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This article is a description of the morphology, syntax, and semantics of Korean. For phonetics and phonology, see Korean phonology. See also Korean honorifics, which play a large role in the grammar.[1]

Note on romanization

This article uses a form of Yale romanization to illustrate the morphology of Korean words. The Yale system is different from the Revised Romanization of Korean seen with place names.

Under the version of Yale used here, morphemes are written according to their underlying form rather than their spelling in the Korean writing system or pronunciation. Under this system, for example, the syllable which is written in Korean as is analyzed as ess even though the ss would be pronounced t before another consonant. To avoid confusion, bold type will represent the morphology (in Yale), and italics will represent Revised Romanization.

Classification of words

Korean grammar
Revised Romanizationgupumsa

The modern standard of word classification and the one taught in public schools was chosen by South Korea's 1963 Committee on Education. This is the 9 pumsa (9품사) system, which divides words into nine categories called pumsa.[2][3]

The 품사(品詞) pumsa, also called 씨 ssi, are themselves grouped together according to the following outline.

Both cardinal and ordinal numbers are grouped into their own part of speech. Descriptive verbs and action verbs are classified separately despite sharing essentially the same conjugation. Verb endings constitute a large and rich class of morphemes, indicating such things in a sentence as tense, mood, aspect, speech level (of which there are 7 in Korean), and honorifics. Prefixes and suffixes are numerous, partly because Korean is an agglutinative language.

There are also various other important classes of words and morphemes that are not generally classified among the pumsa. 5 other major classes of words or morphemes are:



Main article: Korean postpositions

조사(助詞), josa (also called as 토씨 tossi) are Korean postpositions, also known as case markers. Examples include (neun, topic marker) and (reul, object marker). Postpositions come after substantives and are used to indicate the role (subject, object, complement, or topic) of a noun in a sentence or clause. For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean particles.

Case clitics

Case clitics (격조사(格助詞) gyeok-josa) are clitics that mark the grammatical function of the word. Both nouns and pronouns take case clitics. Pronouns are somewhat irregular. As with many clitics and suffixes in Korean, for many case clitics different forms are used with nouns ending in consonants and nouns ending in vowels. The most extreme example of this is in the nominative (subject), where the historical clitic i is now restricted to appearing after consonants, and a completely unrelated (suppletive) form ga appears after vowels.

  • locative 2 – 에서 eseo "at" place or "from" place (e.g. "I work at the hospital" or "I came from Korea")
  • dative에게 ege "to" someone, 한테 hante "to" someone in a casual manner, kke "to" someone who is respected
  • ablative에게서 egeseo "from" someone, 한테서 hanteseo "from" someone in a casual manner
  • instrumental로써/으로써 rosseo/eurosseo "with" something
  • essive로서/으로서 roseo/euroseo being "as" something (e.g. "as a teacher, I will help you")
  • ablative 2 – 로부터/으로부터 robuteo/eurobuteo something "from" source or origin (e.g. "modern cars are developed from carriages")
Informational clitics

Informational clitics (보조사(補助詞) bo-josa) provide additional meanings to the words that they attach to. They may override the case clitics, or be placed after other clitics.

Information clitics
Type After vowels After consonants
Topic* nun neun un eun
Additive* to do
Or na na ina 이나 ina

* The topic and additive markers mark the noun phrase with case markers. They override the nominative and accusative case markers rather than being attached after those case markers.


Korean nouns 명사(名詞) myeongsa (also called 이름씨 ireumssi) do not have grammatical gender, and though they can be made plural by adding the suffix deul to the end of the word, in general the suffix is not used when the plurality of the noun is clear from context. For example, while the English sentence "there are three apples" would use the plural "apples" instead of the singular "apple", the Korean sentence 사과가 세 개 있습니다 Sagwaga se gae itseumnida "(lit.) apple three(things) exist" keeps the word 사과 sagwa "apple" in its unmarked form, as the numeral makes the plural marker redundant. As Korean is a language with no grammatical gender, nouns do not have to agree with verbs.[4] The only agreement needed for Korean nouns would be the object and subject particles (이/가, 을/를, 은/는) added depending on if the noun ends in a vowel or consonant.

