Menu Close

Lesson 2: Korean Particles 이/가

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

Jump to:


있다: To have
Indicating a Place or Time: ~에
있다: To be at/in a location
~이/가 as a Subject Marker


Click here for a free PDF of this lesson.

This Lesson is also available in Español , Русский, 中文, Português, Français, Nederlands, Deutsch, Ελληνικά, български, Italiano, Magyar, Suomi, Čeština, українська, العربية , کوردی and עִבְרִית

The following videos are available to reinforce the concepts taught in this lesson:
Sentence Practice (1) , (2) | Dictation (1), (2) | Reading Practice | Apply Yourself | Word Listening | Lesson Recap



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

Click on the English word to see information and 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 PDF file neatly presenting these words and extra information 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.

나라 = country

Common Usages:
우리 나라 = “our country” (usually used to refer to Korea by Korean people)

어느 나라에서 왔어요? What country did you come from?
미국은 민주적인 나라예요 = The US is a democratic nation
한국은 좋은 나라예요? = is Korea a good country?
한국이 곧 좋은 나라가 될 것이다 = Korea will become a good country soon
한국은 다른 나라보다 땅이 작아요 = Korea’s land is small compared to other countries

가방 = bag/backpack

Common Usages:
배낭가방 = backpacker style backpack
가방을 매다 = to put a bag on your shoulders
가방을 들다 = carry a bag

This is used to refer to a backpack and also other types of bags like purses.

가방은 너무 무거워요 = This bag is too heavy
가방은 가벼워요 = This bag is light
저는 가방을 들었어요 = I carried the/my bag
저는 가방을 어깨에 맸어요 = I put the bag on my shoulders
저는 가방에 책을 넣었어요 = I put my books into my backpack
을 아무 데나 두세요 = Put your bag down anywhere

창문 = window

Common Usages:
창문을 열다 = to open a window
창문을 닫다 = to close a window
창문 너머로 = through a window

너무 더워서 창문을 열었어요 = I opened a window because it is too hot
저는 창문 너머에 봤어요 = I looked through the window
저는 팔을 창문 너머로 내밀었어요 = I stuck my arm through the window
이 커튼으로 가려져 있어요 = The window is covered by the curtains
아버지는 창문을 잠갔어요= Dad locked the window

잡지 = magazine

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “잡찌”

Common Usages
잡지를 읽다 = to read a magazine
잡지 기사 = magazine article
잡지구독 = magazine subscription
잡지사 = magazine company
잡지 편집장 = magazine editor

저는 잡지를 읽었어요 = I read a magazine
저는 잡지를 탁자 위에 놓을 거예요 = I will put the magazine on the table
잡지를 가져가도 돼요? = May I take this magazine?

= room

Common Usages:
안방 = used to refer to the main bedroom of a house (“the master bedroom”)
PC방 = internet café
난방 = the heating of a room
냉방 = the cooling (air conditioning) of a room
놀이방 = daycare
노래방 = “singing room” – Korean style karaoke
방이 좁다 = for a room to be small (“narrow”)
방이 넓다 = for a room to be big (“wide”)
방을 비우다 = to check out of a room

저의 은 너무 좁아요 = My room is too small/narrow
은 좁아요 = This room is narrow
남자는 에 들어왔어요 = That man came into room
저 책상은 이 에 알맞아요
 = That desk looks good in this room
저는 어제 저의 을 청소했어요 = I cleaned my room yesterday

냉장고 = refrigerator

Notes: The word for “freezer” is 냉동실.

Common Usages:
김치냉장고 = kimchi refrigerator (these actually exist – most Korean families would have [at least] one)
(음식을) 냉장고에 넣다 = to put (food) in the fridge
(음식을) 냉장고에서 꺼내다 = to take something out of the fridge

저는 야채를 냉장고에 넣었어요 = I put the vegetables in the fridge
자석을 냉장고에 그냥 붙여 놓았어요 = I just stuck the magnet onto the fridge
저는 당근을 칼로 잘라서 냉장고에 넣었어요 = I cut carrots with a knife and then put them into the fridge

= dog

The word “강아지” is usually used for dogs that are pets.

강아지 = puppy

Common Usages:
강아지를 키우다 = to raise a puppy

The word “개” is usually used for dogs that are not pets.

The counter for animals is “마리.” See Lesson 10 for more information.

