Lesson 104: Adding ~는/은 to More Complicated Things

Click here for a Workbook to go along with this lesson.

Jump to:


Using ~는/은 to state that a comparison has taken place
Adding ~는 to ~지 않다 (~지는 않다/~진 않다)
Downplaying a Fact: ~긴 하다
Comparing by Using ~는/은 Twice in the Same Sentence
What about X?





귀중품 = valuables
지원 = support (food/financial/military/etc)
임금 = wages/pay
배려 = good deed
노약자 = the old and weak
소원 = a wish/a desire
빈칸 = blank(s)
자선단체 = charity organization
의문 = question
(지하)자원 = (underground) resources
도표 = chart/diagram
보고(하다) = report/(to report)
치과 = dentistry
정신과 = psychiatry
매표소 = ticket office
거지 = homeless person

반품하다 = return something
매표하다 = to sell tickets
매진 = selling out
새다 = to stay up at night
제출하다 = submit (applications/resume…
목격하다 = to witness
드나들다 = to go in and out of

Passive Verbs:
망가지다 = to be broken

Adverbs and Other Words:
전문 = specialty (specialty store = 전문점)
흔히 = commonly
당분간 = for the time being
자세히= detailed/elaborate/carefully
… 덕분에 = … thanks to …





In this lesson, you will learn about the particle ~는/은. Wait a second, didn’t I learn about ~는/은 in Lesson 1? Isn’t that the particle that I have been using in every one of my Korean sentences since I started learning Korean? Isn’t this Lesson 104? Why am I learning about ~는/은 in Lesson 104?

Haha. As you learned in earlier lessons, ~는/은is quiet complicated. In this lesson, you will learn how to apply ~는/은 to more complicated sentences. Get ready to go for a ride.




Using ~는/은 to state that a comparison has taken place

Attaching ~는/은 to a noun to indicate that that word is the subject/topic of the sentence was something you learned about in Lesson 1. In later lessons, you learned that ~는/은 has more than one meaning. Specifically, in Lesson 2, 17, 22 and 24; you learned that ~는/은 can be used to:

  • Indicate a subject of a sentence (which can be part of the main clause in cases where there is more than one clause)
  • Indicate a general fact
  • Indicate a comparison

This comparison function of ~는/은 is often added to other particles or other grammatical principles to have an incredible subtle meaning. This meaning is sometimes completely overlooked by foreign learners of Korean because the tendency for people to assume the meaning is identical to the particle introduced in Lesson 1.

Accurately describing the function of this usage of ~는/은 and providing enough examples to make you (the reader) fully understand will probably the most difficult thing I will ever do on HowtoStudyKorean. I could keep going, but I’m just prolonging the inevitable.

When attaching ~는/은 to something that looks like it shouldn’t be attached to (essentially, anything other than the subject of a sentence), it indicates that one situation is being compared to another situation. Like many of the other grammatical principles that I have introduced lately, providing some examples and then discussing them after is the easiest way to explain this usage.
Here is the first example to get us started:

한국에서는 사람들이 김치를 많이 먹어요 = In Korea, people eat a lot of Kimchi

In this sentence, one is saying that, in Korea people eat a lot of Kimchi. Embedded within the meaning of “~는/은” in this case is the comparison to some other situation. In the previous sentence, for example, somebody might have said that in some other country, people don’t eat a lot of Kimchi. This would have prompted the speaker to say the sentence above: to state that, (while people in other countries don’t eat a lot of Kimchi) people in Korea do eat a lot of Kimchi. The role of “~는/은” in these sentences is in the parentheses in the previous sentence. That is – it compares something in one sentence to something else. “Something else” is usually mentioned in the prior conversation, or it can be implied sometimes.

In sentences like this where ~는/은 is used to compare one thing to another, it is usually more natural to use the particles 이/가 on the subject of the sentence. That is, instead of saying this:

한국에서는 사람들은 김치를 많이 먹어요, it would be more natural to say
한국에서는 사람들이 김치를 많이 먹어요

While both would be understood, it is better to use the second example above.