The most basic, fundamental Korean vocabulary is native to the Korean language, e.g. 나라 nara "country", nal "day". However, a large body of Korean nouns stem from the Korean pronunciation of Chinese characters e.g. (山) san "mountain", (驛) yeok "station", 문화(文化) munhwa "culture", etc. Many Sino-Korean words have native Korean equivalents and vice versa, but not all. The choice of whether to use a Sino-Korean noun or a native Korean word is a delicate one, with the Sino-Korean alternative often sounding more profound or refined. It is in much the same way that Latin- or French-derived words in English are used in higher-level vocabulary sets (e.g. the sciences), thus sounding more refined – for example, the native Germanic "ask" versus Romance "inquire".


Main article: Korean pronouns

Korean pronouns 대명사(代名詞) daemyeongsa (also called 대이름씨 dae-ireumssi) are highly influenced by the honorifics in the language. Pronouns change forms depending on the social status of the person or persons spoken to, e.g. for the first person singular pronoun "I" there are both the informal na and the honorific/humble jeo. In general, second-person singular pronouns are avoided, especially when using honorific forms. Third-person pronouns are not well developed, and in most cases, a demonstrative geu "that" in combination with a noun such as 사람 saram "person" or geot "thing" is used to fill the gap. Also, only for translation and creative writing, a newly coined term, 그녀 geu-nyeo (literally, "that woman"), is used aphoristically to refer to a female third person. A gender-neutral third person is covered by the demonstrative geu (originally "that"). For a larger list of Korean pronouns, see wikt:Category:Korean pronouns.


Main article: Korean numerals

Korean numerals 수사(數詞) susa (also called 셈씨 semssi) include two regularly used sets: a native Korean set and a Sino-Korean set. The Sino-Korean system is nearly entirely based on the Chinese numerals. The distinction between the two numeral systems is very important. Everything that can be counted will use one of the two systems, but seldom both. The grouping of large numbers in Korean follows the Chinese tradition of myriads (10,000) rather than thousands (1,000) as is common in Europe and North America.

Verbs (broadly speaking)

Main article: Korean verbs

Processual verbs

Korean 동사(動詞) dongsa (also called as 움직씨 umjikssi) which include 쓰다 sseuda "to use" and 가다 gada "to go", are usually called, simply, "verbs." However, they can also be called "action verbs" or "dynamic verbs," because they describe an action, process, or movement. This distinguishes them from 형용사(形容詞) hyeongyongsa.

Korean verb conjugation depends upon the tense, aspect, mood, and the social relation between the speaker, the subject(s), and the listener(s). Different endings are used depending on the speaker's relation with their subject or audience. Politeness is a critical part of the Korean language and Korean culture; the correct verb ending must be chosen to indicate the proper degree of respect or familiarity for the situation.

Descriptive verbs

형용사(形容詞) hyeongyongsa (also called 그림씨 geurimssi), sometimes translated as "adjectives" but also known as "descriptive verbs" or "stative verbs", are verbs such as 예쁘다 yeppeuda, "to be pretty" or 붉다 bukda, "to be red". English does not have an identical grammatical category, and the English translation of a Korean hyeongyongsa is usually a linking verb + an English adjective. However, some Korean words which do not match that formula, such as 아쉽다 aswipda, a transitive verb which means "to lack" or "to want for", are still considered hyeongyongsa in Korean because they match the conjugation pattern for adjectives. For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean adjectives.

Copulative and existential verbs

The predicate marker 이다 (i-ta, ida, "to be") serves as the copula, which links the subject with its complement, that is, the role 'to be' plays in English. For example, 대나무는 풀이다 (Taynamwu-nun phwul-i-ta, Daenamuneun purida, "A bamboo is a grass") When the complement, which is suffixed by i-ta, ends in a vowel, i-ta contracts into -ta quite often as in following example, 우리는 친구다 (Wuli-nun chinkwu-ta, Urineun chinguda, "We are friends.") The past tense of 이다 is 이었다 (i-ess-ta, ieotda, "was"). However, if it is attached after a vowel, it is always contracted into 였다 (yess-ta, yeotda, "was"). If not, it cannot be contracted.

