Lesson 1: Basic Korean Sentences

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

This Lesson is also available in Español and Русский.

Jump to:
Vocabulary
Greeting Words
Sentence Word Order
Korean Particles
To be: 이다
That thing/This thing
This thing is a book

 

Click here for a free PDF of this lesson.

 

Vocabulary

The vocabulary is separated into nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs for the purpose of simplicity.

Hover your mouse over any word to see examples of that word in use (you probably won’t be able to understand the grammar within the sentences at this point, but it is good to see as you progress through your learning).

A FREE PDF file neatly presenting all of these words and example sentences in addition to common usages and specific notes can be found here.

Want to give your brain practice at recognizing these words? Try finding the words in this vocabulary list in a Word Search.

Nouns:
한국 = Korea
도시 = city
이름 = name
= I
= I
남자 = man
여자 = woman
= that
= this
= that (when object is far away)
= thing
의자 = chair
탁자 = table
선생님 = teacher
침대 = bed
= house
= car
사람 = person
= book
컴퓨터 = computer
나무 = tree
소파 = sofa
중국 = China
일본 = Japan
= door
의사 = doctor
학생 = student

Verbs:
이다 = to be (acts like an adjective)

Adverbs:
= not

Other:
= yes
아니 = no

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.

 

Greeting Words

When learning a language, people always want to learn “hello,”  “how are you,” and “thank you” before anything else. I know that. However, at this stage you only know words – and have no knowledge or experience in how to use or conjugate these words. The grammar within these words is too complex for you to understand right now. However, you can just memorize these words as one unit and not worry about the grammar within them at this point.

안녕하세요 = hello

감사하다 and 고맙다 are the two words that are commonly used to say “thank you.” However, they are rarely used in those forms and are almost always conjugated. They can be conjugated in a variety of ways, which you won’t learn until Lesson 5 and Lesson 6. I will show you a list of the more commonly used forms, but I can’t stress enough that you won’t understand how this works until later lessons:

감사합니다
감사해요

고마워
고맙습니다
고마워요

잘 지내세요?  = How are you
Technically the appropriate expression in Korean, but not as common as “how are you” in English. I would say that using “잘 지내세요?” is an English style of greeting people in Korean.

제발 = Please

It is, of course, important for you to memorize these expressions in Korean, but you need to know that there is a reason why they are said that way. For now, don’t worry about why they are said that way, and simply memorize them. We will get back to them in  later lessons when they become important.

 

 

Sentence Word Order

One of the hardest things to wrap your head around in Korean is the alien-like sentence structure. For our purposes in Lesson 1, Korean sentences are written in the following order:

Subject – Object – Verb (for example: I hamburger eat)
Or
Subject – Adjective (for example: I beautiful)

I am going to quickly explain what a “subject” and “object” mean, as your ability to understand later concepts depends on your understanding of this.
The subject refers to person/thing/noun/whatever that is acting. The subject does the action of the verb. For example, the subject in each sentence below is underlined:

I went to the park
I will go to the park
My mom loves me
He loves me
The dog ran fast
The clouds cleared up
In English, the subject always comes before the verb.

The object refers to whatever the verb is acting on. For example, the object in each sentence below is underlined

My mom loves me
The dog bit the mailman
He ate rice
Students studied Korean
In English, the object always comes after the verb. However, a sentence with a verb does not require an object. For example:

I slept
I ate
He died

Sometimes there is no object because it has simply been omitted from the sentence. For example, “I ate” or “I ate rice” are both correct sentences. Other verbs, by their nature, cannot have a subject. For example, you cannot place an object after the verbs “sleep” or “die.”

Subjects are also present in sentences with adjectives. However, there is no object in a sentence with an adjective. The subjects are underlined in the following adjective-sentences below:

School is boring
I am boring
The movie was funny
The building is big
My girlfriend is pretty
The food is delicious

It is incredibly important that you understand this from the very beginning. Every Korean sentence MUST end in either a verb (like eat, sleep or walk) or an adjective (like beautiful, pretty, and delicious). This rule is so important that I’m going to say it again: Every Korean sentence MUST end in either a verb or adjective.

It is also important to point out here that there are two ways to say “I” or “me” in Korean. Depending on how polite you need to be speaking, many things within a sentence (mostly the conjugation) can change. You won’t learn about the different honorific conjugations until Lesson 6, so you do not need to worry about understanding those until then. However, before you reach those lessons, you will see two different words for “I,” which are:

나, used in informal sentences, and
저, used in formal sentences.

As Lessons 1 – 5 make no distinction of formality, you will see both 나 and 저 arbitrarily used. Don’t worry about why one is used over the other until Lesson 6, when politeness will be explained.

Okay, now that you know all of that, we can talk about making Korean sentences.

.

