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Lesson 1

Completion requirements


  • Morphemes
  • Morphology
  • Morphemes

The Micro Structure of Korean Words


Korean is an aggulitinating language. This means that words are charactertized by being united or combined into a group. While this occurs in many, many languages, this is more true for some languages than others, and Korean happens to be one of these. Thus as you start to see, learn, and study new Korean words, you will come across numerous morphemes that combine to create new words or extensions of words. For example, 한국 is made up of two morphemes (한 and 국) but can become longer with more information when used in sentences as either a subject (한국이), topic (한국은), direct object (한국을), and so on. 

In any case, just know that verbs and nouns are not marked for gender (i.e., male, female, neutral) or number (i.e., singular, plural), and there is no subject-verb agreement which is common in many languages around the world (such as German, Spanish, English, etc.). However, due to the heavy use of morphology, word order is more flexible. At the same time, many of these morphemes are omitted in speech because they are inferred from context, which may cause confusion among beginner learners, especially when sentences become longer and more complex. On the other, it means it is very easy for beginning learners to express a lot information since they do not have to worry about rather detailed agreement or concordance issues.


First, review the key words. Then, do the lesson at your own pace. To finish, evaluate your comprehension of the lesson with the Knowledge Check.

Key Concepts

Click the word to see a definition/explanation or visit the glossary.


1.1 명사

명사 (nouns) in Korean are like nouns in any other language. The word noun itself refers a specific word class, though there a couple of different ways that we can actually identify them. In section 1.1., we will learn some of the most basic ways we can recognize . 


Strategy 1: Semantics

The first way that most people instinctively know whether a word is a noun or not is semantically. That is, people know if a word is a noun based on its meaning such as it being a person, place, or thing. Nouns can range from being rather simple and tangible (i.e., water) to being complex and abstract (i.e., philosophy). However, apart from loan or borrowed words, non-native speakers cannot really rely on this strategy. Thus, we need to turn to strategy two and three.


Strategy 2: Morphology

The second way we can often identify nouns is morphologically - such as have a plural marker /s/ (in the case of English), or having certain suffixes like -y or -ism (e.g., biology, capitalism). Therefore, as you start learning new Korean words and learning many of the common affixes, you can identify nouns more easily. As you learn more words, the easier this will become. But even if you aren't sure of the morphology, the position of a word in a sentence and in relation to surrounding words can tell us a lot.


Strategy 3: Syntactic Position

The third way that people can easily recognize nouns is syntactically. That is, based on how/where a word falls in a sentence, as well as where it falls relative to another word. Given these two positions, you can tell if it is a noun or not. For example, often words that follow "the" in English and come before a verb are nouns. The two positional characteristics tell you what the word is, and this is no different in Korean. While word order in English is relatively fixed, this isn't the case in Korean but common word order does narrow it down a lot.

Why does it matter?

You might be thinking that this is either too simple, or that this is something you already know. You might even be asking yourself "why are we talking about this"! The answer is rather simple. When you encounter new words, you will need to know how to reverse engineer them to look them up properly in a dictionary. In order to do this correctly, however, you need to know how to identify the actual word in a sentence. For example, 나는 학교에서 한국어를 공보하고 있습니다. While this is a relatively simple sentence using very basic vocabulary and grammar, for the beginner this could seem complex. How many nouns are there? Where are they? How do you know what to look up in a dictionary versus what to exclude from your query? This is precisely why we need to know how to identify word classes. So, let's break it down.

The Breakdown

If we assume we do not know the meaning of the words, there are still two strategies that we can use: syntax and morphology. If we revisit the sentence 나는 학교에서 한국어를 공보하고 있습니다, based on these two strategies alone, we should be able to identify 나, 학교, and 한국어. If we remove the nouns and leave the case markers and verb, we simply get: 

(   )는 (   )에서 (   )를 공보하고 있습니다

You can see the nouns in bold in Table 1.1.1 and their relative positions in common noun phrases. You'll also notice that some words are written together (i.e., nouns+case markers) whereas others, such as pronouns, are written separately. The orthographic practices (writing conventions) are something that you will just have to pay attention to as you learn to read and write. And the best teacher and way to learn these orthographic standards as a Survival Korean language learner is to simply practice Korean. 