To negate, a special adjective 아니다 (ani-ta, anida, "to not be") is used, being one of the two cases that take complement, the other being 되다 (toy-ta, doeda). Two nouns take the nominative clitic 이/가 (i/ka, i/ga) before the negative copula; one is the subject, and the other is the complement. For instance, in 대나무는 나무가 아니다 (Taynamwu-nun namwu-ka ani-ta, Daenamuneun namuga anida, "A bamboo is not a tree."), 대나무는 (taynamwu-nun, daenamuneun) is the subject and 나무가 (namwu-ka, namuga) is the complement. The derived form 아니요 (aniyo, aniyo) is the word for "no" when answering a positive question.

이다 and 아니다 become 이야 (i-ya, iya), often (ya, ya) after a vowel and 아니야/아냐 (ani-ya/anya, aniya/anya) at the end of the sentence in 해체 (haeche, "informal, non-polite speech level") form. In 해요체 (haeyoche. "informal, polite speech level") form, they become 이에요 (i-ey-yo, ieyo), often 예요 (yey-yo, yeyo) after a vowel and 아니에요/아녜요 (ani-ey-yo/anyey-yo, anieyo/anyeyo) as well as the less common forms 이어요/여요 (i-e-yo/ye-yo, ieoyo/yeoyo) and 아니어요/아녀요 (ani-e-yo/anye-yo, anieoyo/anyeoyo).

The copula is only for "to be" in the sense of "A is B". For existence, Korean uses the existential verbs (or adjectives) 있다 (iss-ta, itda, "there is") and 없다 (eps-ta, eopda, "there isn't"). The honorific existential verb for 있다 is 계시다 (kyeysi-ta, gyesida).

Supporting verbs/adjectives

Sometimes, just using an adverb is insufficient to express the exact meaning the speaker has in mind. The composition of a main verb (or adjective) and a supporting verb (or adjective) can be used in this case, alongside some grammatical features. Suffixes including -아/어 -a/eo, -게 -ge, -지 -ji, and -고 -go are taken by the main verb (or adjective), and the supporting verb (or a.) follows it and is conjugated.

Examples using -eo/a
Examples using -ge
Examples using -ji
Examples using -go
Examples using other suffixes



Korean 관형사(冠形詞) gwanhyeongsa (also called 매김씨 maegimssi) are known in English as "determiners," "determinatives," "pre-nouns," "adnouns," "attributives," "unconjugated adjectives," and "indeclinable adjectives." Gwanhyeongsa come before and modify or specify nouns, much like attributive adjectives or articles in English. Examples include (各) gak, "each." Determiners also negate the use of pronouns in day to day sentences which also makes Korean a more ambiguous and context driven language.[4] For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean determiners.


Korean adverbs 부사(副詞) busa (also called 어찌씨 eojjissi) include tto "again" and 가득 gadeuk "fully". Busa, like adverbs in English, modifies verbs. For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean adverbs.

Other content words


Korean interjections 감탄사(感歎詞) gamtansa (also called 느낌씨 neukkimssi) as are also known in English as "exclamations". Examples include 아니 ani "not". For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean interjections.

Sentence structure

Korean is typical of languages with verb-final word order, such as Japanese, in that most affixes are suffixes and clitics are enclitics, modifiers precede the words they modify, and most elements of a phrase or clause are optional.

Compound sentence

A compound sentence is a sentence where two or more independent clauses are equally connected. The verb endings used for connecting the clauses include -고 -go "and", -(으)며 -(eu)myeo "and", -(으)나 -(eu)na "but", and -지만 -jiman "but".

Complex sentence

A complex sentence is a sentence where one or more dependent clauses are subordinatedly connected to the independent clause. A lot of endings are used to indicate a wide variety of meanings, making the clause suffixed by one of them subordinate to the other clause. The difference from an adverb clause is not very apparent.