The sound a dog makes in Korean is “멍멍.” This is like saying “woof woof” in English.

어렸을 때 강아지를 키우고 싶었어요 = When I was young, I wanted to raise a puppy
저는 저의 강아지를 묻었어요 = I buried my dog
강아지의 주인은 누구예요? = Who is the owner of that dog?
고양이는 강아지와 달라요 = Cats are different than dogs
그 강아지의 꼬리는 아주 귀여워요 = That puppy’s tail is very cute
경찰관은 강아지의 주인에게 십만 원의 벌금을 물렸어요 = The police officers gave the owner of the dog a 100 000 won fine
강아지는 무서워서 죽는 척했어요 = The dog/puppy pretended to be dead because it was scared

고양이 = cat

Notes: The sound a cat makes in Korean is “야옹.” This is like saying “meow” in English.

고양이는 강아지와 달라요 = Cats are different than dogs
고양이는 의자 밑에 있어요 = The cat is under the chair
개는 고양이랑 쥐보다 더 커요 = Dogs are bigger than cats and mice
어미를 찾아도 이미 고양이 새끼가 다 죽었어요 = Regardless of if you find the mother, the baby cats (kittens) all died

= rat, mouse

Common Usages:
다람쥐 = squirrel
박쥐 = bat (the animal)
쥐 죽은 듯이 조용하다 = An idiom for “to be as quiet as a mouse” (literally, as if a mouse died)

는 너무 더러워요 = Rats are very dirty
저는 를 들었어요 = I heard a mouse
개는 고양이랑 보다 더 커요 = Dogs are bigger than cats and mice
우리 아빠가 를 집에서 한 마리씩 쫓아냈어요 = Our dad chased the rats out of our house one by one

= pen

Common Usages:
펜으로 쓰다 = to write with a pen
펜이 안 나오다 = for a pen to not work (literally “the pen [ink] isn’t coming out)”

저는 그것을 으로 썼어요 = I wrote that with a pen
나는 네 개를 샀어 = I bought four pens
나는 을 가지고 있어 = I have a pen

전화기 = phone

A 전화기 usually refers to a typical land-line style phone that nobody uses anymore, and thus, is not said as often as it used to be said. A more common word to use is “핸드폰” (hand-phone, or cell-phone)

요즘에 아무도 전화기를 안 써요 = These days, nobody uses a phone

커피 = coffee

Common Usages:
커피를 마시다 = to drink coffee
커피숍 = coffee shop
커피를 젓다 = to stir coffee
드립 커피 = drip coffee

Notice that there is no “F” in Korean, and thus, Korean people use “ㅍ” to make the “F” sound

저는 친구들이랑 커피를 마셨어요 = I drank coffee with my friends
스타벅스 커피가 너무 달아요 = Starbucks coffee is too sweet
커피에 설탕을 안 넣어도 돼요 = I/you don’t need to put sugar in my/your coffee
저는 커피를 낮에만 마셔요 = I drink coffee only during the day

식당 = restaurant

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “식땅”

Common Usages:
식당 주인 = restaurant owner
한식당 = Korean restaurant

Notes: The Konglish word 레스토랑 is commonly used as well.

좋은 식당에 가고 싶어요 = I want to go to a good restaurant
은 은행 옆에 있어요 = The restaurant is beside the bank
우리학교에서 식당까지 10분 걸려요 = It takes 10 minutes to get from our school to the restaurant
호텔에 식당이 있어요 = There is a restaurant in the hotel
식당이 오래되었다 = That restaurant is old
우리 아버지는 식당에 실망했어요 = Our dad was disappointed in the restaurant
저는 식당에서 혼자서 먹었어요 = I ate by myself (alone) at the restaurant

건물 = building

Common Usages:
건물 내에 = inside a building
건물 외에 = outside a building

건물은 너무 높아요 = That building is very high
건물은 어제와 달라요 = That building is different from yesterday
저 학교는 역사적인 건물이에요 = That school is a historical building
한국은 문화적인 건물이 많아요 = Korea has a lot of cultural buildings
을 지나가서 오른 쪽으로 가세요 = Go past the building, then go right

This word appears in my Korean Sign Explanation Video 4.

텔레비전 = television

Common Usages:
텔레비전을 보다 = to watch television

Originates from the English pronunciation of “Television.”

This is often shortened to “TV” which sounds like “티비” in Korean.

