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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.
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.
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. 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.
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||After vowels||After consonants|
|Nominative||ka ? -ga||-i ? -i|
|Accusative||lul ? -reul||ul ? -eul|
|Genitive||-uy ? -ui1|
|-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|
|-wa ? -wa||kwa ? -gwa|
|lang ? -rang||-i lang -irang|
|Vocative||a ? -a||-ya ? -ya|
|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.
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.
(), 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.
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 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.
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.
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. (July 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Korean has general number. 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.
In this case, the information that the subject is plural is expressed.
To add a distributive meaning on a numeral, ? ssig is used.
Now "balloon" is specified as a distributive plural.
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 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|
|1st sg (volition)||-gessda - (common)|
|1st pl (suggestion)||-ja -?|
|2nd, 3rd (command)||-eola/ala -/|
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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.