Learning Korean – Sentence Structure and Explaining Away the Difficult Particles

2011 September 1
by Minhee

My name is Minhee, a Korean teacher at Hills Learning, and I’ve found that some of my students when learning Korean have difficulty with particles. I’d like today to talk about Korean sentence structure and some of the most confusing particles, hopefully after reading this you’ll have a better understanding!

At first, let’s discuss Korean sentence structure. Korean sentences consist of either a “subject + verb” or a “subject + object + verb.”  For example:

–  캐럴이 와요[Carol-i wha-yo],  Subject + verb,  Carol comes.

– 에릭이 사과를 먹어요[Eric-i sa-gwa-leul muk-uh-yo],  Subject + object + verb, Eric eats an apple.

This is one of the big differences between Korean and English because a verb comes at the end of the sentence in Korean, and at the beginning of the sentence in English. There is a saying in Korean that says “you need to listen until the end of the sentence.” In other words, you never know if the speaker is talking about the past, future, positive or negative expressions unless you listen to the whole sentence.

Next, let’s discuss Korean grammar and particle usage. There are about twenty different particles in Korean. Particles are attached to words in Korean sentences and express the role of words in the sentence. Using the right particles is a key point of speaking Korean fluently.

Let’s look at the most confusing particles and the differences between them, 이[e]/가[ga] and 은[eun]/는[neun].


This particle is added to the end of a subject to designate it as the subject of the sentence. For words that finish with a vowel, 가 is added, and for words that end with a consonant, 이 is added. For example:

– 민희씨가 빵을 먹어요 [Minhee-ssi-ga bbang-eul mu-kuh-yo]. (Minhee is eating bread.).

민희씨 ends with a vowel (ㅣ), therefore ‘가’ is added after the subject 민희 (Minhee).

Another example of using the particle ‘이’ is 과일이 비싸요 [Gwa-il-i bi-ssa-yo]. (The fruit is expensive.). The subject 과일 finishes with a consonant (ㄹ), therefore ‘가’ is added after the subject.

Another usage for the particle이/가 is when the subject functions to emphasize the preceding subject. For example:

– 내가 했어요! [nae-ga hat-uh-yo]. (I did it!).

The final usage for particle 이/가is to express new information or the topic of a sentence. For example, 동생이 지금 자요 [Dong-saeng-I ji-gum ja-yo]. (My younger brother/sister is sleeping now.)

The next particle I want to talk about is 은[eun]/는[neun]:


은/는comes after the subject like 이/가, but it is used when the speaker wants to talk about or explain the main idea, topic, or issue of discussion. When words end with vowels, 는is added, and when words end in consonants, 은 is added. Let’s look at some examples!

저는 한국사람이에요. [Juh-neun han-kook-sa-ram i-e-yo]. (I am Korean.)

헨리는 29살이에요. [Henry-neun seui-mool ah-hop-sal i-e-yo]. (Henry is 29 years old.).

Both subjects (헨리 and 저) end in vowels (‘ㅣ’ and ‘ㅓ’), therefore ‘는’ is added.

제 직업은 변호사이에요. [je jik-up-eun byun-ho-sa i-e-yo]. (I am a lawyer.).

In this case, the subject (제 직업) ends in a consonant (ㅂ), therefore the particle ‘은’ is added.

은/는 is also used when mentioning something that has already been established in an earlier conversation (old information), or when talking about something already known by both speakers.

The last case of using 은/는 is when comparing or contrasting two or more things. In these cases, 은/는 can be attached not only to subjects, but also to objects. For example:

– 에릭은 한국 사람이에요 [Eric-eun han-kook-sa-ram-i-e-yo].

– 그렇지만 저는 미국 사람이에요 [geui-ruh-ji-man juh-neun mi-kook-sa-ram-i-e-yo]. (Eric is Korean, but I am American).

Most of Korean learners have the hardest time choosing which are the right particles, especially between 이/가 and 은/는. The best way to learn it is practice! One day, you will realize that you are using the right particles without thinking about it.


28 Responses leave one →
  1. February 1, 2012

    Thanks so much. I’ve been learning Korean and this article answered one the questions I’ve had for a long time. I’ve wondered if I was using particles correctly and how and when to use them. This helped a lot.

  2. Hills Learning permalink*
    February 1, 2012

    Thank you JJ for reading our website, and I’m glad this article was useful for you. We’re always working to develop our resources further for helping to learn these languages. Please stay tuned for further articles and resources.

  3. mimi permalink
    April 8, 2012

    oh,thank u for this article, this article help me to understand the korean sentence structure.i’ve been studying korean…so uhmm thx alot

  4. John permalink
    June 2, 2012

    Thanks for the explaination on this confusing subject. I’m still learning how to correctly pronounce vowel combinations. I have a question about your name. I thought 의 sounded like “ooyee”. Does the ㅎ change this to just an “ee” sound? Or is it said so quickly that the “u” sound is lost?


