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Lesson 86: Negating Nouns and Clauses (아니라, ~는 게 아니라)

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Something is, while something isn’t: 이/가 아니라
A clause is, while another clause isn’t: ~는 게 아니라





핵심 = main point, key point
농약 = pesticides
소음 = noise from something, racket
영역 = territory
파업 = a (workers) strike
교포 = a foreign-born Korean
절벽 = cliff
영수증 = receipt
주전자 = kettle
농산물 = crops, agriculture products
눈사람 = snowman
관광지 = tourist attraction
고춧가루 = red pepper powder

중단하다 = to halt, to stop in the middle of
부양하다 = to support financially
교대하다 = to take turns, take over
구별하다 = to distinguish

인색하다 = to be cheap (with money)
울퉁불퉁하다 = to be bumpy (road/ground/etc)

Adverbs and Other Words:
금년 = this year, the present year

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



In this lesson, you will learn how to use the word 아니라 (from the word 아니다) to negate a preceding noun. In doing so, you will also see how you can negate an entire clause by applying ~는 것 to a verb, adjective or 이다. Let’s get started.


Something is, while something isn’t: 이/가 아니라

You learned way back in Lesson 8 that you can use the word “아니다” to indicate that something is not something. For example:

저는 선생님이 아니에요 = I am not a teacher
나는 너의 친구가 아니야 = I am not your friend
여기는 관광지가 아니에요 = Here (this place) is not a tourist attraction

Remember that ~이/가 should be attached to the noun before 아니다.

By replacing “다” with “~라,” you can create “아니라,” which can be placed between two clauses. The speaker uses “아니라” to contrast the two clauses – indicating that the first thing is not something, and the second is something. For example, if we look at a very simple sentence:

그 사람은 학생이 아니라 선생님이에요

In this sentence, the speaker is indicating that the person is not a student, and is a teacher. For example:

그 사람은 학생이 아니라 선생님이에요 = That person is not a student, he is a teacher

아니라 cannot be conjugated into the past or future – rather, the final clause will indicate the tense. For example:

제가 선생님이 아니라 학생을 도와주는 사람이에요
= I am not a teacher, I’m a student helper

제가 선생님이 아니라 학생을 도와주는 사람이었어요
= I wasn’t a teacher, I was a student helper

Below are many more examples:

저것은 사람이 아니라 눈사람이에요
= That is not a person, it is a snowman

그게 쓰레기가 아니라 저의 영수증이에요
= That is not garbage, it is my receipt

지금 뿌리는 것이 농약이 아니라 그냥 물이에요
= The thing that I am spraying now is not pesticide, it is just water

가장 맛있는 한식은 김치가 아니라 삼겹살이에요
= The most delicious Korean food isn’t Kimchi, it is 삼겹살

지금 냄비에 넣는 게 소금이 아니라 고춧가루예요
= The thing I am putting in the pot now is not salt, it is red pepper powder

집이 바다에서 가깝지만 집 근처가 해변이 아니라 절벽이에요
= The house is close to the ocean, but near our house isn’t a beach, it is a cliff

여기는 캐나다 영역이 아니라 미국 대사관이라서 미국 영역이에요
= This place (here) is not Canadian territory, because it is the American embassy, it is American territory

여기서 사는 것에 있어서 문제가 공장에서 나는 소음이 아니라 공장에서 나는 냄새요
= The problem about living here is not the noise coming from the factory, it is the smell coming from the factory

Notice that these types of sentences could easily be confused with adding ~라(서) to 아니다 to indicate the cause of something. You saw sentences like this created in Lesson 37. For example:

저는 선생님이 아니라(서) 그것을 잘 몰라요 = I don’t know that because I’m not a teacher

In the next section, I will introduce how 아니라 can be used not just after a simple noun, but how it can also be used after a noun described using ~는 것.



A clause is, while another clause isn’t: ~는 게 아니

In Lesson 26, you learned how to describe a noun using a verb or adjective using ~는 것. It is common to create one of these nouns and use it immediately before 아니라. This allows the speaker to contrast the two clauses before and after 아니라 – indicating that one clause is not something, while the other clause is. For example:

저는 밥을 먹는 것이 아니라 공부하고 있어요  = I’m not eating, I’m studying
그 여자는 예쁜 것이 아니라 못생겼어요 = That girl isn’t pretty, she is ugly

In practice (not just with this grammatical principle, but all the time in Korean) 것이 can be condensed to 게. When using 아니라 to negate a prior clause, this is almost always done. For example, the sentences above would sound more natural if 것이 were replaced with 게:

저는 밥을 먹는 게 아니라 공부하고 있어요 = I’m not eating, I’m studying
그 여자는 예쁜 게 아니라 못생겼어요 = That girl isn’t pretty, she is ugly

