Korean Grammar Rules

Learn about the fundamental Korean grammar rules to help you form Korean sentences.

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By Keehwan Kim · February 22, 2024 · 11 minute read

Learning Korean grammar rules is actually a lot simpler than what people think. Of course, the grammar of any language has many different rules, and there are always exceptions to those rules. However, once you’ve learned the basics of how Korean grammar works, then it becomes easier to pick up many different rules of grammar in Korean.

In this article, we’ll go over the most basic grammar concepts in Korean. By learning these concepts, it will be easier for you to learn other grammar rules in the future.

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Word order

One of the biggest differences between Korean and English sentences is the word order. The tables below show the difference between a Korean and English sentence:

Korean sentence word order

Subject Object Verb
(a book)
Minsu reads a book.

English sentence word order

Subject Verb Object
Minsu reads a book.

As you can see, in Korean sentences, we have the word order of subject-object-verb. However, in English sentences, the word order is subject-verb-object.

And this word order highlights a key feature of Korean sentences, and that is the fact that all Korean sentences end in verbs. This is also noticeable when you add extra elements. Take a look at the following example sentences:

Sentence with a prepositional phrase

Subject Object Prepositional phrase Verb
(a book)
(at home)
Minsu reads a book at home.

Sentence with two prepositional phrases

Subject Prepositional phrase Prepositional phrase Object Verb
(at school)
(with a friend)
Suji did homework at school with a friend.

So in the first sentence, the extra element is the prepositional phrase 집에서 (at home), and as you can see, the verb is still at the end of the sentence.

In the second example sentence, there are two prepositional phrases, and even in this structure, the last word is the verb. So remember that Korean sentences always end with verbs.

Omitting words in sentences

One of the features of the Korean language is that different elements of the sentence can be omitted if the information is already known to the other person. This is particularly common in speech.

For example, take a look at the following dialogue in English:

A: Where do you live?
B: I live in Seoul.

This is a typical dialogue of people talking about where they live. However, if this was in Korean, the Korean response to the question would look like this:

Omitting ‘I’ in a Korean sentence

Prepositional phrase Verb
(in Seoul)
I live in Seoul.

As you can see in the sentence, when we respond to a question about where we live, we don’t need to repeat the word ‘I’ because it is implied in the response.

Here’s another example of English dialogue:

A: Did you eat lunch?
B: Yes, I did.

This is a typical dialogue of two people talking about whether they ate lunch. However, if this was a dialogue in Korean, the Korean response to the question would look like this:

Responding to a question

Response Verb
Yes, I ate.

So in this response, the listener knows that my response is about me, and also knows that it’s about lunch, so I can just say 네 (yes) to respond to the question and use the verb 먹었어요 (ate) to confirm that I ate lunch.

As mentioned already, this kind of omission in sentences is more common in speech than in writing.


Particles are words that don’t have any meaning of their own, but they help to show different kinds of relationships in sentences. Korean has a lot of different particles, and they are mainly like the English prepositions (in, on, at) or conjunctions (and, but, or). For example, you can use the preposition ‘in’ to say where you are (I am in the car), or when you do something (I go camping in August). We use Korean particles in a similar way.

Particles as prepositions

Many particles function like prepositions, which are words like ‘in,’ ‘on,’ ‘at,’ ‘for,’ and ‘with.’ One of the most common particles in Korean is 에, and just like English prepositions, 에 can be used in many different ways. Below are three of the most common uses of the particle 에:

  • To talk about location
    저는 학교에 있어요. (I am at school.)

  • To talk about time
    저는 월요일에 일해요. (I work on Monday.)

  • To talk about a destination
    저는 학교에 가요. (I go to school.)

So as you can see by these examples, the particle 에 can be used in many different ways, and this is similar to how English prepositions are used. Therefore, as you learn Korean particles, you will learn many different ways to use each one.

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Particles as conjunctions

Some particles function like English conjunctions (words like ‘and’ and ‘or’). However, depending on the structure of the sentence, we use different particles to mean the same thing. Below are two different particles we use to mean ‘and’:

  • To say NOUN ‘and’ NOUN 저는 아침에 빵하고 소시지를 먹어요. (I eat bread and sausage.)

  • To say VERB ‘and’ VERB 저는 저녁에 티비를 보고 공부해요. (I watch TV and study in the evening.)

In the first sentence, 빵 means ‘bread’ and 소시지 means ‘sausage.’ To say ‘and’ between two nouns, we use the particle 하고.

In the second sentence, we have the verb 보다 meaning to see and 공부해요 meaning to study. To say ‘and’ between two verbs, we add 고 to the stem of 보다, which is 보.