Noun clauses

Followed by noun clause marker -(으)ㅁ -(eu)m or -기 -gi, a sentence can serve as a noun. The markers are attached to the last verb of the sentence. For example, if you want to include a sentence 그가 갑자기 떠났다. (Ku-ka kapcaki ttena-ss-ta., Geuga gapjagi tteonatda., "He left all of a sudden.") into another sentence 무언가를 친구가 나에게 알려 주었다. (Mwuenka-lul chinkwu-ka na-eykey ally-e cwu-e-ss-ta., Mueongareul chinguga na-ege allyeo jueotda., "My friend informed me of something."), then the verb 떠났다 (ttena-ss-ta, tteonatda) combines with -(으)ㅁ (-(u)m, -(eu)m) to make a noun clause 떠났음 (ttena-ss-um, tteonasseum): the resulting sentence is 그가 갑자기 떠났음을 친구가 나에게 알려 주었다. (Ku-ka kapcaki ttena-ss-um-ul chinkwu-ka na-eykey ally-e cwu-e-ss-ta., Geuga gapjagi tteonasseumeul chinguga na-ege allyeo jueotda., "My friend informed me that he left all of a sudden.").

Note that -(으)ㅁ -(eu)m is used in more formal settings, meanwhile -기 -gi is used casually.

Adjective clauses

This is the most widely used subordinate clause, even substituting the aforementioned noun clause by taking part in the form -는 것 -neun geot "the thing which". -는 -neun marks the present tense, -(으)ㄹ -(eu)l stands for the future tense, and -(으)ㄴ -(eu)n and -던 -deon are for the past tense, though -(eu)l also acts without meaning any tense as in -ㄹ 때 (-l ttae "when"). See Korean verbs.

Accompanied by several dependent nouns, adjective clauses can comprise idiomatic expressions, such as -ㄹ 것이다 -l kkeos-ida for the future conjugation, -ㄹ 것 같다 -l kkeot gatda, "I suppose...", -ㄹ 수(가) 있다/없다 -l ssu(ga) itda/eopda "It is possible/impossible...", -ㄹ 가 없다 -l liga eopda "It makes no sense that..."

Adverb clauses

Endings like -이 -i, -게 -ge, -도록 -dorok, and so forth derive adverbial clauses. -이 -i is not commonly used in making clauses except for 없이 eops-i "without"; -게 -ge is in common use in this sense instead.

A lot of caution is needed when faced with -게 하다 -ge hada and -게 되다 -ge doeda, which may mean just "do -ly" and "become sth -ly", but also can make causative and passive verbs, respectively, which consist of main and supportive verbs.

Verbal clauses

Usually in the form 무엇무엇어떻, the whole clause serves as one adjective predicate. Just look at the examples.

It is also important to note that with this examples, the dictionary form of verbs are being used. When speaking to another person, take note of the language's honor system in order to show respect and use the correct verb forms. There is an honorification agreement with Korean's syntax system that must always be in mind when speaking to another.[4]

Quotation clauses

Although the example above 그가 갑자기 떠났음을 친구가 내게 알려 주었다. might be used in a novel, it is unbearably awkward to say in more-general situations. Quotation clauses as in 내 친구가 " 갑자기 가 버리."라고 더라. (direct quotation) or in 내 친구도 걔가 갑자기 가 버렸다고 하더라. (indirect quotation) are used instead. The particle (이)라고 (i)rago is for direct quotation, and the verb endings like -다고 -dago, -(느)냐고 -(neu)nyago, -라고 -rago, and -자고 -jago are used for indirect quotation, for declarative, interrogative, imperative, and suggesting sentences respectively. Exceptionally, sentences employing a verbal particle 이다 ida and an adjective 아니다 anida are suffixed with -rago in place of -dago for declarative ones.

The last syllable -go is often dropped. Furthermore, if the verb hada means 'to say' and is right next to the syllable -go, then -고 하다 -go hada is abridged, becoming -다 -da, which of course can conjugate.

Subordinate clauses

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Verbs can take conjunctive suffixes. These suffixes make subordinate clauses.

One very common suffix, -ko -고 -go, can be interpreted as a gerund[citation needed] if used by itself, or, with a subject of its own, as a subordinating conjunction. That is, mek.ko 먹고 meokgo means approximately "eating," koki lul mek.ko 고기를 먹고 gogireul meokgo means "eating meat," and nay ka koki lul mek.ko 내가 고기를 먹고 nae-ga gogi-reul meog-go means "I eat meat and..." or "My eating meat."