  5. Hills Learning permalink*
    June 5, 2012

    Hi John,

    It sounds like ‘ee’ because we say it quickly. However, it is not always that way. When you pronounce of for example 나의 집, then you do need to pronounce 의 as ‘eui’, but when two nouns come together such as 친구의 집, then ‘의’ pronounce as ‘에’.


  6. Mimi permalink
    June 15, 2012

    thank you so much Minhee, you really helped me! My father is Korean but he never bothered teaching me, so now I’m trying to learn on my own from a workbook. However, I was having trouble with the participles and this helped me so much!
    Also, I don’t understand when to use 을 and 를. Can you pleas help??

  7. Mimi permalink
    June 15, 2012

    Oops, I spelled 감사합니다 wrong ^_^

  8. Jamers permalink
    June 17, 2012

    너무 감사합니다! That was incredibly helpful. I am teaching myself Korean and have been suspecting some of the particle rules for 이 / 가 and 은 / 는, but it would have taken forever to figure out the actual usages without this article. Thanks so much,


  9. Bec permalink
    September 29, 2012

    Thank you! I already have exprience in Japanese, so I am very glad to understand that 이/가 is the equivalent of が in Japanese and that 은/는 is the same for は!! 감사합니다(hope I spelled that right!) ありがとう!

  10. Lena permalink
    October 28, 2012

    I was so happy to finally find an article that explains this so well!I am so disappointed that you are all the way in NYC. I am studying here in LA, CA. There aren’t any classes around here that are actually worth going to. When I visit NYC, I’ll be sure to stop by.


  11. Sandra Lim permalink
    April 4, 2013

    민희씨가 빵을 먹어요, as the씨, we have to use it for every person’s name?

  12. Minhee Park permalink
    April 4, 2013

    Hi Sandra,

    씨 means Mr. Miss or Mrs in English..

    You can use 씨

    1. when you think the other person seems like around your age, but not sure whether you can call her/him 언니/누나 or 오빠/형.
    2. when you meet someone for the first time. (Obviously, you don’t know her/his age yet.)
    3. to someone who is same age with you or a little younger at work place.

    In other words, you can use 씨, when you call someone’s name in a polite way.

    Hope this is enough explanation.


  13. May 27, 2013

    Is 저는 한국사람이에요 the same as 나는 한국입니다? If it is, what is the difference?

    Anyway, awesome article written. It gave me an idea how to start writing sentences in Korean!

  14. Adreanna permalink
    August 14, 2013

    Thank you~^__^ this has helped me so much, it’s hard practicing on my own aha, wish me luck 🙂

  15. CiCi permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Hi, Thank you so much for this article 🙂 But i was wondering why do koreans pronounce ‘의’ as ‘에’ and does it mean ‘in possession of’?

  16. Karol permalink
    December 25, 2013

    I think there is a mistake …………Another example of using the particle ‘이’ is 과일이 비싸요 [Gwa-il-i bi-ssa-yo]. (The fruit is expensive.). The subject 과일 finishes with a consonant (ㄹ), therefore …………….‘가’………shouldn’t “g’a but “e”?…. is added after the subject.

  17. Romy permalink
    March 27, 2014

    You have a typo… 8 the fruit 8 expensive example. 8n the sentence you wrote 이 but you said to put 가 after the consonant.
    Still very helpful article!

  18. Moon permalink
    May 12, 2014

    hello! thank you for great explaining, but I guess there is one mistake, it can make a people confuse))) I mean:
    “Another example of using the particle ‘이’ is 과일이 비싸요 [Gwa-il-i bi-ssa-yo]. (The fruit is expensive.). The subject 과일 finishes with a consonant (ㄹ), therefore ‘가’ is added after the subject.” So, it sould be “i” right?

  19. Christine permalink
    July 1, 2014

    This will help me and my sisters learn 학글 well.
    감사함니다… I hope i splet that right..

  20. John permalink
    November 20, 2014

    The subject 과일 finishes with a consonant (ㄹ), therefore ‘가’ is added after the subject.

    I think you made a mistake in this sentence..

    Thanks for writing this article! 🙂

  21. Yuri permalink
    November 26, 2014

    How to write these sentences in Korean? “You don’t even know that I’m in the same world as you. But for me, you are my whole world” Thank you.

  22. Gabby Maceda permalink
    December 31, 2014

    this helped me a lot!!!!
    i’ve been studying korean for almost 1 week (and im still not good in it)
    but this actually solved my problem !!!!!

    THANK YOU !!

  23. Deepak Pulami Magar permalink
    February 11, 2015

    Every sentence must have attached ga/i or eun/neun after subject in Korean?

  24. john eric celo permalink
    March 6, 2015

    Thanks jj i realy needed dis for taking eps klt exam dis april 2015.wish u also have a pointers for the comin exam in the Philippine dis coming april. Its a big help for me.

  25. March 19, 2015

    Ooh my goodness its to hard,to make self study the korean language!but i’ll try my best..
    good luck gor me

    Thank you for the article

  26. gabriel permalink
    May 1, 2015

    감 사 함 니 다 this realiy help me in my korean lesson 노 무 감 사 함 다

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