Korean Parts of Speech
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Korean Parts of Speech

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, and the vowel e ? is pronounced low and somewhat rounded, closer to o. To avoid confusion, bold type will represent the morphology (in Yale), and italics will represent Revised Romanization.

Classification of words

Korean grammarians have been classifying Korean words to parts of speech for centuries, but the modern standard is the one taught in public schools, chosen by South Korea's 1963 Committee on Education. This is the 9 pumsa (9) system, which divides words into nine categories called pumsa.[2][3] Each of them can be called in two different terms - Sino-Korean and native Korean respectively. The existing Sino-Korean Hanja terms are hard to understand the meaning without visual aid of Hanja, so the native Korean terms help the Koreans to understand the meaning. The existing Hanja terms will be gradually replaced with the native Korean ones so foreign learners are advised to get used to both sets of terms.

The pumsa, also called as ? ssi are themselves grouped together according to the following chart.

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:



(), josa (also called as tossi) are Korean postpositions and 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

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 -ka (pronounced -ga) appears after vowels.

Case clitics
Case After vowels After consonants
Nominative ka ? -ga -i ? -i
Accusative lul ? -reul ul ? -eul
Genitive -uy ? -ui1
(also destination)
-ey ? -e (inanimate)
-ey key -ege (animate)
(place of event, also source)
-ey se -eseo (inanimate)
-ey key se -egeseo (animate)
Instrumental -lo ? -ro2 -ulo -euro
(also and)
-hako -hago
-wa ? -wa kwa ? -gwa
lang ? -rang -i lang -irang
Vocative a ? -a -ya ? -ya

1 -uy ? is a historical and antiquated spelling, which is now commonly pronounced [?] as well as [?i].
2 -lo also occurs with stems ending in ? l.

Informational clitics
Information clitics
Type After vowels After consonants
Topic* nun ? neun un ? -eun
Additive* to ? -do
Or na ? -na -i na -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 (), myeongsa (also called as 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 ? ? ? sagwaga se gae isssumnida "apple three(things) exist" keeps the word sagwa "apple" in its unmarked form, as the numeral makes the plural marker redundant.

The most basic, fundamental Korean vocabulary is native to the Korean language, e.g. (nara, country), ? (nal, day). However, a large body of Korean nouns stem from the Korean pronunciation of Chinese characters e.g. ?(?) san, "mountain," ?(?) yeok, "station," () munhwa, "culture", etc. Many Sino-Korean words have native Korean equivalents and vice versa, but not always. 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".


Korean pronouns (), daemyeongsa (also called as ? daeireumssi) 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. the pronoun for "I" there is 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 of a noun such as "saram" 'person' or "geos" 'thing' is used to fill the gap. Also, only for translation and creative writing, a newly coined term, "geu-nyeo" (literally, 'that woman') is used to aphoristically refer 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.


Korean numerals (), susa (also called as 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)

Processual verbs

Korean (), dongsa (also called as umjikssi) which include (sseuda, "to use") and (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 () 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 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

(), hyeongyongsa (also called as geurimssi) sometimes translated as "adjectives" but also known as "descriptive verbs" or "stative verbs," are verbs such as yeppeuda, "to be pretty" or 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 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 (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, ? (Taynamwu-nun phwul-i-ta, daenamuneun pulida, "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, (Wuli-nun chinkwu-ta, urineun chinguda, "We are friends.") The past tense of is (i-ess-ta, ieossda, "was"). However, if it is attached after a vowel, it is always contracted into (yess-ta, yeossda, "was"). If not, it cannot be contracted.

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

and become (i-ya, iya), often ? (ya, ya) after a vowel and / (ani-ya/anya, aniya/anya) at the end of the sentence in (haeche, "informal, non-poilte speech level") form. In (haeyoche. "informal, polite speech level") form, they become (i-ey-yo, ieyo), often (yey-yo, yeyo) after a vowel and ?/ (ani-ey-yo/anyey-yo, anieyo/anyeyo) as well as the less common forms / (i-e-yo/ye-yo, ieoyo/yeoyo) and ?/ (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) (iss-ta, iss-da, "there is") and (eps-ta, eobsda, "there isn't"). The honorific existential verb for is (kyeysi-ta, gyesida).



Korean (), gwanhyeongsa (also called as 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 ?(?) kak, "each." For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean determiners.


Korean adverbs (), busa (also called as eojjissi) include ? (ddo, "again") and (gadeuk, "fully"). Busa, like adverbs in English, modify verbs. For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean adverbs.

Other content words


Korean interjections (), gamtansa (also called neukkimssi) as are also known in English as "exclamations". Examples include (ani, "no"). For a larger list, see wikt:Category:Korean interjections.