Another suffix, somewhat similar in meaning, is se -seo which is, however, attached to long stem of a verb. The long stem of a verb is the one that is formed by attaching -ea 어/아 -eo/-a after a consonant.

Both sometimes called gerunds[citation needed], the verb form that ends in se and the one that ends in -ko juxtapose two actions, the action in the subclause and the action in the main clause. The difference between them is that with se the action in the subclause necessarily came first, while -ko conveys more of an unordered juxtaposition. se is frequently used to imply causation, and is used in many common expressions like manna se pan.kapsupnita 만나서 반갑습니다 Manna-seo bangapseumnida (literally, "Since I met you, I'm happy" -or- "Having met you, I'm happy"). If -ko was used instead, the meaning would be closer to "I meet you and I'm happy," that is, without any implied logical connection.

These are both subordinating conjunctive suffixes and cannot (in the more formal registers, at least) derive complete sentences of their own without the addition of a main verb, by default the verb iss . 내가 고기를 먹고 있다 (Nay ka koki lul mek.ko issta, naega gogireul meoggo issda) therefore means "I am eating meat." The difference between this and the simple sentence 내가 고기를 먹는다 (nay ka koki lul meknun ta, naega gogileul meogneunda, "I eat meat") is similar to the difference in Spanish between "Estoy almorzando" and "Almuerzo," in that the compound form emphasizes the continuity of the action. The -se form is used with the existential verb iss for the perfect. 문이 열려 있다 (Mwuni yellye issta, mun-i yeollyeo issda, "the door has been opened") can be the example, although it would convey different meaning if the very syllable se were visible, 문이 열려서 있다 'because the door is opened, it exist', meaning of which is not clear, though.


Questions in Korean are formed using interrogatory verb endings such as -ㅂ/습니까 -(seu)mnikka. The verb ending usage varies according to the speech level.

Interrogative verb endings and speech level.
Formal Informal
Polite Hasipsio -ㅂ/습니까 -(seu)mnikka Haeyo -아/어요 -a/eoyo
Hao -오/소 -(s)o
Impolite Hage -나 -na, -ㄴ/는가 -(neu)nga (procedural verbs), -(으)ㄴ가 -(eu)nga (others) Hae -아/어 -a/eo
Haera -냐 -nya, -니 -ni


Imperatives in Korean are formed using imperative verb endings such as -(으)십시오 -(eu)sipsio. The verb ending usage varies according to the speech level.

Imperative verb endings and speech level.
Formal Informal
Polite Hasipsio -(으)십시오 -(eu)sipsio Haeyo -(으)세요 -(eu)seyo
Hao -(으)시오 -(eu)sio
Impolite Hage -게 -ge Hae -아/어 -a/eo
Haera -아/어라 -a/eora, -(으)렴 -(eu)ryeom


Suggestions in Korean are formed using suggestion verb endings such as -(으)ㅂ시다 -(eu)psida. The verb ending usage varies according to the speech level.

Suggestion verb endings and speech level.
Formal Informal
Polite Hasipsio Haeyo -아/어요 -a/eoyo
Hao -(으)ㅂ시다 -(eu)psida
Impolite Hage -(으)세 -(eu)se Hae -아/어 -a/eo
Haera -자 -ja


Exclamations in Korean are formed using exclamatory verb endings such as -구나 -guna. The verb ending usage varies according to the speech level.

Exclamatory verb endings and speech level.
Formal Informal
Polite Hasipsio Haeyo -네요 -neyo
Hao -구려 -guryeo
Impolite Hage -군 -gun Hae -네 -ne
Haera -구나 -guna


The negation in Korean can be expressed in the following three forms.

In addition, the negation can be achieved through the use of verbs with negative meaning, such as 아니다 anida, 없다 epda, and 모르다 moreuda.

Tense and aspect

The tense and aspect can be expressed using a variety of non-terminal suffixes and special constructions. The tense is expressed differently when the verb is used at the end of the sentence and when it is used to modify other phrases.