Table 1.1.1 Syntactic and Morphological Clues

Noun Syntactic Clues Morphological Clues Examples
고양이 Position
Following the noun
Plural Marker
한강 Position
Following the noun
Case Markers
이, 가, 은, 는, 을, 를, 의, 에서, etc.
하기 Position
Following the verb root
Verb Root+기
After demonstratives and following the noun
Plural Marker
그 들은
대학교 Position
After pronouns and following the noun
Subject Marker

Language in Real Life

Of course, language used in real life will not necessarily have case markers present. Why? Since a lot of meaning is simply inferred or known from context, adding the additional information can be unnecessary, or simply more efficient in saving time. In formal written language, however, this type of information is virtually always present - which is but one key distinguishing feature between standardized orthographic practice and more informal or vernacular usage. Move on to section 1.2 to get a more detailed look at how simple nouns manifest in a slighlty more complex forms as compound nouns.

1.2 Compound 명사

While there are many, many simple nouns in Korean that cannot be broken down any further (e.g., 고양이, 책, 물, 밥, 학교, etc,), there are many nouns that can be; this type of noun is the result of combining two nouns together. For example, in English you should be familiar with compound nouns from dog house, book store, dining room, water park, etc. Sometimes compound nouns are written as one word (bookstore) or two (living room), they are, nevertheless, a single noun unit. After all, we cannot say (correctly anyway) the living big room, rather we can only say the big (living room). Compound nouns in Korean are also very, very common, so let's take a look at the things we will no doubt see throughout our language learning journey.


Native Korean Words

Most compound nouns in Korean are actually comprised of native Korean words. Many people often confuse the use of Chinese morphemes strung together as compound nouns, but if you have read through the glossary, you will know that many of these morphemes are, in fact, bound morphemes. That is, they cannot stand alone and be used by themselves as a single noun. In simpler terms, these words are not actually nouns! Another piece of evidence to support this assertation is that verbs in Korean (either descriptive or action verbs) have to be modified slightly to describe a noun. The way they are modified indicates whether or not the verb is descriptive or an action, and a noun (or compound noun) follows both of these modified verb forms. Thus, don't get confused by looking at other internet resources that suggest words like 대학교 or 대한민국 are compound nouns because they are not! These are bound morphemes (of Sino-Korean origin) that cannot be used independently. For example, while 학교 itself is a noun (made up of two morphemes) 대 cannot stand alone. Most Korean words, however, are actually made up of numerous morphemes that are connected together. 


Sino-Korean Words

The reason for this will be elaborated on Lesson 2: Lexicology since about 66-75% of Korean words are actually classified as Sino-Korean words (words that originate from Chinese [or Mandarin more specificaly]). Since these elements come from a different language, there are often different (or borrowed) rules that govern their usage. This very much similar to how English vocabulary is comprised of about 25% native English terms (Germanic/English origin) and about 75% is from Latin/Greek. All languages borrow (more like adopt) words to varying degrees but for various reasons, some have done so far more than others. English is an extreme example, but Korean also has a very high degree of non-native words that make up a disproportionate percentage of the lexicon as a whole. To learn more about why this is the case, consider taking Foundational Korean: Hangeul and/or Foundational Korean: People, History, and Culture! However, you get a quick preview of some common loan words in the next paragraph! You will no doubt recognize many of the directly imported English words.