텔레비전을 오랫동안 보지 마세요! = Don’t watch TV for a long time!

미국 = USA

Common Usages:
미국 사람 = an American
미국인 = an American
미국 국기 = the American flag
미국 대사관 = American embassy
미국 대학교 = American college
미국 대통령 = American president

미국 사람이에요? = Are you an American?
저는 다음 주에 미국에 갈 거예요 = I will go to the US next week
우리는 이틀 동안 미국에 있었어요 = We were in America for two days
저는 1년에 두 번 미국에 가요 = I go to America twice per year
미국은 대통령을 민주적으로 선출해요 = America elects its president democratically
캐나다와 미국이 문화적인 차이가 있다 = Canada and the US have a cultural difference
저는 미국에서 친구를 만날 거예요 = I will meet a friend in America

캐나다 = Canada

Common Usages:
캐나다 사람 = Canadian

저는 캐나다에서 왔어요 = I am from Canada
저는 캐나다에 가고 싶어요 = I want to go to Canada
는 미국과 같아요 = Canada is like the US
부장님! 혹시 캐나다에 언제 가실 거예요? = Boss! When are you going to Canada?
캐나다 사람들은 땅콩을 많이 먹어요 = Canadians eat a lot of peanuts
저는 캐나다에서 유학했어요 = I studied abroad in Canada
에 언제 돌아올 거예요? = When are you coming back to Canada?
저는 캐나다에서 태어났어요 = I was born in Canada

호텔 = hotel

Common Usages:
5성급 호텔 = five star hotel

호텔에 식당이 있어요 = There is a restaurant in the hotel
은 학교 옆에 있어요 = The hotel is beside the school

학교 = school

The pronunciation of this word is closer to “학꾜”

Common Usages:
학교를 다니다 = to attend a school
초등학교 = elementary school
중학교 = middle school
고등학교 = high school
대학교 = university

저는 학교에서 공부했어요 = I studied at the school
저는 학교 안에 있어요 = I am inside the school
저는 내일 학교에 갈 것입니다 = I will go to school tomorrow
어제 학교에 몇 번 갔어요? = How many times did you go to school yesterday?
저는 3일 동안 학교에 안 갔어요 = I didn’t go to school for 3 days
학교는 학생들한테 교과서를 제공하지 않아요 = The school doesn’t provide textbooks to the students
우리 학교가 세운 지 10주년이에요 = It is the 10th anniversary of our school opening

은행 = bank

Common Usages:
은행원 = a banker
한국은행 = Bank of Korea
농협은행 = Nonghyup Bank
국민은행 = Kookmin bank

호텔은 은행 옆에 있어요 = The hotel is beside the bank
아버지는 은행에 들어갔어요 = My dad went into the bank
저의 친구는 은행 안에 있어요 = My friend is in the bank
저는 친구를 만나고 나서 은행에 갈 거예요 = I will meet a friend and then go to the bank
친구가 오기 전에 저는 은행에 갔어요 = Before my friend came, I went to the bank

= inside

Common Usages:
집 안에 = inside a house
방 안에 = inside a room

Notes: Position words are typically placed after a noun to indicate in which direction in reference to that noun something occurs.  ~에 is typically attached to a word of position. For example:

저의 친구는 은행 에 있어요 = My friend is in the bank
개는 집 에 있어요 = The dog is in the house

안 can also be used to indicate that some action is completed “within” or “inside” a time period. This usage is discussed in Lesson 24. For example:

우리는 한 시간 에 그 일을 끝내야 돼요 = We need to finish that job/task within one hour

= on top

Notes: ㅅ is often added to 위 as a 받침.  This is discussed in Lesson 131.

Common Usages:
윗도리 = clothes worn on the upper part of one’s body
윗사람 = one’s superior

잡지는 탁자 에 있어요 = The magazine is on the table
우리 집은 언덕 에 있어요 = Our house is on top of the hill
새는 구름 에 날고 있어요 = The bird is flying above the clouds

= below

고양이는 의자 에 있어요 = The cat is below the chair

= beside

Common Usages:
옆집 = the house next to another house
옆방 = the room next to another room
옆구리 = one’s side/flank

학교는 은행 에 있어요 = The school is next to the bank
은행이 학교 바로 에 있어요 = The bank is right (immediately) next to the school
에 큰 산이 있어요 = There is a big mountain next to the river
저는 병원을 공원 에 지었어요 = I built a hospital beside the park
나는 학교 에 서 있어 = I’m standing next to the school

= behind

Notes: ㅅ is often added to 뒤 as a 받침.  This is discussed in Lesson 131.