Let’s look at another example. One where ~는/은 is attached to ~에서 again:

공원에서는 사람들이 축구를 할 수 없다 = People can’t play soccer in the park

This is an example of a sentence that could be written on a sign somewhere in a park. Though the sign could also have this meaning:

사람들은 공원에서 축구를 할 수 없다 = People can’t play soccer in the park

Attaching ~는/은 to “공원에서” is done specifically to compare that situation to another; most likely that people can play soccer elsewhere, but not in the park.
However, both sentences above have the same translation, and essentially the same meaning. The only difference being the subtle feeling that one situation is being compared to another.
Let’s look at another example:

우리학교에서는 영어원어민 선생님 10분이 있습니다 = At our school, there are 10 native English speakers

In this case, somebody is saying that there are ten native English speakers at their school; compared to another school where there would be less or more native English speakers (you can’t distinguish if there is less or more – you can only distinguish that there is a comparison to another school. Again, you could technically say this as well:

우리학교에서 영어원어민 선생님 열 명이 있습니다 = At our school, there are ten native English speakers

Again, the only difference between those two sentences is that the first one implies (through ~는/은) that one school is being compared to another school.

~는/은 can be attached to other things (particles, grammatical principles, etc…) as well. The important thing to remember is that the part of the sentence that ~는/은 is attached to is specifically the part that is being compared.

In Lesson 83 I showed you a quote from the Korean novel I am reading. It was about a girl and a dad arguing about the last thing the girl said to her mom. The girl ended up convincing the dad that she was right, at which point he expressed his surprise by saying:

“그랬어? 그랬구나. 학교가 아니라 어린이집이었구나. 아빠가 깜빡했네.”

The next thing he said was:
그런데 왜 이제는 인사 안 해?
So the whole thing was written as:
“그랬어? 그랬구나. 학교가 아니라 어린이집이었구나. 아빠가 깜빡했네. 그런데 왜 이제는 인사 안 해?”

Before this lesson, if you were to have looked at that sentence, you probably would have assumed that the “~는” attached to “이제” was a simple subject particle. Now, with your knowledge of this other function of “~는/은,” you can see that this one syllable has more meaning than that. Specifically, the father is asking the daughter why she doesn’t greet her mother anymore compared to before.
In this sentence, though the time they are comparing to isn’t explicitly stated, it can be assumed from earlier on in the conversation.

Sometimes, however, the situation that is being compared to is actually stated within the sentence. You may have noticed that we sell Korean stories specifically geared towards helping foreign learners of Korean get reading practice tailored to their level. Within one of these stories (Set 1, Story 4) is the following sentence:

5년 전에 잡지 사는 게 돈 낭비라고 생각했는데, 요즘에는 잡지 읽을 때가 얼마나 좋은지 모른다

I would translate the sentence to:
5 years ago, I thought buying a magazine was a waste of money, but, these days (compared to the before) I can’t explain how good it is when I read a magazine.
Another scene from a different story is about a little girl who went to the zoo with her father. Though she had a lot of fun, she wished her mother came as well. After the girl comes home, she says to her mother:

“나중에는 꼭 엄마도 같이 동물원에 가자! 나랑 약속해!”

I would translate this sentence to: Next time (compared to the previous time/this past time when you didn’t come), let’s go to the zoo together! Promise me!

More examples:
요즘엔 일거리가 없어 손을 놓고 있는 사람도 적지 않다 = These days (compared to sometime before), there aren’t many places to work, so there are many people who don’t have a job
놀이동산에 여름에는 사람이 많아요 = There are many people at the amusement park in the summer (compared to another season)
몇 달 전에 서른 살이 되어서 우울했는데 이제는 전혀 우울하지 않아요 = A few months ago, I was depressed that I was going to be thirty years old, but now (compared to that time), I’m not depressed at all

In Lesson 45, you learned about the noun 수 and how it can be used in sentences with 있다 and 없다 to indicate that one is able or not able to do something. For example:

밥을 먹을 수 있어요 = I can eat rice
밥을 먹을 수 없어요 = I can’t eat rice

It is possible to attach ~는 to 수 in order to indicate that the “situation that can happen” is compared with some other situation that “cannot happen” (or vice-versa). For example:

밥을 먹을 수 있어요 = I can eat rice
This is a simple sentence and nothing is being compared

밥을 먹을 수는 있어요 = I can eat rice
In this example, the speaker is indicating that he/she can eat rice, but not something else. Knowing what the other thing (that cannot be eaten) is ambiguous in this sentence because no prior context is given. However, in an actual conversation, the speaker likely described some other food that he/she cannot eat.