Loan Words

This will be elaborated on in Lesson 2 but there are also numerous "borrowed" or "loan" words (let's face it, they aren't being given back any time soon) that will not necessarily conform to typical phonetic (and thus morphemic) structures. These words are sometimes compound nouns in origin but when adopted in Korean, have become single unit nouns,. They sometimes can be made compound nouns as well. Some examples of these are 빵 (meaning bread from Portuguese), 아르바이트 (meaing part time job from the German verb arbeiten [to work]), 오토바이 (from English meaning auto bike or motorcycle), 헬스클럽 (Health Club), 선크림 (sun cream), 샐러리맨 (salary man aka office worker). Some words of these Konglish (i.e., Korean English) words have also been turned into clipped versions of compound nouns or even been made into completely new portmanteaus such as 에어컨, 디카,  리모컨, 핸드폰, and so on. These words, however, now follow more conventional word structure in Korean. You'll learn more about this in the next section so get ready! 


In table 1.2.1, you will see examples of two nouns that are stuck together. These words can be used independently as well. So, for the price of learning one word, you are actually getting two! As we would say in Korea, it is 1+1!. Move onto section 1.3 to get an overview of the way many common Korean words are built with affixes (i.e., prefixes, roots, suffixes)

Table 1.2.1 Compound Noun Examples

Word 명사 1 명사 2 Meaning


fish (meat)
아침식사 아침
street cat

night street


1.3 Affixes

We learned a little bit earlier that most of Korean words actually come from Chinese origin and are described as Sino-Korean words. Since these words are from a different language, they are built in different ways than native Korean words. In other cases, there are other grammatical markers that apply along with these words since these words were also borrowed along with their accompanying grammatical features. So, if you seem to start seeing two ways of expressing the exact same thing, you are correct! This also applies with words (more on this in Lesson 2: Lexicology). Another key example of this (i.e., the same words from both Korean and Chinese with different grammatical uses) are numbers in Korean - see Survival Korean I: Number and Counting (C). In any case, affixes is a term referring to several different types of morphemes that can be used to build words. You are likely familiar with the big three: prefixes, roots/stems, and suffixes. There are more than just these (i.e., infixes and circumfixes) however they don't exist in Korean (or English with one exception). One important point to note is that given the morphemic nature of Sino-Korean words as well as of agglutinating languages (versus polysnthetic ones like those commonly found in Europe), the same morpheme can act as a prefix, a root, and a suffix depending on the word: 기, 대교, and 공학! They are very flexible and powerful in this way! The main point is that you should be aware of the morphemic nature of Korean words, as well as how useful it is to recognize the core meanings in the many variations you will see them appear in.



Prefixes are morphemes that come at the beginning of a word and preceed a noun or root morpheme. For example, prefix has the prefix "pre". It's very meta, we know. Of course, there are many common examples in English such as "in" meaning not though it's pronunciation (and thus its spelling) manifist a bit differently such as incorrect, irregular, illegal, impossible, and so on (yes, in, ir, il and im are all actually "in"). In Korean, there are numerous prefixes of Sino-Korean origin that will make up many of the words that we see and hear. For example, 대 meaning "large" such as 대학교 (big school) which means univeristy.



Roots or stems are the central morphemes around which a word is based. Sometimes these are independent but often they require other suffixes to be used as a complete word (at least in the "correct" grammatical sense). 학, for example, means school but it is a bound morpheme and requires other components to be grammatically correct. Thus, you will often see 학 combined with 교 to mean school (학교) or in combination with words for subjects meaning 교육공학 meaning "the field of educational technology".



Suffixes are morphemes that come at the end of a word. Some classic examples in English include -ism (e.g., capitalism), -tion (nation), -y (biology), etc. There are also related pronunciation and spelling changes. Korean similarly has many morphemes that are used predominantly as suffixes such as 부 (e.g., 법무부, 여성가족부, 국제학부) or 국 (e.g. 한국, 미국, 중국 etc.), or even 도 as in 태권도, 유도,, or 관 such as 대사권 도서관, 역사관.


Portmanteaus are words that are merged together, but not quite like conventional morpheme mixing or compound nouns. In English, you might know the word "smog" (smoke+fog), "motel" (motor+hotel) or informercial (information + commercial). Korean is no different although due to the agglutinating nature of the language, not all words you see will be a combination of morphemes - some will be "clipped" words that really look and function like portmanteaus. For example, you will come across many phrases like 인해 which is a contracted form of the verbal phrase 일은해 or 다아 which is simply short 뜻한 메리카노. Very often the first syllable of the word is used and combined with the first syllable of the next. These aren't exactly portmanteaus but more like exteme contractions. Think of phrases like "sup" being short for "what's up" or "I'm gonna" as a shorter form of "I am going to" for reference.