End of sentence Modifier
Procedural verb Others Procedural verb Others
Present -ㄴ/는- -(neu)n- -∅- (as is) -는 -neun -(으)ㄴ -(eu)n
Past -았/었- -(a/eo)ss- -(으)ㄴ -(eu)n
-던 -deon (progressive), -았/었던 -(a/eo)tdeon (perfect)
Future -겠- -gess-, -ㄹ 것이다 -l geosida -(으)ㄹ -(eu)l

In addition, the progressive aspect can be expressed using -고 있다 -go itda and -ㄴ/는 중이다 -(neu)n jung-ida forms for procedural verbs. The perfect aspect can be expressed using -아/어 있다 -a/eo itda form.


This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: It is against grammatical rules for the plural marker '-deul' to occur at some of the alternative positions given in the following examples, and it is highly uncommon or at least somewhat unnatural for the most of them. Please review the grammatical consistency of this subsection. Please help improve this article if you can. (July 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Korean has general number.[5] That is, a noun on its own is neither singular nor plural. It also has an optional plural marker - -deul, which is most likely to be used for definite and highly animate nouns (primarily first- and second-person pronouns, to a lesser extent nouns and third-person pronouns referring to humans, etc.) This is similar to several other languages with optional number, such as Japanese.

However, Korean -deul may also be found on the predicate, on the verb, object of the verb, or modifier of the object, in which case it forces a distributive plural reading (as opposed to a collective reading) and indicates that the word is attached to expresses new information.

For instance:





a lot-ADV-PL









많이들 먹다가들 가거라

mani-deul meokdaga-deul gageora

manidɯl mʌk̚taɡadɯl kaɡʌɾa

{a lot-ADV-PL} {eat-and-PL} {go-IMP}

'You guys eat well and go.'

In this case, the information that the subject is plural is expressed.

To add a distributive meaning on a numeral, ssik is used.


















학생들이 풍선을 하나씩 샀어요

haksaengdeur-i pungseon-eul hana-ssik sass-eoyo

hak̚sɛŋdɯɾi pʰuŋsʰʌnɯl hanas͈ik̚ sʰas͈ʌjo

student-PL-NOM balloon-ACC one-each buy-PRET-INT-POL

"The students bought a balloon each."

Now "balloon" is specified as a distributive plural.

Subject–verb agreement

While it is usually stated that Korean does not have subject–verb agreement, the conjugated verbs do, in fact, show agreement with the logical subject (not necessarily the grammatical subject) in several ways. However, agreement in Korean usually only narrows down the range of subjects. Personal agreement is shown partly on the verb stem before the tense-aspect-mood suffixes, and partly on the sentence-final endings.

Korean distinguishes:

Korean does not distinguish:

The following table is meant to indicate how the verb stem and/or the sentence ending can vary depending on the subject. The column labeled "jussive ending" contains the various jussive sentences endings in the plain style.

Person Person agreement on final ending
Jussive ending
1st sg (volition) -getda -겠다 (common)
-(eu)rida -(으)리다
-(eu)ryeonda -(으)련다
-(eu)ma -(으)마
1st pl (suggestion) -ja -자
2nd, 3rd (command) -a/eora -아/어라


Main article: Valency (linguistics)

Valency in Korean

See also


  1. ^ Much of the material in this article comes from the companion text to the NHK language materials Hanguru Nyūmon (1985).
  2. ^ Lee, Chul Young (2004). Essential Grammar for Korean as a Second Language (PDF). pp. 18–19. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 25, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
  3. ^ Ihm, Ho Bin (2009). Korean Grammar for International Learners. Yonsei University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-89-7141-554-2.
  4. ^ a b c Lee, EunHee (2016). An introduction to Korean linguistics. Sean Madigan, Mee-Jeong Park. London. ISBN 1-317-38990-5. OCLC 931152892.
  5. ^ Corbett, Greville G., Number, pages 137–138, Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, P240.8.C67 2000, ISBN 0-521-64016-4
  6. ^ [ Pak, Miok et al. " What Korean Promissives tell us about Jussive Clause Type"], Colloque de syntaxe et sémantique à Paris 2005, retrieved on 3 December 2011