How To Use Particle 이/가 (and compare with Particle 은/는)
Key Points &
이/가 Particle (a.k.a. Subject Particle )
Follows a noun, marks the subject of a sentence ( There are a few exceptions, but we’ll put those aside for now. )
이 follows nouns ending with a consonant and 가 with a vowel
Examples: 케이샘이; 로이가
Review: Types of Particles
Particles marking the function of the word they follow, indicating if the word is the subject, object, or topic of the sentence
Examples: 이/가, 을/를, and 은/는
Particles adding extra meaning to the word they follow.
Examples: 에, 에서, 부터, and 까지, which mean in, on, at, from, to, and by respectively.
이/가 vs 은/는
이/가 can be attached only to the subject of a sentence.
은/는 and 도 can be attached to the subject and the object of a sentence.
이/가 highlights the subject to be the agent of the action in a sentence, solely highlighting the noun it follows.
은/는 makes an implicit or explicit contrast between nouns it follows.
One should use 가 after 제, the humble form 내, ‘I’ in Korean and 는 after 저, the humble for of 나, also ‘I’ in Korean. For example:
제가 컨퍼런스 가요. I’m going to the conference.
저는 컨퍼런스 가요. I’m going to the conference.
누가 컨퍼런스 가요? Who is going to the conference?
제가 컨퍼런스 가요. I’m going to the conference.
Note: The speaker is simply answering that it is ‘I’ that is going to the conference, highlighting the ‘I,” without suggesting the possibility of others going too.
저는 컨퍼런스 가요. I’m going to the conference.
Note: The speaker is suggesting that there may or may not be others who are also going, and are saying that I, at least, am going to the conference.
저도 컨퍼런스 가요. I too am going to the conference.
수지하고 브라이언, 컨퍼런스 가요? Are Susie and Brian going to the conference?
수지가 가요 Susie is going; It’s Susie that’s going to the conference.
수지는 컨퍼런스 가요. 그런데 브라이언은 안 가요. Susie (on one hand) is going to the conference. But Brian (on the other hand) is not going.
브라이언은 안 가요. Brian is not going
Note: The speaker is suggesting that, whereas Susie is going, Brian, on the other hand, is not going to the conference, without s/he actually saying anything about Susie.
I. Please select the appropriate particle in the blanks.
1. 제___ 뉴욕 가요. I’m going to New York.
2. 저___ 카페에 가요. I’m going to the cafe.
d. None of the above
3. A: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요? Who’s going to the conference? B: 수지___ 가요. It’s Susie that’s going.
4. A: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요? 수지___ 가요. 그런데 브라이언___ 안 가요. Susie is going but Brian is not going.
a. 는 - 은
b. 가 - 이
c. 도 - 도
d. 는 - 도
5. A: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요? B: 수지___ 가요. 그리고 브라이언___ 가요. Susie is going but Brian is going too.
a. 는 - 은
b. 가 - 도
c. 도 - 도
d. 이 - 도
Hello everyone, this is Kay from EssentialKorean.com. 안녕하세요. EK Kay샘입니다.
In this episode, we will learn about the 이/가 particle set, often referred to as the “subject particle”, and be comparing it to the other particles we’ve learned so far, namely 은/는 and 도. I also have a cheerful song for us to listen to, called 봄봄봄 by Roy Kim. Let’s jump right into the episode!
It’s been a while since we’ve gone over particles, so let’s go over the function of them in the Korean language. As mentioned in Episode 20, when we introduced our first particle, 은/는, there are two primary types of Korean particles:
The first type of particles simply marks the function of the word they follow, indicating if the word is the subject, object, or topic of the sentence. The 이/가, 을/를, and 은/는 particles that you may have heard of / belong to this category of particles.
The second type of particles adds an extra meaning to the word they follow. Some particles that belong to this category include 에, 에서, 부터, and 까지, which mean in, on, at, from, to, and by respectively.
Finally, particles of the first type are discussed in sets, with one following nouns ending with a consonant and the other following nouns ending with a vowel. For 이/가, 이 follows nouns ending in a consonant and 가 follows nouns ending with a vowel. For example, you would use 이 following “Kay샘” to say Kay샘이, because 샘 ends in the consonant ㅁ. You would use 가 with a vowel ending word, like the name Roy or 로이 to say 로이가.
