you respond?
You can respond in a few ways. You can simply negate his assumption and say, 아니요 남자친구 아니에요. Or 남친 아니에요. Or if you don’t have a boyfriend, you can also say 남자친구 없어요.
Q3: Your colleague who just got out of a meeting mentioned that she missed lunch hour and is extremely hungry. You have a sandwich you brought from home that you didn’t eat because you and your team went out for lunch earlier. What would you say to your hungry co-worker, assuming that you are willing to give up your sandwich and offer it to her?
You’re right and you’re very nice if you said, 나 샌드위치 있어요.
Q4: You and your colleagues are trying to decide on the day to stay late at work and finish the project you’re working on together. You’ve just told them you are not available tomorrow, but you can stay late today. How would you let them know?
Correct. You can say, 오늘은 시간 있어요. Or you can also use the verb 괜찮아요 which was introduced as a response to an apology to mean It’s OK in Episode 4: 오늘은 시간 괜찮아요. Or 오늘은 괜찮아요 meaning As for today, it’s okay.
Ok, that’s it for today’s episode! I’ll be back soon with our next lesson. Until then, take care! 고맙습니다. 안녕히 계세요!