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Grammar Korean For Everyone Korean Lessons

Korean Sentence Structure, Subject /Topic/Object Marker 은/는/이/가/을/를

Previously we learned How to Read and Pronounce Korean alphabet Hangul – Consonants & Vowels.

KOREAN SENTENCE STRUCTURE

“Hey buddy! Did you know that Korean sentences are structured different from that of English?”

“Funny you should say that because that’s the next topic we’re going to cover!”

Let’s look at an example.

Play the below audio clip and read along.

Red dots indicate that they are not essential to make a sentence to have a meaning. That is, Subject / Object / Predicate are the only necessary elements for a sentence to have a meaning.

아이가 책을 읽는다 = Child reads a book.

Oh, predicate? We’ll deal with this later!

As you can see, Korean sentences are structured in a different order than English sentences. It might look weird at the moment, but you will get used to it as we practice more.

One thing you should have noticed is 는 that comes right after the subject and 를 which comes immediately after the object. I left them uncolored on purpose!

You see that there’s no English translation for them, well, it’s because there aren’t any words that correspond to the directly.

In a sense, however, they are quite similar to the concept of a/the of English grammar, something that can’t be translated into Korean, and you can still comprehend the meaning of a sentence without them.

So, who are these unsung heroes doing the hard work in the shadows? Let’s find out!

KOREAN SENTENCE SUBJECT MARKER – 이/가

A subject market comes after a subject to indicate what/which the subject of the sentence is. Using the same example,

Play the audio clip to hear the pronunciation.

무엇 높아요?
[mu-ŏ-si no-pa-yo?]
What is high?

하늘 높아요.
[ha-nŭ-ri no-pa-yo]
(It is) the sky, that is high.

As you can see, 이 is used to when indicating what/which the subject is in a given sentence .

누가 학생인가요?
[nu-ga hak-saeng-in-ga-yo?]
Who is a student?

그녀 학생입니다.
[gŭ-nyŏ-ga hak-saeng-ip-ni-da.]
(It is) her, who is a student.

Again, 가 is used when talking about action/description (who & student) of the subject.

Now, suppose that you answered with a topic marker 는 for the above question, from previous page.

그녀는 학생입니다.
[gŭ-nyŏ-nŭn hak-saeng-ip-ni-da.]
(As for) her, she is a student.

It simply doesn’t make sense, right? The question refers to what/who/which the subject is, but the answer indicates the description of her (i.e., “student”).

Which one to use? 이 after a word ending with a vowel (i.e., no batchim), and 가 after a word ending with a final consonant (i.e., 받침).

KOREAN SENTENCE TOPIC MARKER – 은/는

In a similar fashion, the main role for a topic marker is to indicate what’s being talked about. In other words, it focuses on action/description of the subject. Although there is no direct translation, you can think of it as “as for”.

Play the audio clip to hear the pronunciation.

하늘어때요?
[Ha-nŭl-ŭn ŏ-ddae-yo?]
(As for) the sky, how is it?

하늘 높다.
[Ha-nŭl-ŭn nop-da]
(As for) the sky, it’s high.

As you can see, 은 is used to when talking about action/description (how & high) of the subject .

그녀 무엇인가요?
[gŭ-nyŏ-nŭn mu-ŏ-sin-ga-yo?]
(As for) her, what is she?

그녀 학생입니다.
[gŭ-nyŏ-nŭn hak-saeng-ip-ni-da.]
(As for) her, she is a student.

Again, 는 is used when talking about action/description (who & student) of the subject.

Which one to use? 은 after a word ending with a vowel (i.e., no batchim), and 는 after a word ending with a final consonant (i.e., 받침).

(SAMPLE) PRACTICE QUIZ

Now, identify the SUBJECT and the OBJECT in the following sentences.

Play the audio clip for pronunciation.

강아지가 하늘을 본다.

A puppy is looking at the sky.