 

Korean Particles (~는/은 and ~를/을)

Most words in a Korean sentence have a particle (a fancy word to say ‘something’) attached to them. These particles indicate the role of each word in a sentence – that is, specifically which word is the subject or object. Note that there is absolutely no way of translating these particles to English, as we do not use anything like them.
The following are the particles you should know for this lesson:

는 or 은 (Subject)
This is placed after a word to indicate that it is the subject of a sentence.
Use 는 when the last letter of the last syllable of the subject is a vowel. For example:
나 = 나는
저 = 저는

Use 은 when the last letter of the last syllable of the subject is a consonant. For example:
집 = 집은
책 = 책은

를 or 을 (Object)
This is placed after a word to indicate that is the object of a sentence.
Use 를 when the last letter of the last syllable is a vowel. For example:
나 = 나를
저 = 저를

Use을 when the last letter of the last syllable is a consonant. For example:
집 = 집을
책 = 책을

We can now make sentences using the Korean sentence structure and the Korean particles.

1) I speak Korean = I는 Korean을 speak
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “Korean” (the object)

2) I like you = I는 you를 like
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “you” (the object)

3) I wrote a letter = I는 letter을 wrote
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “letter” (the object)

4) I opened the door = I는 door을 opened
는 is attached to “I” (the subject)
을 is attached to “the door” (the object)

5) My mom will make pasta = My mom은 pasta를 will make
는 is attached to “my mom” (the subject)
를 is attached to “pasta” (the object)

I am sure that you will be tempted to start substituting Korean words into those constructions to make real Korean sentences. However, at this point, that is too complicated. The goal of this lesson is to familiarize yourself with the structure of Korean sentences.

The same could be done for sentences with adjectives. However, remember that sentences with adjectives will not have an object:

1) My girlfriend is pretty: My girlfriend은 is pretty
:”은” is attached to “my girlfriend” (the subject)

2) The movie was scary = The movie는 was scary
:”는” is attached to “the movie” (the subject)

There is one more particle that you should be aware of before we go any further.

 

에 (Place or time)
We haven’t talked about places or times yet, but if you do an action at a time, you must attach the particle “에” to the word indicating the time.
“에” is also attached to a word to indicate that it is a place in the sentence. I want to write more about what “에” does, but at this point, it would only confuse you. For now, it is sufficient to know that “에” is used to indicate a place in a sentence.
Again, it is hard to translate these particles into English, but, “에” plays the role of the underlined words in the following sentences:

1) I went at 3pm
2) I went to the park

Sentences with a place/time can also have an object in them. For example:

3) I ate hamburgers at 3pm

If I were to write those same sentence using Korean structure and particles, they would look like this:

1) I는 3pm에 went
2) I는 park에 went

3) I는 hamburgers을 3pm에 ate
In these cases, “at 3pm” or “to the park” act as adverbs (a word that tells you when, where, how, how much). There is no set place for an adverb within a sentence, and it can generally be placed anywhere (except the end). Adverbs will be discussed at length in Lesson 8.

Again, the purpose of this first part of Lesson 1 was to familiarize yourself with the different Korean particles and sentence structure. This knowledge will act as your base for upcoming lessons when you will apply yourself to make actual sentences with verbs/adjectives in Korean. While you will have to wait a little bit to create those types of sentences, we can now talk about creating actual Korean sentences with the word “to be.”

 

To be: 이다

Now its time to learn how to make an actual sentence using the word ‘to be.’ English speakers often don’t realize how difficult this word is in English. Look at the following examples:

I am a man
He is a man
They are men
I was a man
They were men

In each of those sentences, the word ‘to be’ is represented by a different word (is/am/are/was/were) depending on the subject and tense of the sentence. Luckily, in Korean, the same word is used to represent is, am, are, was and were. This word is 이다

이다 should not be thought of as a verb or an adjective in Korean, as in most cases it acts differently. I will teach you how 이다 differs from verbs and adjectives as it becomes important (in future lessons).

Sometimes however, 이다 is somewhat similar to adjectives. Remember that sentences ending with adjectives do not have objects in them. Whenever a sentence is predicated by an adjective, there will be no object in the sentence. Only sentences with verbs have objects. Let’s look at some examples:

I eat hamburgers (eat is a verb, the object is a hamburger)
I meet my friend (meet is a verb, the object is my friend)
I study Korean (study is a verb, the object is Korean)
I listen to music (listen is a verb, the object is music)

All of those sentences (can) have objects because the verb is the predicate of the sentence. However, in sentences that are predicated by adjectives:

I am pretty
I am beautiful
I am hungry
I am smart

This means that we can never use the particle ~을/를 in a sentence predicated by an adjective (because ~을/를 denotes that there is an object). The object particle is also not used when using the word “이다.” The basic structure for a sentence predicated by “이다” is:

[noun은/는] [another noun] [이다]

For example:
I는 man이다 = I am a man

Now substitute the words for “man” and “I:”

나 = I
남자 = man

나는 + 남자 + 이다

이다 gets attached directly to the noun. So, the above construction looks like:

나는 남자이다 = I am a man

It is very important that you remember that ~를/을 is not attached to words in sentences with “이다.” The following would be very incorrect:

나는 남자를 이다.