So depending on the sentence structure, different particles may mean the same thing.

Particles to express formality

Sometimes, we use different particles to express different levels of formality, and one of the common examples is the particle we use to mean ‘to,’ when we want to say I gave something to someone. Below are some example sentences.

  • Most formal word: 께 제가 선생님께 선물을 드렸어요. (I gave a present to the teacher.)

  • Formal word: 에게 제가 선생님에게 선물을 드렸어요. (I gave a present to the teacher.)

  • Standard word: 한테 내가 민수한테 선물을 줬어요. (I gave a present to Minsu.)

In each sentence, we use different particles to mean ‘to.’ In the first sentence, we use 께 to mean ‘to’, and this is the most formal word. 에게 is also a formal word, and whether we use 께 or 에게 can depend on the person we are giving something to, but it can also depend on how respectful we want to be. Lastly, 한테 is the standard word, so it’s the most commonly used term.

Not every particle has different words for different levels of formality, but many do, so it’s important to learn them so that you can use them appropriately.

Korean adjectives

One of the unique aspects of the Korean language is that adjectives function like verbs. What that means is that Korean adjectives take the same position as Korean verbs — at the end of the sentence — and they can be conjugated into different tenses just like verbs. Below are two example sentences that use adjectives:

  • 강아지가 귀여워요. (The puppy is cute.)
  • 날씨가 좋아요. (The weather is good.)

So in these sentences, we have the adjectives 귀여워요 (to be cute) and 좋아요 (to be good), and these adjectives include the meaning of the verb ‘to be,’ so we use them to describe the state of the sentence subject.

Understanding word endings

When you learn Korean grammar, the single most important feature is how to conjugate verbs and adjectives by adding different endings. We add endings to verbs and adjectives for the following reasons:

  • To indicate different speech levels (formal or casual)
  • To form different tenses (past, present, future)
  • To express different functions (‘have to,’ ‘should,’ and so on)
  • To form complex verb and adjective phrases (‘want to go,’ ‘plan to do,’ and so on)

For example, we add the ending (스)ㅂ니다 to verbs and adjectives to speak formally in the present tense, and how we add them to verbs and adjectives can differ depending on the structure of the verbs and adjectives.

To use the formal form, you first need to know the stem of the verb or adjective. The infinitive forms of all verbs and adjectives are made up of the stem + 다. Below are some examples:

Infinitive form of verbs and adjectives

Verb or adjective Meaning Stem
작다 to be small
크다 to be big
먹다 to eat
마시다 to drink 마시

The first two words are adjectives (작다, 크다) and the last two are verbs (먹다, 마시다). How we add (스)ㅂ니다 depends on how the stem ends.

  1. If the stem ends in a consonant like the word 작 (which ends in the consonant ㄱ), we add 습니다.
  2. If the stem ends in a vowel like the word 마시 (which ends in the vowel ㅣ), we add ㅂ니다.

The table below shows how we add the ending (ㅅ)ㅂ니다 to the adjectives and verbs from the previous table:

Formal form of verbs and adjectives

Verb or adjective Meaning Stem Ending Formal form
작다 to be small 습니다 작습니다
크다 to be big ㅂ니다 큽니다
먹다 to eat 습니다 먹습니다
마시다 to drink 마시 ㅂ니다 마십니다

Many endings have their own rules on how they are added to verbs and adjectives, so it’s important to learn these rules. However, once you’ve learned a few of these endings, you will begin to see a certain pattern to how the endings are added. And don’t worry too much — not every ending has its own specific rules!

Some endings can be added to verbs and adjectives in the same way, regardless of how the stem ends. A good example of this is 고 싶다, which we use to say ‘want to do something.’ Below are two examples:

Using the ending 고 싶다

Verb or adjective Stem Ending Formal form Meaning
먹다 (to eat) 고 싶다 먹고 싶다 want to eat
마시다 (to drink) 마시 고 싶다 마시고 싶다 want to drink

So 먹고 싶다 means ‘want to eat’ while 마시고 싶다 means ‘want to drink’, and although the stems end differently, we just add 고 싶다 to both. And in general, we don’t use adjectives with 고 싶다, as we use it to talk about wanting to do some action.

Wrapping up Korean grammar rules

While Korean grammar rules can seem a little daunting at first, many learners actually really enjoy learning Korean grammar. Korean almost feels like a jigsaw puzzle in the way you put different parts together to form a new structure, and there are patterns you can learn for how particles are used and how verbs and adjectives are conjugated.

The patterns we’ve covered in this article are just the beginning, but hopefully they’ve given you a taste for some of the key features of Korean grammar structure. With regular review and practice, you’re sure to make good progress as you learn to speak Korean!

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