Nevertheless, since many words are made up morphemes, it is very easy to combine two words as portmanteaus - many common slang and jargon expressions are created in this way. For example, a very modern example of this is 먹방 from the verb 먹다 (to eat) and noun 방송 (broadcast) You can see many examples of this in Table 1.3.1. 

Table 1.3.1 Common Portmanteaus

Word 1 Word 2 Meaning
치맥 치킨 맥주 Chicken and Beer
소맥 소주 맥주 Soju and Beer
먹방 먹다 방송 Eat and Broadcast
라볶이 라면 떡볶이 Ramyeon and Deokbokki
편맥 편의점 맥주 Convenience Store Beer

There are many place-names (i.e., the names of places) that are portmanteaus. The naming convention isn't particulary clever (in any language) but it is an easy way to create a name describing the location of a city, a region, or area that is in between two other ones. A list of common portmanteau place names are provided in 1.3.2 for reference. The best fact to take away is that you will see many names and words like this as they are simple and convenient, thus very easy and productive in language! You might even already know these words or names and never even realized that they were, in fact, portmanteaus! 

Table 1.3.2 Place Name Portmanteaus

Name 1 Name 1 Resulting Place Name
강원 강능 원주  강릉+원주= 강원
Background: formerly separate provinces from 1395 to 1895)
 Usage: The name is now carried by Gangwon Province, South Korea and Gangwon Province (North Korea)
경상 경주 상주 경주+상주= 경상
Background: formerly separate provinces from 1314–1895);
Usage: The name is currently carried by South Gyeongsang Province and North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea
전라 전주 나주
전주 + 나주= 전라
The current provincial name of an area around Jeonju and Naju cities in modern South Korea
석계 석관 월계 삭관+월계 = 석계
The name of a subway station in Seoul on the border of two local neighborhoods of 석관동 and 월계동.
Funfact: This is where Survival Korean HQ is located!
Move on to section 4 to start learning about verbs in Korean, and the lack of predicate adjectives!

1.4 Verbs

Verbs (동사) exist in all languages. However, while many languages have copula (i.e., "be" verbs) and often more than one (Spanish has ser and estar, Japanese has です (desu), います (imasu), and あります (arimasu), Korean has 이다, 있다 (and the negative counterparts of 아니다 and 없다), adjectives often come in the predicate. For example, I am cold. Cold is an adjective in the predicate (the space following the verb). In the case of Korean, there are no predicative adjectives. Rather there are only verbs! While your initial reaction might be "what?" or "that is odd", keep in mind that verbs and predicate adjectives fulfill the same role in a sentence. There isn't a better method or a right or wrong one - these are simply two different ways of accomplishing the same job. 

As you start learning Korean, simply know that while you can describe nouns with adjectives in Korean the way you are accustomed to in English (i.e., that good book = 그 [that] 좋은 [good] 책[book]), this is a little bit different when looking at the predicate and equating things with certain states of being. Because of this, you just need to know that verbs, then, are categorized in two ways: action verbs and descriptive verbs. The difference in meaning (thus the different categories) also then comes with different ways to modify them - such as when describing nouns. Conversely, based on the morphology that we read or hear, we can tell if the verb is an action or descriptive in nature in Korean even if we do not know what it means semantically. The first clue that lets you know something is a verb, at least in its simplest form, is the morpheme 다. So, with that basic clue in mind, let's take a closer look!