이다 is the only word that acts like this, and is one of the reasons why you should treat it differently than other verbs or adjectives.

Important: The focus of this lesson (and Lessons 2 and 3) is to introduce you to simple Korean sentence structure. Until you reach Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 you will not be exposed to the conjugations and honorifics of Korean verbs, adjectives and 이다. In reality, these words are never (or very very rarely) used without these conjugations and honorifics. Therefore, while I stress the importance of understanding the structure of the sentences presented in this Lessons 1, 2, 3 and 4 do not use the sentences in any form of communication with Korean people, as they will most likely not be understood.
In order to completely understand what is presented in Lessons 5 and 6 (and for the rest of your Korean studies), it is essential that you understand what is presented in these first four lessons – even though they may be seen as “technically incorrect.”

For all of the “technically incorrect” (un-conjugated) sentences presented in Lesson 1 – 4 I will provide a correct (conjugated) version of the same sentence in parenthesis below the un-conjugated version (one formal and one informal conjugation). Note one more time that you will not understand these conjugations until Lessons 5 and 6 (for verbs and adjectives) and Lesson 9 (for 이다).

Other examples of 이다 in use:

나는 여자이다 = I am a woman
(나는 여자야 / 저는 여자예요)

나는 선생님이다 = I am a teacher
(나는 선생님이야 / 저는 선생님이에요)

나는 사람이다 = I am a person
(나는 사람이야 / 저는 사람이에요)

나는 ______이다 = I am a _______
(나는 _______ 이야 / 저는 _____이에요)
You can substitute any noun into the blank space to make these sentences.

 

This and That (이/그/저)

You can see in the vocabulary above that the word for “this” is 이 in Korean.
We use 이 in Korean when we are talking about something that is within touching distance (For example: this pen – i.e. the one I am holding). Just like in English “이” (this) is placed before the noun it is describing. For example:

이 사람 = This person
이 남자 = This man
이 여자 = This woman
이 차 = This car
이 탁자 = This table
이 의자 = This chair

Unfortunately, there are two words for “that”: 그 and 저. English learners are always confused with the difference between “그” and “저.”

We use 그 when we are talking about something from a previous sentence. Providing examples would be too difficult right now because you do not know any Korean sentences. However, if I were to say: “I don’t like that man [when your friend mentioned him in a previous sentence].” The word “that” in that sentence would be how “그” is used.

We use 저 when we are talking about something that we can see, but cannot touch because it is too far away.

Just like “이” we can place “그” or “저” before a noun to describe “this” or “that” thing
저 사람 = That person
이 사람 = This person
저 남자 = That man
저 여자 = That woman
저 것 = That thing
그 것 = That thing
이 것 = This thing
그 의자 = That chair
저 탁자 = That table

We can now use these nouns as subjects or objects in a sentence. We will look at how they can be used with “이다” next.

 

Using This/That with 이다

Remember, 이다 can be used to say am/is/are. So, if we want to say this:

That person is a doctor
– We can start by putting those words into the Korean structure:

That person는 doctor is
– And then change the English words to the appropriate Korean words:
그 사람은 +  의사 + 이다
그 사람은 의사이다
(그 사람은 의사예요)

More examples:
그 사람은 선생님이다 = that person is a teacher
(그 사람은 선생님이야 / 그 사람은 선생님이에요)

이 것은 탁자이다 = this thing is a table
(이 것은 탁자야 / 이 것은 탁자예요)

저 것은 침대이다 = that thing is a bed
(저 것은 침대야 / 저 것은 침대예요)

그 사람은 남자이다 = that person is a man
(그 사람은 남자야 / 그 사람은 남자예요)

그 사람은 여자이다 = that person is a woman
(그 사람은 여자야 / 그 사람은 여자예요)

저 것은 차이다 = that thing is a car
(그 것은 차야 / 그 것은 차예요)

이 것은 나무이다 = this thing is a tree
(이 것은 나무야 / 이 것은 나무예요)

Wow! That was an extremely difficult lesson. If you were to pick up another Korean text book, I am sure the first chapter would be much easier than this. Trust me though; learning this at the start will be very useful to you later on. When I was learning how to speak Korean, it took me months to realize some of these things (not because they were hard, but because I was using a text book that never taught me the reason why things are the way they are in Korean).

Before you move on, make sure you understand the simple Korean sentence structure presented in this first lesson. Also, remember that the sentences not in parentheses are technically incorrect (or very very uncommon) because they have not been conjugated.

Okay, I got it! Take me to the next lesson! Or,
Click here for a workbook to go along with this lesson.

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