밥을 먹을 수는 없어요 = I cannot eat rice
In this example, the speaker is indicating that he/she cannot eat rice, but can eat something else. Knowing what the other thing (that can be eaten) is ambiguous in this sentence because no prior context is given. However, in an actual conversation, the speaker likely described some other food that he/she can eat

Other examples:

선풍기를 틀 수 있어요 = I can turn on the fan
(에어컨을 틀 수 없지만) 선풍기를 틀 수는 있어요
= I can turn on the fan (but not the air conditioner)

이 쪽으로 들어갈 수 있어요 = You can go in through this way
(문으로 들어갈 수 없지만) 이 쪽으로 들어갈 수는 있어요
= You can’t go in through the door, but you can go in through this way)

In the two examples above, the first “수” is theoretically being compared with the second “수.” Therefore, it is also acceptable to attach ~는 to the first 수 in the sentence. For example:

에어컨을 틀 수는 없지만 선풍기를 틀 수는 있어요
문으로 들어갈 수는 없지만 이 쪽으로 들어갈 수는 있어요

Examples of ~는/은 being attached to other grammatical principles:

일이 다 끝나고 어머니로부터는 연락이 없었다 = After work, there was no contact (I wasn’t contacted) by my mother (implied here is that the person was contacted by other people, but not his mother)
운동을 그렇게 하면은 몸을 다칠 수 있어요 = You can hurt yourself if you exercise like that (compared to other ways where you won’t hurt yourself



Adding ~는 to ~지 않다 (~지는 않다/~진 않다)

This same usage of ~는/은 is often placed after “~지” in “~지 않다.” For example, instead of saying:

시간이 오래 걸리지 않을 것이에요 = It won’t take a long time

You could say this:
시간이 오래 걸리지는 않을 것이에요 = It won’t take a long time

We know now that the ~는/은 attached to “~지” in that sentence is used to compare something. When used like this, I feel that it almost always is compared to “one’s expectations.” So, the sentence below:

시간이 오래 걸리지는 않을 것이에요 = It won’t take a long time

This sentence would be naturally said when, for some reason, somebody has the expectation/assumption that it will take a long time. However, the speaker is saying “(despite what you expect,) it won’t take long.” In addition, I should point out that this form of ~지는 is almost always contracted to ~진 as per what was taught in Lesson 101.
Another example:

저는 요리를 잘 하진 않습니다

I asked my (Korean) girlfriend when this sentence (with the use of ~진) would sound natural. She told me that if, for example, the speaker was in a cooking class – which would make the listener expect that the speaker is good at cooking. Then, by saying “저는 요리를 잘 하진 않습니다,” the speaker is trying to say “(despite what you expect,) I am not good at cooking.”

I truly feel that understanding this usage of ~는/은 can only happen by being exposed to many examples, so I will keep showing you more sentences.

One day, I started getting a weird feeling in my esophagus. The feeling persisted for a few weeks, so I went to the doctor. He told me it was nothing to be worried about, but I was skeptical about what he was saying (I was really worried). He was telling me that he knew exactly what it was, and assured that I would be fine. At which point, I asked him:

“Do a lot of people complain of this feeling?”

I specifically asked him that because he really made it seem like he had seen this 1000 times before (by telling me he knew exactly what it was and telling me not to worry). His answer was:

그런 사람이 많진 않아요

Again, here, the purpose of the “~는 (or ~진)” is that the fact is against my expectations. He made me assume that many people had this feeling, so when I asked “do many people complain of this feeling” he responded with:

그런 사람이 많진 않아요 = (despite what you expect,) there aren’t that many people

Below are other examples from the novel I am reading:

미연은 내게서 시선을 돌리며 텔레비전 화면을 쳐다봤다. 그러나 화면 속 내용을 보고 있는 것 같지는 않았다 = As 미연 removed her eyes from me, she stated at the TV screen. However, (despite the fact that she was looking at the TV, which would make you expect that she was actually watching the TV), she probably wasn’t watching the TV (literally translated to “the contents inside the screen”).

그녀는 술을 너무 많이 마사는 사람처럼 얼굴이 부어 있었지만 술을 마신 것 같진 않았다 = Her face was red/swollen like a person who had drank too much alcohol, but (contrary to what you might think), she (probably didn’t) drink alcohol

그녀는 꾸뻬의 손을 강하게 잡을 수 있었지만, 여자이고 피곤했기 때문에 그렇게 세게 잡지는 않았다 = She could have grabbed 꾸뻬’s hand strongly, but because she was tired and because she is a girl it wasn’t that hard


Downplaying a Fact: ~긴 하다

When you place ~는/은 (almost always shortened to ~ㄴ in this case) attached to ~기 (to make ~긴) after a verb or adjective, you create a special meaning. This is a very hard meaning to express; and for me to understand it took years of hearing it in everyday speaking. What this does is somehow downplays whatever fact was said in the clause. In what way the fact was downplayed depends on the context of the conversation, but sometimes it can just be due to somebody trying to be modest.

