Learning Korean - Sentence Structure and Explaining Away the Difficult Particles
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.