Verb Marker

Verb Marker - 다

The key to all verbs in Korean is the morpheme 다. This base form is also considered to be all verbs' "dictionary" form. Pretty easy, right? You need to know this so you can a) recognize verbs and b) reverse engineer verb forms to look them up in a dictionary. For example, 하다, 가다, 있다, 이다, 아니다, 고맙다, 잊다, etc. are all examples of verbs and since we know the ending 다, we can easily recognize their morphemic roots such as 하, 가, 있 and so on. Moreover, spotting the 다 is the key to modifying the verbs for different speech registers through honorific morphology, as well as for describing nouns. It usually means switching out this ending for another, often longer ending.



For English speakers, action verbs are the traditional verbs that you are thinking of such as eat, run, drink, sleep, etc. which. What is likely a bit strange to speakers of Western languages, however, is that there, technically, no infinitive forms to any verbs in Korean (and in other langauges). Even verbs in their base forms (i.e., the dictionary form) are often taught incorrectly as infinitives; they can be used as statements, questions, and commands still. Thus, because Korean verbs do not have "infinitive" forms, they are often usuable without any mind of modification (of course, some specific concepts/rules do apply - more on this later). There is also no subject-verb agreement which means there is no conjugation you need to memorize. Pretty great, right?



Since there are no predicate adjectives (i.e., no "be" verb plus an adjective), we simply use verbs to express the same information. The difference in Korean, however, is both in their semantics, as well as in their morphological (and other) properties. You will see this in how the base form is modified to describe nouns, as well as the fact that descriptive verbs are not used with certain grammatical structures like the progressive aspects. The modification, however, can appear to be very subtle so this is something you just need to be aware of as you start learning Korean. While action verbs can be modified in three ways to create participles, descriptive verbs only have one.

Nuance and Considerations

You'll find that many Korean textbooks start teaching verbs in Korean from the very highest levels of honorific forms despite the fact that in daily life, these are not used all the time. That is, there are specific reasons and occasions where people would choose to use the highest forms such as at a formal meeting, or when meeting someone with a very high or prestigious reputation or title such as a government official, celebrity, a direct superior, etc.

More often in daily life, however, people use the lower casual/informal endings as well as general polite endings for the vast majority of interactions with their friends, family, coworkers, etc. We think is is the much better place to start for second-language and/or foreign-language Korean learners since this is what you actually need to use to communicate. Moreoever, it is what sounds the most normal or appropriate for the vast majority of sitautions. Thus, even if there are are MORE verb forms than what we have presented here in Table 1.4.1 (we'll go over this in a later section), please know that these are the most crucial for survival language skills! After all, we are Survival Korean!

-ㅂ니다 vs -세요

We see thse two verb forms taught incorrectly all the time! the ending "ㅂ니다" is a HUMBLE ending of a verb used to refer to actions that one does themselves (though it technicall is also a part of the polite speech register category), whereas -세요 is an HONORIFC ending refering to the actions that others are doing. Thus, 저는 한국어를 공부합니다 is both a polite and humble way to say "I study Korean" (note the matching humble form of the pronoun for I) versus the question 한국어를 공부하세요?  meaning "do you study Korean" or a statement "제 친구는 한국어를 공부하세요" which means "my friend studies Korean" but referring to them in an honorific way.

Table 1.4.1 Action Verb Basics

Verb Root Speech Register Notes
하다              한다

This is an "irregular" verb where ㅏ changes to ㅐin various forms.
가다 간다


보다 본다

This verb often appears in contracted form of 봐 versus 보아 unlike other ㅗ to ㅏ changing verbs
자다 잔다

There is an honorific form of this verb which is used as 주무세요 rather than 자세요
만들다 만들 만든다
The ㄹ is dropped based on certain phonetic environments. See the Learning Resource Marketplace for the worksheet on ㄹ verbs for more detail.

We know it can get confusing as a lot of nuance is conveyed in exactly which ending is used (since many can be used) but simply know that this the basic difference between these two verb endings. To give one last example, you can describe the actions that some else does using honorifics but if the listener is your peer, you won't use the polite marker ending. For example, 선생님은 어디 계셔? The person saying this is talking to a friend due to the lack of 요, but is still honoring the teacher by using both the honorific suffix 님, and the honorific form, 계시다, of the verb 있다. Pretty wild, right? There is also a bit of detail that goes into modifying verbs for use in terms of vowel change patterns, final consonant dropping, sound changes based on phoneme changes, etc. These are outlined in Foundational Korean: Hangeul, as well as in Foundational Korean: Pronunciation. There are even some detailed worksheets in the Learning Resources Marketplace that you can check out for more detailed study and practice.