Following this usage of ~긴, you can conjugate the sentence either with 하다 or by using the same verb that was behind ~긴 again.
Some examples:

생각이 있긴 있어 = I have an idea, or
생각이 있긴 해 = I have an idea

I heard this example on TV the other day. A group of people were sitting around a table discussing how they could get their toy back from their neighbor’s house after it flew over the fence. One of the people in the show said “생각이 있긴 있어”. The subtle meaning of this principle instead of just saying “생각이 있어” is that the person may think that his idea isn’t very good, or maybe he is too shy to say his idea (again, possibly because it isn’t very good) – and it somehow downplaying what he is about to say.

Another example:
하고 싶은 말이 있긴 있어요, or
하고 싶은 말이 있긴 해요 = I have something I want to say (but it might not be that good, or there is some other reason that is preventing me from wanting to say what I want to say)

날씨가 춥긴 추워요, or
날씨가 춥긴 해요 = It’s cold (but it’s not that cold… it’s just a little bit cold)

공부를 열심히 하긴 했어 = I studied hard (but not that hard)

Because the use of this principle downplays what you are saying, it is very common for~지만 or to be used to connect to the next clause that indicates what happens as a result of this. For example:

아이디어가 있긴 있지만 그 아이디어가 좋은지 모르겠어요 = I have an idea, but I don’t know if it is good
하고 싶은 말이 있긴 하지만 조금 부끄러워요 = I have something I want to say, but I’m a little bit shy
돈이 있긴 하지만 조금 부족해요 = I have money, but just not enough
재미있긴 하지만 조금 이상해요 = It’s funny, but a little bit strange
계획이 있긴 있었지만 갑자기 취소되었어요 = I had plans, but they got cancelled
우리 학교 애들이 똑똑하긴 한데 노력을 안 해요 = The kids at our school are smart, but they don’t try hard

Here are some examples of this same concept in the novel I’m reading now:

정신과 의사도 의사이긴 하지만 보통 인간의 삶을 살릴 수 없는 의사다 = Psychiatrists are doctors too, but usually doctors that can’t save people’s lives

물론 수업 시간에 그 주제에 대해 배우기는 했지만 너무 짧게 배우고 시험 전날 하룻밤만 공부했기 때문에 금방 잊어버렸다 = Of course, during class we learned about that subject, but it was very short and I only studied before the night of the exam so I forgot everything immediately



Comparing by Using ~는/은 Twice in the Same Sentence

I showed you examples of this in earlier lesson, but I’d like to address it again here. ~는/은 is also sometimes used twice in the same sentence to compare how two things are different. The two things being compared are usually in different clauses separated by “~고” or some other grammatical principle that can split clauses. For example:

사과는 맛있고 바나나는 맛이 없어요 = The apples are delicious, but the bananas are not
오늘은 비가 오고 내일은 비가 안 와요 = Today it is raining, but tomorrow it won’t

Here is an example from the novel I am reading:
케이크 위에 초는 없었지만, “축 퇴원 조병순’ 이란 글씨만큼은 선명했다 = On top of the cake, there was no candles, but there was writing that said “congratulations on leaving the hospital, 조병순!’


What about X?

Finally (phew), there is one other small usage of ~는/은 that I would like to teach you. By placing ~는/은 after a noun, and only stating that noun (with ~는/은), you can create another special meaning.

As this lesson is all about examples, I will give you another one. Say I was at school, and a teacher was asking me about what I did over winter vacation. After telling him, if I wanted to ask him the same question, I could simply say:


In this case, it to “what about you (teacher)?” However, the translation heavily depends on the situation. A common one that you will hear is:


Which is used to ask somebody if they have eaten.

Making a translation that would fit all examples is very difficult, but generally by doing this you are asking for the situation about the thing you said. For example, if I was telling somebody about all of the furniture in my house, somebody could say:

That would translate to “what about your bed? Tell me about your bed? Tell me the situation about your bed?”

Another example:
저는 내일 엄마와 오빠랑 같이 밥을 먹을 거예요 = Tomorrow, I am going to eat with my mom and brother
아빠는? = What about your dad? Why isn’t your dad going? Tell me the situation of your dad.
아빠는 일을 해야 돼서 못 가요 = Dad has to work, so he can’t go

Just so you know, this lesson took me about 10 hours to write. Ten! Haha, definitely the most difficult lesson I have written (both in terms of content and in terms of me actually writing it). I hope you can understand it. The best part about everything in this lesson is: you can almost always just ignore the meaning of “~는/은” in these cases, and the sentences will have (essentially) the same meaning!

Okay, that’s it for Lesson 104!

Got that? Click here to go directly to Lesson 105!

Click here for a Workbook to go along with this lesson.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to make a post on our Forum!