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.

Complex sentences

Connected sentences

  • Equally-connected sentences
    Verb endings like -? -go, -(?)? -(eu)myeo meaning "and" and -(?)? -(eu)na, - -jiman meaning "but", they connect two or more sentences serially.
    ?? ? . "The winter is now gone and the spring has come back, but the weather here still remained cold."
  • Subordinately-connected sentences
    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.
    ? ? ? ? . "I was walking along the street when I suddenly stopped to look up at the sky; the moon was there which was truly beautiful."

Container sentences

  • Noun clauses
    Followed by noun clause marker -(?)? -(eu)m or -? -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 (Ku-ka kapcaki ttena-ss-ta, geuga gabjagi tteonassda, "He left all of a sudden") into another sentence ? (Mwuenka-lul chinkwu-ka na-eykey ally-e cwu-e-ss-ta, mueongaleul chinguga na-ege allyeo jueossda, "My friend informed me of something"), then the verb (ttena-ss-ta, ddeonassda) combines with -(?)? (-(u)m, -eum) to make a noun clause (ttena-ss-um, ddeonass-eum): the resulting sentence is ? (Ku-ka kapcaki ttena-ss-um-ul chinkwu-ka na-eykey ally-e cwu-e-ss-ta, geuga gabjagi tteonass-eum-eul chinguga na-ege allyeo jueossda, "My friend informed me that he left all of a sudden").
Note that -(?)? -(eu)m is used in more formal settings, meanwhile -? -gi is used casually.
? . "I didn't know that he was already dead."
?? . "That she is the criminal is clear."
?(?) . "I don't feel like working."
(?) "vegetables chopped for the convenience of eating"
  • Adjective clauses
    This is the most widely used subordinate clause, even substituting the aforementioned noun clause by taking part in the form -? ? (-neun geos, "the thing which") -? -neun marks the present tense, -(?)? -(eu)l stands for the future tense, and -(?)? -(eu)n and -? -deon are for the past tense, though -(eu)l also acts without meaning any tense as in -? ? (-l ttae "when"). See Korean verbs.
    ? ? ? ? ?? "Do you remember where we had chicken when we were in Seoul?"
    ? ? "My homeland where I lived was a mountain town in which flowers bloomed."
Accompanied with several dependent nouns, adjective clause can comprise idiomatic expressions, such as -? -l keos-ida for the future conjugation, -? ? (-l geos gatda, "I suppose..."), -? ?(?) / (-l su(ga) issda/eobsda, "It is possible/impossible..."), -? ?? (-l liga eobsda, "It makes no sense that...)"
? ?? ?? . ? ? . "He has never been late so far. Today, as usual, he'll be in time."
  • Adverbial clauses
    Endings like -? -i, -? -ke, - -dolog, and so forth derive adverbial clauses. -i is not commonly used in making clauses except for eobs-i "without"; -? is in common use in this sense instead.
    ? . "He looked at me without a word."
    ? ? . "Please bring a cup for me; I need some water."
    "children playing with fun"
    ? . "See gold as if seeing a stone."
A lot of caution is needed when faced with -? -ge hada and -? -ge doeda, which may mean just "do -ly" and "become sth -ly", but also can make causative and passive verbs respectively; which are consisted of main and supportive verbs.
? (causative) ? (adverbial; causative if intended)
? (passive) ? (adverbial; passive if intended)
  • Verbal clauses
    Usually in the form ? ? ?, the whole clause serves as one adjective predicate. Just look at the examples.
    , . "A rabbit has big ears and a giraffe has a long neck.", or word-for-word, "A rabbit is big-eared, and a giraffe is long-necked."
    ?? ?? . "Instant ramen is cheap and tasty but not healthy."
    ?? ? ? ? . "I like pears, but my friend appeared with apples."
  • Quotation clauses
    Although the example above ? . might be used in a novel, it is unbearably awkward to say in more general situations. Quotation clauses as in ? "? ? ?." ?. (direct quotation) or in ? ? . (indirect quotation) are used instead. The particle (?) (i)lago is for direct quotation, and the verb endings like - -dago, -(?) -(neu)nyago, - -lago, and - -jago are used for indirect quotation, for declarative, interrogative, imperative, and suggesting sentences respectively. Exceptionally, sentences employing a verbal particle (ida) and an adjective (anida) are suffixed with -lago in place of -dago for declarative ones.
    "What?" or "What did you say?"
    ? . "The police announced that they are investigating the details."
The last syllable -go is often dropped. Furthermore, if the verb hada means 'to say' and is right next to the syllable -go, then -? -go hada is abridged becoming -? -da, which of course can conjugate.
?? (? ?)
. ( .) ? . "Do you remember what I said? You only got tired for nothing."