Adjective and Noun Word Order

If you ever study language typology, you will learn that adjective and noun word order are often correlated with the order relative clauses. That is, if adjectives come before nouns, typically so do relative clauses. If they come after nouns, then relative clauses also follow. This isn't always the case (modern English is an example that defies this trend, but that is because English has changed quite a bit from when it did, in fact, work this way - the more you know, eh?). In Korean, however, adjectives that modify nouns must come before the noun. This is related to the morphological structure of words and a function of Korean being an agglutinating language. You can see examples of this word order in Table 1.4.2. While it may be possible in Spanish to say el nuevo mundo, el gato blanco, or el nuevo gato blanco (that's three different adjective orders), this isn't the case in Korean. Of course, we can string together multiple adjectives using the coordinator 고 but we will visit this throughout our courses in Survival Korean I and II. In Section 1.5., we will look a few basic but common ways to express time and get a quick background tense, aspect, and voice!

Table 1.4.2 Descriptive Verb Basics

Root Noun Modifying Form Example
덥다 더은 더운 날
"hot day"
춥다 추은 추운 겨울
"cold winter"
조용하다 조용하 조용한
조용한 아침
"quiet morning"
자연스럽다 자연스럽 자연스러은 자연스러은 대화
"natural conversation"

1.5 Expressing Time

This is another area where grammar is taught incorreclty in English, thus when English speakers learn other languages, they run into certain predictable misunderstandings. The history for this is long and complicated dating back to Bishop Robert Lowth's influential textbook on English Grammar in the 1700s which, shocker, had a lot of linguistically incorrect "rules" in terms of English. He basically tried to describe English Grammar in terms of Latin grammar despite the two being two completely different languages and working differently. Sadly, this textbook became the basis for numerous subsequent textbooks on English grammar. For example, not splitting infinitives (you can definitely do this in English) - so much for Star Trek's "To boldly go" phrase. In any case, we need to get a quick overview of three key concepts: Tense, Aspect, and Voice.



There are numerous ways to express time in Language. Adverbs (tomorrow, yesterday, today), modal verbs (will), and tense (i.e., -s, ed). For those who have ever studied European languages, verb endings that mark subject and time are a certain kind of morphology. Verbal morphology that expresses time is what a "tense" is. Tense is not synonomous with time itself. Thus, the modal verbs in English which express grammatical mood (thus the term "modal" - it's not very creative, we know), can also express time, just in a different way. Thus, not all languages express time using tense, but not all languages express time uniformly. English uses modals and tense to express time. Spanish uses tenses. Japanese uses tense and grammatical moods. Mandarin only uses adverbs. In our case, Korean, time is expressed using tense. After all, as an agglutinating language, morphology is a very productive way to build worlds so it isn't surprising to see time expressed using tense. 



Aspects do not indicate when something happened, rather, they characterize the duration of an event. This means that aspects are dependent on some kind of time marker being present in order to be used. That's another piece of evidence that tells us aspects are not tenses. The point is, despite what you may have learned previously, we need to more properly separate and identify three core concepts: tense (morphology that indicates when an event happened), aspect (a grammatical structure indicating the duration of an event), and voice (a grammatical structure showing who was doing [or not doing] an action). This will help us understand exactly what we see and hear not only in Korean, but any language that you learn! Two simple English examples are: I go to school (present tense, simple aspect [meaning none], active voice) versus I am going to school (present tense, progressive aspect, active voice).



