As with every other language, when you learn Korean, grammar is the backbone of being able to express yourself confidently.
It’s true that learning any foreign language can be a challenge. In addition to tons of new vocab, you have grammar rules, structures, and usages that may be unfamiliar to you.
Korean is no exception to this. But that’s also what makes it so fun. And, you can go quite a long way with only a handful of essential grammar concepts.
Ultimately, everything boils down to the fundamentals. If you can master them, you’ll be able to make simple sentences and communicate effectively in the Korean language.
Here are the eight essential grammar features you should know about Korean. They’re not only easy but the perfect complement to what you may have already learned about the Korean alphabet.
Ready to start mastering Korean? Get started now with these Korean grammar basics now!
1. Korean Verbs Come At The End
Similar to Japanese, one of the most different things about Korean (compared to English) is that the sentence order is a little inverted—the verbs are at the end. At first, it can be a little tricky, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
For example, instead of saying, “The man eats bread” or (subject/verb/object), you say, “The man bread eats” or (subject/object/verb).
In Korean the sentence would appear Namjaneun bbangeul meg o yeo 남자는 빵을 먹어, or “The man bread eats.”
You’ll actually find this useful because it keeps all the related parts of your sentence where you need them. It also makes it easy to scan through large pieces of text because you can just follow the verbs.
One more thing. Korean doesn’t have an articles. There is no “a, an, the,” which is yet another thing that makes learning Korean easy.
2. Korean Has An Implied “I” Pronoun
Korean sentences usually don't require a pronoun like “I eat bread.” You can just say “eat bread,” and it's implied that you're talking about yourself.
- 빵을 먹어 Bbangeul meogeo<((I) eat bread.)/li>
That's not to say Korean doesn't have “I”, it’s just not necessary when speaking and even writing.
Sometimes, you'll see it in translation to make it easier for non-Korean speakers to understand the meaning of a sentence or to really emphasize the subject. Just know that it’s not necessary that you use it when you’re communicating in Korean.
- 나는 빵을 먹어 Naneun bbangeul meogeo (I eat bread)
3. Korean Grammar Is Predictable
If you’re a native speaker of English, you probably take for granted how weird the English language can be. Why is it “stink, stank, stunk” or “swell, swelled, and swollen?”
English is full of irregularities that don’t really make sense. But we’ve all long since memorized them so they don’t seem so unusual anymore. .
On the other hand, Korean acts the way it should 99% of the time. Let’s take “eat, ate, and eaten,” which is actually pretty easy to remember by English standards.
Remember, “eat” is present tense, “ate” is past, and “eaten” is the past participle. Instead, Korean makes an easy progression.
- Present: 먹어 : meogeo: eat
- Past: 먹었 : meogeo sseo: ate
- Participle: 먹었다: meogeo sseo da: eaten
Here’s the best part. The same progression is followed by basically all the other Korean verbs. So if you know one, then you know them all! Wouldn't be nice if English were that easy?
4. You Don’t Say “You” In Korean
Similar to how you don’t say “I,”, you also don’t really use “you” in Korean. It’s generally impolite to refer to people by “you” (dangsin 당신 or neo 너) unless you know them very well.
This can really trip up English speakers since so much of our daily conversation consists of things like “how are you” or “can I ask you something?”
Instead, you should use the title or name of someone if you know it.
For example, if you were talking to your teacher, you wouldn’t ask “where are you” but “where is teacher” or seonsaengnim-eun eodie issseubnikka “선생님은 어디에 있습니까.”
The same goes for everybody else you whether it’s a man on the street, 아저씨 (ajeossi) or student, ( 학생 haksaeng) or anybody.
If you’re ever unsure what to use, you can go with sir or 아저씨 (ajeossi) or madame 아줌마 (ajuma). Likewise, pay attention to how other people around you address the person. This will give you a clue.
Do note, since some forms of address are reserved for closer acquaintances, friends, or family members, it may not be appropriate for you to call the person by that title. However, as a non-native speaker, nobody will hold it against you—you just might hear a few laughs about it!
5. Korean Particles Show The Role Of Words In Sentences
Korean has particles that show you exactly which word is the subject, the object, verb, and preposition. That means you can read any Korean sentence and at least understand the basic structure. Using this will help you grasp some of what the sentence says even if you don’t know all the words.