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 -?/? -a/eo, -? -ge, -? -ji, and -? -go are taken by the main verb (or adjective), and the supporting verb (or a.) follows it and is conjugated.

Examples using -eo/a

  • -?/? / -a/eo gada/oda: to continue to do, while getting away/closer
  • -?/? -a/eo beolida: to end up doing (and I feel sad, or distressed, to see the result)
  • -?/? -a/eo boda: to try doing
  • -?/? -a/eo jida (written without a space): to be done; to become adj.
  • -?/? -a/eo hada (written without a space): to feel adj.

Examples using -ge

  • -? -ge doeda: to be done; to end up doing
  • -? -ge hada: to make sb do

Examples using -ji

  • -? -ji anhda (-? ? -ji anihada, - -janhda): not to do; not to be adj.
  • -? -ji malda: not to do (in imperative, e.g. ?! "Don't do that!")
  • -? -ji moshada: to be unable to do

Examples using -go

  • -? -go boda: to do before realizing sth
  • -? -go sipda: to want to do
  • -? -go issda: to be doing

Examples using other suffixes

  • - / -eoya hada/doeda: to have to do
  • - -ado doeda: to be permitted to do
  • -(?)? -(u)myen hata: to hope to do
  • -(?)? -(u)myen toyta: to be okay or desirable to do


Korean has general number.[4] 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 -deol 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:

manh-ideol meogdagadeul gageola
manid?l m?k?ta?ad?l kaa
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, ? ssig is used.

hagsaengdeul-i pungseon-eul hanassig sass-eoyo
hak?sdi p?u?sn?l hanas?ik? s?asjo
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:

  • Honorific subjects from non-honorific subjects in the second or third person via a verb suffix. See Korean honorifics.
  • Korean distinguishes first person from non-first in emotion verbs, in that the form "A? B? " A dislikes B for example is hardly used for 3rd person subjects in most registers, and only used inside questions in case of 2nd person subjects. (A prominent exception is in novels or stories, where it is understood that the narrator is omniscient and can authoritatively describe what's going on inside A's mind.) On the contrary, the form "A? B? ?" can be used freely for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person subject.
  • first person from third person, partially, in the future and the past tense.
  • inclusive first person from exclusive first person, and first person from third person, in the jussive mood[5]

Korean does not distinguish:

  • singular from plural on the verb (though this is systematically marked on pronouns)
  • second person from third person in statements
  • second person from first person in questions

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) -gessda - (common)
-(eu)lida -(?)
-(eu)lyeonda -(?)
-(eu)ma -(?)?
1st pl (suggestion) -ja -?
2nd, 3rd (command) -eola/ala -/


Valency in Korean

  • An intransitive verb, an adjective, or a noun plus the predicate particle -ida requests one argument, the subject, though it may be omitted. (? )
    . "It is raining."
    . "The sky is blue."
    ?. "It is morning now."
  • A transitive verb needs two arguments; one is the subjects, and the other can either be an object, a complement, or an essential adverb. (? )
    ? . "A cat catches a mouse." (object)
    ? . "He came to me and became a flower." (adverb, then complement)
  • A ditransitive verb carries three arguments, which always include an essential adverb. (? )
    ? ? . "I got 3 boxes of kimchi from my mom."
    "? ? ? ." . "My brother told me "Everything's gonna be okay.""

Subordinate clauses

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

One very common suffix -ko -? -go, can be interpreted as a gerund[] if used by itself, or, with a subject of its own, as a subordinating conjunction. That is, mek.ko meokgo means approximately "eating," koki lul mek.ko gogireul meokgo means "eating meat," and nay ka koki lul mek.ko 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 -​ ?/? -eo/-a after a consonant.

Both sometimes called gerunds[], 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 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 ?. (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 (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. (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, 'because the door is opened, it exist', meaning of which is not clear, though.

See also


  1. ^ Much of the material in this article comes from the companion text to the NHK language materials Hanguru Ny?mon (1985).
  2. ^ Lee, Chul Young (2004). Essential Grammar for Korean as a second Language (PDF). pp. 18-19. Retrieved 2010.
  3. ^ Ihm, Ho Bin (2009). Korean Grammar for International Learners. Yonsei University Press. p. 1. ISBN 89-7141-554-1.
  4. ^ Corbett, Greville G., Number, pages 137-138, Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, P240.8.C67 2000, ISBN 0-521-64016-4
  5. ^ [ Pak, Miok et al. http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/portnerp/nsfsite/CSSP_handout.pdf " What Korean Promissives tell us about Jussive Clause Type"], Colloque de syntaxe et sémantique à Paris 2005, retrieved on 3 December 2011

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