Let’s get back to defining when to use 이/가. 이/가, as the subject particle, is attached to a noun phrase and marks the subject of a sentence. ( There are a few exceptions, but we’ll put those aside for now. )
Imagine you’re in a meeting at the office and the discussion is on the topic of an upcoming conference.
Your boss asks who’s attending the conference. The boss’s question would be, “누가 컨퍼런스 가요?”: 누가 who; 컨퍼런스 conference; 가요 go. If you are the attendee, this is the perfect place to use the subject particle 이/가. You’d say, 제가 가요: 제 the humble form of 내, which is ‘I’ in Korean; 가요 which means go.
Let’s pretend we’re at the meeting, I’m the boss, and you’ve been designated to attend the conference. Please answer my question: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요?
If you answered “제가 컨퍼런스 가요,” then you used the particle 가 very appropriately. Great job! Please repeat after me to say I am going to the conference, in response to your boss’s question, 누가 컨퍼런스 가요 who’s going to the conference. You’ll use the humble ‘I’ because you’re referring to yourself, talking to your boss:
제가 / 컨퍼런스 / 가요.
제가 / 컨퍼런스 가요.
제가 컨퍼런스 가요.
Now, some of you may be wondering, “can I not use the 은/는 particle here and answer, ‘저는 컨퍼런스 가요’?” Btw, notice we have 저 following the particle 는, not 제, when both 저 and 제 are the humble for of ‘I’ in Korean. Please note this: we use ‘저’ with the particle 는 and ‘제’ with the particle 가 -- there’s an extra grammar lesson for you right there :)
If you answered, “저는 컨퍼런스 가요,” you’re suggesting that there may or may not be others who are also going, and are saying that I, at least, am going to the conference. On the other hand, if you answered, “제가 컨퍼런스 가요,” you’re simply answering that it is ‘I’ that is going to the conference, highlighting the ‘I,” without suggesting the possibility of others going too. In short, if you want to emphasize contrast, you should use 은/는, reserving the 이/가 particle to mark and highlight the subject of the sentence.
Repeat after me to say I at least am going to the conference. Again, you’ll use the humble pronoun as you’ll be referring to yourself in answer your boss’s question:
저는 / 컨퍼런스 / 가요.
저는 / 컨퍼런스 가요.
저는 컨퍼런스 가요.
If you want to show that something is in addition to others, you should use the particle 도. For example, let’s say to your boss’s question, 누가 컨퍼런스 가요, your colleague first answers, 제가 가요 I’m going. In addition to your colleague, if you’re also going, you’d like to note that at the meeting. So you’d say, 저도 가요: 저 the humble form of ‘I’; 도 the additive particle with the meaning also; 가요 go. Please repeat after me and let your colleagues and the boss know that you’re going to the conference too:
저도 컨퍼런스 가요
저도 / 컨퍼런스 / 가요.
저도 / 컨퍼런스 가요.
저도 컨퍼런스 가요.
Let’s go over the short dialogue:
Your boss says: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요? Who’s going to the conference?
Your colleague says: 제가 가요. I am going.
Then you say: 저도 컨퍼런스 가요. I too am going to the conference.
We should note here that while the particle 이/가 can be used to mark only the subject of the sentence, both 은/는 and 도 can be used with the subject AND the object of a sentence. The tricky part for Korean learners then is to know when to use 이/가 and not 은/는 after the subject, right? Regarding this, here are a few things you want to remember: When making an implicit or explicit contrast between nouns, use 은/는 after the nouns; when highlighting the subject to be the agent of the action in a sentence, use the 이/가 particle, since 이/가 solely highlights the noun it follows.
Let’s go over another example.
Your boss asks if Susie and Brian are going to the conference: 수지하고 브라이언, 컨퍼런스 가요? They’re not at the meeting to answer the question, but you know that Susie is going but Brian is not. This would be the place to use the 은/는 particle. Can you answer the questions, 수지하고 브라이언, 컨퍼런스 가요?
If you answered 수지는 컨퍼런스 가요, 그런데 브라이언은 안 가요, great job!
If your boss simply asks who’s going to the conference 누가 컨퍼런스 가요?, you’d highlight the attendee, 수지, and say 수지가 가요 Susie is going. Please repeat after me to say, it’s Susie that’s going to the conference:
수지가 / 컨퍼런스 / 가요.
수지가 / 컨퍼런스 가요.
수지가 컨퍼런스 가요.