Common Usages:
뒷면 = the back side
뒷산 = refers to a mountain usually “behind” one’s house
뒷다리 = the back (hind) legs of an animal
뒷담화하다 = to talk behind one’s back

병원은 박물관 에 있어요 = The hospital is behind the museum
저는 학교 에 있어요 = I am behind the school
저는 큰 박스 에 숨었어요 = I hid behind a big box

= in front

Common Usages:

앞면 = the front side
앞다리 = the front legs of an animal
눈앞에 = in-front of one’s eyes
앞으로 = in the future

집은 가게 에 있어요 = The house is in-front of the store
저는 집 에 있는 눈을 다 치웠어요 = I cleaned up the snow in-front of the house

여기 = here

The placement of “~에” is usually assumed and therefore omitted. 여기 and ~에서 combine to form 여기서

Common Usages:
여기저기 = here and there

여기에 빨리 오세요! = Come here quick!
어떤 남자는 어제 여기에 왔어 = Some man came here yesterday
친구를 만나기 위해 여기로 왔어 = I came here to meet a friend
할아버지가 여기에 계신지 몰랐어요 = I didn’t know you were here, grandpa
저의 친구는 (여기) 근처에 살아요 = My friend lives close (to here)
여기서 산이 안 보여 = I can’t see the mountains from here
주소를 써 주세요 = Please write your address here
저는 여기에 한 달에 세 번 와요 = I come here three times per month
저는 오늘 이 책을 여기까지 읽었어요 = Today, I read up to here in this book
사과도 여기서 파나요? = Do you sell apples here too?
여기부터 서울까지 두 시간 30분만 걸려요 = It only takes two and a half hours to get from here to Seoul
친구를 만나러 여기로 왔어요 = I came here to meet a friend

있다 = to be at a location

~에 is typically attached to the location where something/somebody is. For more information, see the explanation in of this lesson.

저는 은행에 있어요 = I am at the bank
개는 집 안에 있어요 = The dog is in the house
엄마가 어디에 있어요? 병원에 갔어요? = Where is mom? Did she go to the hospital?
서울에 있는 공연을 보러 갈래요? = Shall we go to the show in Seoul?
내가 한국에 을 때마다 한국어로 말하고 싶어 = Every time I am in Korea, I want to speak Korean

있다 = to have something

Common Usages:
할 말이 있다 = to have something to say
할 게 없다 = to have nothing to do
할 게 많다 = to have a lot to do

Notes: ~이/가 must be attached to the object that is being possessed.
For more information, visit Lesson 2.

저는 펜이 있어요 = I have a pen
저는 많은 돈이 있어요 = I have a lot of money
질문이 있어요? = Do you have a question?
저는 내일 할 일이 있어요 = I have something I need to do tomorrow
한국에서는 모든 집에 밥솥이 있어요 = All houses in Korea have a rice cooker

There are 1050 vocabulary entries in Unit 1. All entries are linked to an audio file. You can download all of these files in one package here.

For help memorizing these words, try using our mobile app.

You might also want to try listening to all of the words on loop with this Vocabulary Practice video.



In Lesson 1 you learned about simple Korean particles. To review, you learned that:

~는 or ~은 are used to indicate the subject (or main person/thing) in a sentence.
~를 or ~을 are used to indicate the object in a sentence.

For example, in this sentence: “I ate a hamburger”

“I” is the subject of the sentence
“Hamburger” is the object
“Eat” is the verb

In this Lesson, you will learn about the particles ~이/가 and specifically how it can compare with ~는/은. In all situations, ~이 is attached to nouns in which the last letter is a consonant (like ~은) and ~가 is attached to nouns in which the last letter is a vowel (like ~는). For example:

책 ends in a consonant (ㄱ), so “~이” is added: “책이.”
소파 ends in a vowel (ㅏ), so “~가” is added: “소파가.”

But, in what situations should we use ~이/가? Before we get to that, I would like to teach you how to use the word “있다” in sentences. Let’s get started.