귀여운 아이가 차가운 물을 마신다

A cute child drinks cold water.

배고픈 사람이 라면을 먹었다.

A hungry person ate ramen.

늙은 할아버지가 어린 손자를 보았다.

An old grandpa looked at a little grand child.

A quick-witted student like you should have noticed that what entails a 이/가 is the subjective and 을/를 is the object!

ANSWER

Subject 강아지 Object 하늘
Subject 아이 Object 물
Subject 사람 Object 라면
Subject 할아버지 Object 손자

Now that we learned about topic/subject marker, let’s dig deeper to understand the subtle differences in nuance!

Your grammar doctor, Dr. Kim is here to help!

To be honest, the topic marker and subject marker are something native Korean speakers use without thinking, so when they are asked to explain what they are and what they do, not many would be able to answer them.

But for foreigners (except for Japanese speakers whose language has the same elements), they are very confusing to understand.

Without further dew, let me explain them to you and give you

proper prescription to help you learn them quickly and easily!

Trust me, I’m a (grammar) doctor.

“A vs The”

Suppose we’re just talking about a new subject, let’s say – a computer.

Then in English, we’d us the infinite article ‘a’ in front of the subject.

After talking about that computer a little more, we’d use the definite article “the”.

이/가 and 은/는 are similar in this aspect. 이/가 is used when something

is mentioned for the first time, and 은/는 is used to indicate what you have told.

For example,

Play the audio clip for pronunciation.

신발 크다.
[sin-ba-ri kŭ-da.]
A shoe is big.

그런데 신발 예쁘다.
[gŭ-reon-de sin-ba-rŭn ye-bbŭ-da.]
But the shoe is pretty.

(Notice 그 (the) is added and 은 follows the subject).

“Contrast”

이/가 is used for general statement and 은/는 is used for contrast.

Play the audio clip for pronunciation.

신발 있다.
[sin-ba-ri it-dda.]
There is a shoe.

신발 있다. 그런데 모자 없다.
[sin-ba-rŭn it-dda. gŭ-reon-de mo-ja-nŭn ŏp-dda.]
There is a shoe, but there is no hat.

Here, 신발 shoe is the main subject of the sentence, and there is no contrast, so it is 이.

In the second sentence, however, a comparison is made between 신발 and 모자.

That’s why 은/는 are used in the sentence.

“Emphasis”

Play the audio clip for pronunciation.

For example,

신발이 크기 하다.
[sin-ba-ri keu-gi-nŭn ha-da.]
(The) shoe is indeed big.

신발이 예쁘기하다.
[sin-ba-ri ye-bbeu-gi-nŭn ha-da.]
(The) shoe is indeed pretty.

(크기는 and 예쁘기는 are conjugated form of the adverb 크다/예쁘다)

KOREAN SENTENCE OBJECT MARKER – 을/를

Object marker signifies that a noun is acting as the object in the sentence. As a general rule of thumb, an object in a sentence (a thing or a person) receives the action and is described by the verb from the subject.

Play the audio clip for pronunciation.

수지가 책을 >읽어요<.
[su-ji-ga chae-gŭl >il-gŏ-yo<.]
Suji >reads< a book.

Here, 수지 is the subject, and 책 is the object, which receives the action from the subject 수지, which is ‘read’.

민호가 운동장을 >달려요<.
[min-ho-ga un-dong-jang-ŭl >dal-lyŏ-yo<.]
Minho >runs< the playground.

Here, 민호 is the subject, and 운동장 is the object, which receives the action from the subject 민호, which is ‘run’.

Which one to use? 을 after a word ending with a vowel (i.e., no batchim), and 를 after a word ending with a final consonant (i.e., 받침).

Don’t stress yourself over these markers at the moment because Korean people will still be able to understand the meaning of sentences without topic/subject/object markers, though you will sound like a prehistoric man, or an ape from the movie Planet of the Apes.

So my prescription is more practice, and you will get the hang of it before you know it!

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