After learning that it’s Susie who will be going to the conference, your boss asks if Brian is not going. If Brian is NOT going, you’d contrast Brian with 수지 who IS GOING, using the particle 은, and say, 브라이언은 안 가요.
Please repeat after me to mean, whereas Susie is going, Brian on the other hand, is not going to the conference, without you actually saying anything about Susie:
브라이언은 / 컨퍼런스 / 안 가요.
브라이언은 / 컨퍼런스 안 가요.
브라이언은 컨퍼런스 안 가요.
Again, here’s how the conversation goes:
Your boss asks, 누가 컨퍼런스 가요? Who’s going to the conference?
You let your boss know it’s Susie that’s going: 수지가 가요. Susie is going.
Your boss wonders if Brian is not going to the conference: 브라이언 컨퍼런스 안 가요? Brian is not going to the conference?
You let him know he’s not, implicitly making contrast with Susie who IS going by placing 은 after Brian: 브라이언은 안 가요.
Boss: 누가 컨퍼런스 가요?
You: 수지가 가요.
Boss: 브라이언 컨퍼런스 안 가요?
You: 브라이언은 안 가요.
Knowing all this, let’s try our hand with Roy Kim’s song, 봄봄봄, translated as Spring, Spring, Spring. It’s about a guy reminiscing about the spring he spent with a girl, and in the sweet nature of the song he focuses on the happiness of spring and her as he describes the scenes of when they first met. This is where our subject particle, 이/가, comes into play! Let’s listen to the song. The part that’ll help our lesson on the 이/가 particle happens to be at the beginning of the song. Here it comes.
( Music …)
봄 봄 봄 봄이 왔네요
우리가 처음 만났던
그때의 향기 그대로
그대가 앉아 있었던 그 벤치
옆에 나무도 아직도 남아있네요
Cute and cheerful, isn’t it? We’ll go line by line, starting from the top.
봄 봄 봄 봄이 왔네요 : 봄 spring; -이 왔네요 has arrived, which put together, means spring has arrived, with the repeated 봄s added for cute effect. This is our first appearance of the subject particle 이. The particle 이 indicates that 봄 is the subject of this sentence and highlights spring without it being compared to anything, helping the listener focus solely on spring, 봄 :)
The next line is 우리가 처음 만났던 그때의 향기 그대로, which is the second appearance of the subject particle 가. The 가 particle follows 우리, meaning we. This should be expected, because in a song as romantic as this, the subject of the line 우리 we is predictably about the couple.
Let’s look at the rest of the line. 처음 만났던 그때의 향기 : This is a descriptive phrase for 향기 which means fragrance or scent. So, what kind of fragrance 향기 is he talking about? 처음 만났던 그때의: 처음 first, 만났던 met; 그때의 that time, which all put together means “the fragrance of the time we first met.” And the last word, the adverb, 그대로 , means without changing, or the way it is, leaving the line slightly open-ended to connect to the next line. Once again, altogether, 우리가 처음 만났던 그때의 향기 그대로 means “the fragrance of the time we first met, without changing...”
The next line is 그대가 앉아 있었던 그 벤치 옆에 나무도
Here, 그대 means you, but this addressing term 그대 sounds romantic, poetic and grand. It’s probably why you hear or see this term 그대 not in everyday conversation but in artistic work such as music or literature. The particle following 그대, as you probably have guessed, is the particle 가, highlighting ‘you,’ the girl whom the singer is reminiscing now. The rest of the phrases, 앉아 있었던 그 벤치 옆에 나무도 means the tree next to that bench you sat.
The last line of the part we’re listening to, 아직도 남아 있네요, means still remains.
Let’s listen to the song again. This time, try to look for and listen to the 이/가 particle: after 봄 spring, 우리 we, and 그대 you. Here comes the song.
Ok, on that cheerful note again, I’ll conclude today's lesson on the particle 이/가, here. I would like to suggest you review Episode 20 on the particle 은/는 and Episode 24 on the particle 도 along with this episode so that you continue getting better ideas about the ‘particle wonderland’ of the Korean language.
Recently, I've been pretty occupied with the work on our website, EssentialKorean.com, making it a better resource for everyone, but will try to connect soon with the next episode. Until then, stay healthy!
*Featured Song >
Title: 봄봄봄 Spring Spring Spring (2013)
Artist: 로이킴 Roy Kim