있다: To have

The word “있다” has many meanings. To a beginner of Korean, we can simplify and generalize these meanings into two forms or usages:

있다 = to have
있다 = to be at a location

Let’s talk about the first usage, “to have.” In English, “to have” is a verb that can act on an object. For example:

I have a pen
I have a car

This usage of 있다 in Korean is an adjective. This is hard for a learner to wrap their head around. At this point, this is important to you for one reason.

You learned in Lesson 1 that sentences with adjectives cannot act on an object. Thus, you cannot have a word with the particle ~을/를 attached to it if the predicating word in a sentence is an adjective (because ~을/를 indicates an object in a sentence).

If this weren’t the case, we could do the following:

I have a pen

I 는 pen을 있다
나는 + 펜을 + 있다
나는 펜을 있다 = I have a pen

However, the sentence above is incorrect. 있다 is an adjective and cannot act on an object like this. Therefore, the use of ~을 on “펜” is incorrect. To get around this, we can attach ~이/가 to the object instead of ~을/를 in sentences with 있다. This is one usage of the particle ~이/가; that is, to indicate the thing that a person “has” in sentences with “있다.” Look at the following example sentences:

나는 펜이 있다 = I have a pen
(나는 펜이 있어 / 저는 펜이 있어요)

나는 차가 있다 = I have a car
(나는 차가 있어 / 저는 차가 있어요)

나는 잡지가 있다 = I have a magazine
(나는 잡지가 있어 / 저는 잡지가 있어요)

나는 가방이 있다 = I have a backpack
(나는 가방이 있어 / 저는 가방이 있어요)

Again, note that ~을/를 is not used to indicate the object that a person “has.” Instead, ~이/가 are used.

Remember that the example sentences provided in Lessons 1, 2, 3 and 4 are not conjugated. While one/two forms of conjugations are provided in parentheses below each example sentence, the grammar within these conjugations is too complicated for you to understand right now. For now, focus on what is being presented in these first four lessons before you start to worry about conjugating sentences and using honorifics.



Indicating a Place or Time: ~

In the previous lesson, you learned how to use the particles ~은/는 and ~을/를 to denote the purpose of certain words in a Korean sentence. The particle ~에 is also used to denote certain words in a sentence. Specifically, ~에 denotes a place or time. When used to identify a place, it is similar to the underlined words in the English sentences below:

I am at school
I went to the park
I put a sticker on the wall
I put water into the bottle
I put the baby in the crib

~에 is also used to denote the time in which something happens. This is similar to the underlined words in the English sentences below:

I ate breakfast at 10:00
I will go to school on Saturday
I was born in 1990

 Yes, it is possible to have ~에 used twice in a sentence. For example, the Korean translation of the sentence “I went to the park at 10:00” would have ~attached to the word “park” and “10:00.”

It would be too much to discuss how ~에 can be used in all of these situations in this lesson. In this lesson (just below), you will learn how to use ~에 to indicate where one is – in order to create the sentence “I am at school” from above. In later lessons, as you learn more complex words and grammar, you will see how ~에 can be used in the other situations. For example, in the next lesson we will introduce you to sentences that use ~에 to denote a place in which one goes to. In Lesson 6, you will see examples of sentences that use ~에 to denote that something happens at a particular time of the day. In Lesson 8, you will learn how to attach ~에 to days of the week. In later lessons, you will learn how to create all of the sentences shown above.

For now, let’s focus on the sentence “I am at school,” which will require you to learn about 있다.

있다: To be at a location

있다 can also be used to indicate that something/someone is “at a location.” In the previous section of this lesson, you learned about the particle ~에 in Korean. You learned that this particle is used to indicate the place and/or time of something in a sentence. Therefore, “~에” is often used in sentences with “있다” to indicate the location of something/someone.

For example: I am at school

If we wanted to write this sentence with Korean structure and particles, we would write:

I는 school에 am at
나는 + 학교에 + 있다

This is irrelevant to you now, but when 있다 is used like this, it is again seen as an adjective.  This is confusing, but for now, try to ignore it. I begin to discuss this more in Lesson 5 when I discuss the conjugations of 있다.