Below are many more examples:

저는 인색한 게 아니라 그냥 돈이 없어요
= I’m not cheap, I just don’t have any money

파업을 금년에 하는 게 아니라 내년에 할 거예요
= We don’t go on strike this year, we will do it next year

길이 울퉁불퉁한 게 아니라 네가 운전을 못하는 거야
= It is not that the road is bumpy, it is that you can’t drive well

주전자가 망가진 게 아니라 버튼을 안 눌러서 안된 거예요
= It is not that the kettle is broken, it doesn’t work because you didn’t press the button

우리 둘 다 같은 시간이 일하는 게 아니라 교대하는 거에요
= We don’t both work at the same time, we take turns doing it

여기는 농산물을 파는 곳이 아니라 핸드폰을 파는 곳이에요
= This place isn’t a place for selling crops, it is a place for selling cell-phones

저는 한국에서 태어난 게 아니라 캐나다에서 태어난 교포예요
= I wasn’t born is Korea, I am a foreign-born Korean born in Canada

제가 그 사람을 싫어하는 게 아니라 우리는 그냥 잘 어울리지 못해요
= It’s not that I don’t like that person, we just don’t get along well

이 숙제 핵심은 이 두 개를 구별하는 게 아니라 두 개를 설명하는 거예요
= The main point of this homework is not to distinguish these two things, it is two explain them both

제품 생산을 중단하는 게 아니라 그 문제를 해결해서 곧 다시 생산할 거예요
= It is not that we are halting production of this product, it is just that we are fixing the problem and we will soon produce it again

제가 한국에 가고 싶은 이유는 일하고 싶은 게 아니라 한국말을 배우고 싶기 때문이에요
= The reason I want to go to Korea is not to work, but to learn Korean

이 문제를 해결하는 최선의 방법은 파업을 하는 게 아니라 우리가 만나서 문제를 어떻게 해결하는지에 대해 얘기해야 하는 것이에요
= The best way to solve this problem is not to go on strike, it is for us to meet and talk about how we can solve the problem


The first time I knew that my understanding of Korean grammar was getting really good was when I was trying to make the following sentence:

“The reason I am learning Korean is not for my girlfriend, but for her parents”

I wanted to say this sentence to a friend of mine, and I had never made a sentence like it before. I would like to walk you through my thought process when I first had to create a sentence like this.

As you know, you can use ~를/을 위해 to create the meaning of “for.” For example:

저는 한국말을 저의 여자 친구를 위해 배우고 있어요 = I am learning Korean for my girlfriend

You should also know by now that “위해” is actually an adjective (the fact that it is an adjective instead of a verb is irrelevant aside from the fact that it has to be conjugated as an adjective) with a “dictionary” form of “위하다.” Because it is an adjective, even though it is commonly used as “위해,” it can also be used as “위한” to describe an upcoming noun – much like 대하다, 관하다, 관련하다 (Lesson 34), 의하다 and 인하다 (Lesson 78). For example:

이것은 저의 여자 친구를 위한 것이에요 = This thing is (a thing) for my girlfriend

In order to make the sentence that I wanted to say, I used my knowledge of 위하다, ~는 것 and ~는 게 아니라 and came up with:

제가 한국말을 배우고 있는 이유는 저의 여자 친구를 위한 게 아니라 그녀의 부모님을 위한 것이에요 = The reason I am learning Korean is not for my girlfriend, but for her parents

Note that you could just as easily say:

저는 저의 여자 친구를 위해 한국말을 배우고 있는 게 아니라 그녀의 부모님을 위해 배우고 있어요 = I am not learning Korean for my girlfriend, but I am learning it (Korean) for her parents

Though those two sentences essentially have the same meaning, there is a slight difference in emphasis in the two – the first sentence emphasizing the reason why I am learning the language.

Anyways, I thought I would share that story of how awesome I am.


The word “그것이” is often contracted to “그게” and is often placed before 아니라 to refer to a prior situation and indicate “it is not that.” For example:

그게 아니라 나는 너를 그냥 보고 싶어 = It’s not that, I just want to see you
그게 아니라 저는 돈을 벌어야 돼요 = It’s not that, I just need to earn money

But in these situations, there would always need to be some sort of context that would create a situation where these sentences could be used.

Finally, the construction “다름이 아니라” is often used in some specific formal situations. If one is talking to a co-worker/client/boss (etc…), people usually start off by making small talk about some other (non-work related) topic. If you want to stop the personal chit-chat and start talking about some real facts/business/whatever, saying the phrase “다름이 아니라” is similar to the English expression “alright, let’s get to business here.”

That’s it for this lesson!

Click here for a Workbook to go along with this lesson.
Click here for Korean Short Stories specifically tailored to learners at this level.

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