Voice in Language is relatively simple. Voice is largely characterized as being active, meaning we know what the subject of the sentence is, and which leads the action, or passive. Passive is when we do not state the subject of the sentence doing the action but change the sentence grammatically to express the unknown (or unknowable) nature of what is doing an action, or to purposefully not state what is doing an action. There are technically other voices such as the middle voice, but we won't go into this in Survival Korean in any detail. We'll simply provide you with three examples of active, passive, and middle voice: I broke the window (active), the window was broken (passive), and the window broke (middle). All three are correct but just in different voices. Never heard of the middle voice before? It means you likely never took a linguistics class - just imagine how much other cool stuff you are missing out on!

Why does any of this matter?

Believe it or not, there are actually patterns and predictable relationships between certain things like tense and participles, etc. We gon't go into detail but suffice it to say that knowing the difference will help you understand seemingly more complicated grammatical structures later. If you know the foundation properly and clearly, more "advanced" grammar isn't so difficult when you can trace the lineage back to its source. In table 1.5.1, we provide an over of the tense markers and basic aspects that will help you express a lot of information in basic Korean.


In Lesson 1 we will cover only the basic tenses, so just keep in mind that there are multiple ways to express time, and more specific or nuanced aspects of time. 


Present Time

Since Korean uses morphology and tenses to express time, present time, like most if not all languages, is the default where verbs start. Often, this can be seen in Korean by the absence of any overt morphology. However, since some verbs end with consonant clusters, there are phonemes that come after the root. These phonemes, however, follow patterns based on the preceeding vowel sound. You can see an overview of what these look like in Table 1.5.1.


Past Time

Past time in Korean is marked by a morpheme (and allomorph) that is characterized by ㅆ. Like the present tense, the marker for the past appears in a few different (but similar looking) forms based on the phonetic environment of the root morpheme. We can see variations like 았, 앴, 웠, 었 etc. These are not random and follow generally very predictable patterns (with some exceptions, of course).


Future Time

Simple future tense is expressed using a morpheme 겠, although it also very common to express future time using a future participle form of a verb in conjunction with another grammar verb which is technically in the present tense. While that may sound "weird" or contradictory, this is pretty common in languages across the world. After all, we can express future time using the present tense (e.g., I go to school tomorrow) so this really isn't anything new - but there is some nuance.

Basic Tense Morphemes

In table 1.5.1, you can see how the basic tenses (i.e., morphemes) manifest in some very common verbs, and some common "irregular" verbs. Remember there is no subject-verb agreement, or any gender-agreement, so you can express any subject with one single form. That's great for beginners since you can say a lot with knowing just very little!

Future time, when expressed with the actual tense, is a bit more formal in tone. It can also sound a bit more declarative in nature along the lines of affirming that you will do something. For example, if a superior at work asks you to do something, you would answer 하겠습니다 rather than the present-time way of expressinf the future. Otherwise, it is more common to hear, use, and see this form when talking about the future. See below.

Future Time Implied by Desire and Belief

When future time is expressing using a grammatical structure in the present tense (read that sentence slowly to make sure you understand the differences in terms), there are a couple of differnces to keep in mind. This form, 을 것이다, expresses the subject's desire; typically has a future meaning, similar to English "will". It also expresses the speaker's hypothesis or supposition, about which the speaker is reasonably confident will occur. When compared with the actual future tense 겠, both convey the subject's desire or the speaker's hypothesis, and often have (by extension) a future sense. However, 겠 conveys a hypothesis based on the speaker's subjective beliefs or sentiments, or based only on information perceived at the present moment. Meanwhile, 을 것이다 conveys a hypothesis based on information exterior to the speaker or beyond that perceived at the present moment. 