나는 학교에 있다 = I am at school
(나는 학교에 있어 / 저는 학교에 있어요)


나는 캐나다에 있다 = I am in Canada
(나는 캐나다에 있어 / 저는 캐나다에 있어요)

Notice the very big difference in meaning between the following sentences, and the role that particles have in each case. Because 있다 has two different meanings, changing the particles in a sentence can drastically change the meaning. For example:

나는 학교 있다 = I have a school – this could make sense, but in most situations, you would probably want to say:
나는 학교 있다 = I am at school

나는 잡지가 있다 = I have a magazine
나는 잡지에 있다 = I am at the magazine (this doesn’t make sense)

We can also use position words to indicate specifically where someone/something is with respect to another noun. The most common position words are:

안 = inside
위 = on top
밑 = below
옆 = beside
뒤 = behind
앞 = in front

These words are placed after a noun to indicate where an object is with respect to that noun. The particle “~에” is then attached directly to the position words. For example:

학교 앞에 = in front of the school
사람 뒤에 = behind the person
집 옆에 = beside the house
저 건물 뒤에 = behind that building

These constructions can now act as the location in a sentence:

나는 학교에 있다 = I am at school

나는 학교 앞에 있다 = I am in-front of the school
(나는 학교 앞에 있어 / 저는 학교 앞에 있어요)

Let’s make some sentences:
나는 학교 뒤에 있다 = I am behind the school
(나는 학교 뒤에 있어 / 저는 학교 뒤에 있어요)

나는 학교 옆에 있다 = I am beside the school
(나는 학교 옆에 있어 / 저는 학교 옆에 있어요)

나는 은행 안에 있다 = I am inside the bank
(나는 은행 안에 있어 / 저는 은행 안에 있어요)

개는 집 안에 있다 = The dog is in the house
(개는 집 안에 있어 / 개는 집 안에 있어요)

고양이는 의자 밑에 있다 = The cat is under the chair
(고양이는 의자 밑에 있어 / 고양이는 의자 밑에 있어요)

식당은 은행 옆에 있다 = The restaurant is next to the bank
(식당은 은행 옆에 있어 / 식당은 은행 옆에 있어요)

호텔은 학교 옆에 있다 = The hotel is next to the school
(호텔은 학교 옆에 있어 / 호텔은 학교 옆에 있어요)

You have learned that ~이/가 can be attached to nouns in sentences to indicate the object that a person “has.” ~이/가 can also be used to indicate the subject of a sentence, similar to ~는/은. What is the difference? We will talk about this in the next section.



~/as a Subject Marker

One of the most difficult things for a new learner of Korean to understand is the difference between the particles ~는/은 and ~이/가. Earlier in this Lesson, you learned that you should use ~이/가 on the object that a person “has” when using “있다.”

In addition to this, there are more functions of ~이/가 that you should know about.

In Lesson 1, you learned that you should add ~는/은 to the subject of the sentence. To use an example using the grammar taught earlier in this Lesson, you could say:

고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house
(고양이 집 뒤에 있어 / 고양이 집 뒤에 있어요)

In this sentence, notice that the particle ~는/은 indicates that the “cat” is the subject.

However the sentence above could also be written like this:

고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house
(고양이 집 뒤에 있어 / 고양이 집 뒤에 있어요)

The two sentences could have exactly the same meaning and feeling. I emphasize “could” because in some situations the meaning of the two sentences is exactly the same, but in other situations the meaning of two sentences can be subtly different.

The reason why they could be identical:
고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house
고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house

~이/가, like ~는/은, is added to the subject of the sentence. In some situations, there is no difference in meaning or feel between adding ~이/가 or ~는/은 to the subject.

The reason why they could be subtly different:
~는/은 has a role of indicating that something is being compared with something else. The noun that “~는/은” is added to is being compared. In this example:

고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house

The speaker is saying that the cat is behind the house (in comparison to something else that is not behind the house). The difficulty here is that there is only one sentence; which gives the listener no context to understand what “the cat” is being compared with. However, if I were to make up a context that fits into this situation, it could be that “The dog is in the house, and, the cat is behind the house.”

However, saying:
고양이 집 뒤에 있다 = The cat is behind the house
…is simply stating a fact, and “the cat” is not being compared to anything.

Another example:
커피가 냉장고에 있다 = The coffee is in the fridge (This sentence is simply stating that the coffee is in the fridge, and there is no intention of comparison)

커피는 냉장고에 있다 = The coffee is in the fridge (This sentence could simply be stating that the coffee is in the fridge. It is also possible that the speaker is trying to distinguish between the location of another object. For example, perhaps the tea is on the table, but the coffee is in the fridge).