Here’s a list of the essential Korean particles:
- 은/는 (eun, neun) – Topic particles
- eun goes after consonant, neun goes after vowel
- 이/가 (e, ga) – Subject Particles
- e goes after constant, ga goes after vowel
- 을/를 (euel, leul) – Object particles
- euel goes after consonant, leuel goes after vowel
- 에/에서 (ay ayseo) – In, at
- 에 (ay) – To 에서 (ayseo) – From
- 에서 (ayseo) – From (Place) 부터 (buteo) – From (Time )까지 (kagi)– To/till (Place)
- 에게/한테 (aygay/hantay) – To (someone) 에게서/한테서 (aygaeseo/hantaseo) – From (someone)
- 와/과/하고/랑 (wa, kwa, hago, rang)– And (connect two things)
- wa goes after consonant, kwa goes after vowel, wa and rang go after either
- 나/(이)나 (na/ina)– Either/Or
- 로/ (으)로 (lo/eulo)– to/towards (direction) with (tool/method)
- 의 (eui)– of/’s (possessive)
- 도 (do)– also/too
This is a lot to take in at one time. Don’t try to do it all once. For now, just focus on the first six (up to 에/에서) since these are what you’ll see in the majority the sentences you’ll be learning for now.
6. Korean Has Topic And Subject Particles
As you may have noticed from above, Korean has both Topic particles (은/는 eun, neun) and Subject Particles (이/가 e, ga). This is going to confuse you a little bit because there are a lot of nuances in getting the usage just right.
BUT it’s not that big of a deal if you confuse them. Everybody will understand what you mean. Don’t put too much emphasis on nailing the difference between them right now. You’ll gradually pick it up as you learn Korean.
So what’s the difference? Well, as you might suspect, subject particles mark the subject of the sentence, whereas topic particles mark the topic.
It’s really about what you are trying to emphasize. Think about this sentence “The weather is nice today” which is oneul-eun nal ssi ga joh-ayo or 오늘은 날씨가 좋아요.
You can see already which is the topic and which is the subject based on the particles. Today is the subject while the weather is the topic.
Don’t worry about it too much for now. It’s just something to keep an eye out for later.
7. Being Polite In Korean Is Super Easy
Politeness is a very important part of Korean society. There are actually several different formal verb form endings that allow you to choose exactly how polite you want to be.
But there's no need to learn the super formal versions of Korean to speak to your teachers and people on the street. In fact, you can even skip the sumnida (습니다 ) level you'll see in many textbooks for now.
While you'll eventually want to learn these things, especially if you're given the chance to speak with the CEO of Samsung or an important figure, you can stick with the typical ayo/eoyo (요/어요) verb endings 99% of the time. End all your sentences with that and you’ll always have the right level of formality.
- 빵을 먹어요 (Bbangeul meogeo): (I) eat bread.
The cool thing is if you ever want to lighten the mood, you can just drop the ayo/eyo to make things more casual and friendly.
Wondering about the difference between 아요 (ayo) and 어요(eoyo)? You use 아요 (yo) following a vowel and 어요 (eoyo) following a consonant
- 빵을 먹어요 (Bbangeul meogeo) = (I) eat bread.
- 거기에 가요 (Geogieay kayo) = I go there
8. Embrace Yo For All Your Korean Sentences
Speaking of yo. While “yo” may be an informal greeting in English, ayo/eoyou (아요/어요) this moderately formal verb ending can do much of the heavy lifting for basic Korean.
It’s super versatile. You can use it for questions, statements, and even commands. Everything’s based on context.
Check it out:
- 빵을 먹어요 (Bbangeul meogeo) = (I) eat bread
- 빵을 먹어요? (Bbangeul meogeo) = Do you eat bread?
- 빵을 먹어요! (Bbangeul meogeo) = Eat bread
This works both in writing and in speaking. If your inflection goes up then the listener knows you’re asking a question. The same goes for a command and basic statements.
You’ll never go wrong by ending your sentences with yo!
8 Essential Korean Grammar Tips That Will Take You Far
Believe it or not, with these eight simple grammar features, you’ll be able to navigate most concepts in everyday Korean skillfully. With them, you can ask questions, describe things about yourself, and communicate the essentials. I should know – I learned the basics of Korean in just 4 days!
As you begin memorizing the Korean alphabet and putting together simple sentences, keep an eye out for these fundamentals. You’ll begin to see them everywhere, and it will create a solid framework for everything you’re learning.
Though it may be a little difficult at first, the best thing about Korean grammar you’ll soon realize is how consistent it is. There are a few exceptions here and there, but in general things are actually very logical and easy to follow. That means you’ll be able to pick up the basics in no time!
By the way, you'll be pleased to know that there are plenty of Korean learning apps, including several dedicated to helping you master the grammar.