Table 1.5.1 Basic Tenses (Morphemes expressing Time)

Present Past Future
가다 Informal: 가
Polite: 가요
Humble: 갑니다
Informal: 갔어
Polite: 갔어요
Humble: 갔습니다
Informal: 가겠어
Polite: 가겠어요
Humble: 가겠습니다
하다* Informal: 해
Polite: 해요
Humble: 합니다
Informal: 했어
Polite: 했어요
Humble: 했습니다
Informal: 하겠어
Polite: 하겠어요
Humble: 하겠습니다
먹다 Informal: 먹어
Polite: 먹어요
Humble: 먹습니다
Informal: 먹었어
Polite: 먹었어요
Humble: 멋었습니다

Informal: 먹겠어
Polite: 먹겠어요
Humble: 먹겠슺니다
보다 Informal: 봐
Polite: 봐요
Humble: 봅니다
Informal: 봤어
Polite: 봤어요
Humble: 봤습니다
Informal: 봐겠어
Polite: 봐겠어요
Humble: 봐겠습니다

*The forms here are used when referring to actions you do, or politely about the actions of others. There are addtional honorific forms for refering to actions of others in, well, more "honorifc" ways.

Consider the following example "고기가 맛있겠다". The speaker feels that the meat will taste good based on what it looks like at the moment of speaking, whereas 고기가 맛있을 거야 means that the speaker has some exterior justification for believing that the meat will taste good—having previously tasted it, for instance. This is a subtle distinction but one that is commonly made and expressed by Korean speakers. The extra nuance is often more appropriate than just expressing basic time. You don't need to worry about this now in any great detail as it will come into focus and practice in Survival Korean I and II courses. The idea now is to prepare you for what you see in the near future!

1.6 조사

By now you likely already have idea that word order in Korean is more flexible than other languages like English. Where modern English has almost no inflectional morphology to indicate grammatical case, Korean does. Although if you go back in time in English, there is a lot more inflectional morphology, and grammatical case markers do exist! Ever wondered what the difference between "who" and "whom" is? It's the last remnant of a case system that has otherwise completely disappeared in English. With the disappearance of this system, word order has become rigid and relatively fixed. In Korean, we still have a very robust and active case system where morphemes tell us exactly what the word class is (or part of speech for people who learned grammar in English classes). These particles (also referred to as markers or case markers) are called 조사 in Korean.

Implicit and Explicit Case Marking

When words are used in sentences in Korean, they implicitly have a case. Often, especially in speech, case markers are omitted because people instinctively understand what roles they have in a sentence For language learners, this can be tricky. It can be especially tricky the longer and more complicated sentences become. Just know that whether or not markers appear, general word order (i.e., syntax) and semantics (i.e., meaning) also serve as clues to know what case a word is. In Table 1.6.1, you can see an overview of the most common/basic case markers (it's not an exhaustive list). You will also notice that there are allomorphs of the case markers since they follow a Consonant-Vowel (e.g.,  가) or Vowel-Consonant (e.g., 이) pattern; 김치가 or 물이.

There are more case markers than the basic ones presented here such as additive markers (도), comitative markers (와/과) but these will come later.  The main take away here is that there are numerous case markers that are pretty easy to identify, and even if they are not stated or verbalized, they are implicilty implied in one way or another. You will also notice the consonant vowel consonant pattern that occurs as well thus the allomorphs that appear to match, as well as a couple instances of honorific markers for subjects and indirect objects.

Table 1.1.1 Title Goes Here

Particle Honorific Particle Meaning/Purpose
께서 Marks the subject of a phrase/sentence
Indicates possession

Indicates location where something is or where an action takes place
Dative 에게
Indicating to who/what somethign is given (i.e., the indirect object)
Ablative 에게서

Indicating to who/what somethign is done (i.e., the indirect object)

Indicates the direct object of a sentence

Indicates the topic or focus of sentence
For an overview of the usage differences between subject and topic markers, please consider the related worksheet in the Learning Resources section of the Survival Korean Marketplace.


You've just had a crash course into some larger ideas in Language, Linguistics, and how these manifest in Korean. If you are thinking "wow, this is a lot" we completely understand. There's no trick to learning any of this - it takes time, practice, and some analysis to fully put together into a comprehensive whole. You will see all of the items mentioned here throughout all of the courses and lessons at Survival Korean. When you start encountering them, you'll already have an idea of what they are and what they do since you have gottern your foundation in Grammar Basics right here! Before moving on to Lesson 2 where we will explore the origins of Korean words in more detail, please evaluate your comprehension with the Knowledge Check!