You also might be wondering why “” isn’t used if we are indicating that the coffee is in the fridge. In cases like this, where the location being described happens to be “inside” of something, “” can be omitted. You can see the similarities of using “” and not using it in the following English and Korean sentences:

커피가 냉장고에 있다 = The coffee is in the fridge
커피가 냉장고 안에 있다 = The coffee is inside the fridge


In both pairs of examples (using ~는/은 or ~이/가), the translation does not change by altering the subject particle. Rather, the only thing that changes is the subtle feeling or nuance that something is being compared.

Note that this “comparative” function of ~는/은 can be used in much more complicated sentences, and can be attached to other grammatical principles – neither of which you have learned yet. In future lessons, not only will you see examples of increasing complexity applying this concept, but its usage with other grammatical principles will be introduced specifically. You need to remember that the example sentences given at this level are incredibly simple and do not really reflect actual sentences that you are likely to hear as one-off sentences from Korean people. Real speech is much more complex and it usually is an intricate combination of many clauses and grammatical principles.

Our lessons don’t really get into the use of multiple clauses until Lesson 24. Creating sentences with more than one clause opens an entire other can of worms that you don’t have the tools to deal with yet. I encourage you to NOT read ahead to that lesson. Rather, I encourage you to keep the information from this lesson in mind as you eventually do reach that level.

As you progress through our Lessons, you will see both “~는/은” and “~이/가” used as the subject particles in the thousands of example sentences we have provided. As almost all of our example sentences are just written as one sentence (without any background, prior context, or explanation of the situation), there is no way to tell if something is being compared to – and thus – their usage is usually arbitrary. That being said – every Korean example sentence throughout all of our lessons is always checked by a native Korean speaker to make sure that nothing is awkward (or incorrect).

In addition to the distinction discussed in this lesson, there are other situations where it might be more appropriate to use ~이/가 or ~은/는. However, I am not able to fully describe the distinction between these two particles with the limited amount of grammar (and vocabulary) understanding you have to this point. The purpose of this lesson is to give you a general understanding of ~이/가, and to introduce you to the comparison between ~는/은.

At this point, I would like you to continue to Lesson 3 to continue learning other grammatical principles you need to deepen your understanding of Korean in general.

In Lessons 17 and 22, we will come back to this problem and dive into more ways we can distinguish the functions of ~이/가 and ~는/은. I want to stress that I do not want you to read these now, but you should know that there is more to distinguishing ~는/은 and ~이/가 than is described here.

If you haven’t reached Lesson 17 (and especially if you haven’t even moved on to Lesson 3) you won’t understand what is being described in that lesson. Being able to fully understand the difference between ~이/가 and ~는/은 is important, but not as important (at the moment) as understanding other aspects of Korean grammar. I can’t stress this enough – your understanding of the difference between the two will progress with your Korean development in general.

The good thing is, even if you make a mistake with the usages of ~이/가 and ~는/은 (either because you are confused or because you haven’t reached the later lessons yet), 99.9% of the time, the listener will be able to understand exactly what you are trying to express. Likewise, if you listen to somebody speaking, you will be able to understand what they are trying to say regardless of if you have learned the more complex usages of ~이/가 and ~는/은. The difference between these two particles is about nuance and does not dramatically change the meaning of the sentence.

Making a mistake between other particles, however, would cause other people to misunderstand you. For example, using ~를/을 instead of ~는/은 would (most likely) make your sentence incomprehensible.

That’s it for this lesson. Please keep all of this information in your mind for future lessons. We will continue this discussion in Lesson 17.

For now, please continue to Lesson 3.
Click here for a workbook to go along with this lesson.

There are 1250 example sentences in Unit 1. All entries are linked to an audio file. You can download all of these files in one package here.

Want to try to create some sentences using the vocabulary and grammar from this lesson?

This YouTube video will prompt you to translate English sentences into Korean using the concepts from this lesson.

Round 1 | Round 2

Want to practice your listening skills?

This YouTube video will prompt you with Korean sentences to dictate using the concepts from this lesson.

Round 1 | Round 2

Want to practice reading some sentences?

These YouTube videos will prompt you with some written Korean sentences, and you can try to figure out the meaning of the sentences!


Want to apply what you learned in this lesson?

This YouTube video will prompt you with English sentences using the grammar from this lesson, but vocabulary you haven’t been exposed to yet!

For the first time in a year, we are running a sale on our Workbooks. Two weeks only!