Beginner’s Guide to Korean Particles

Learn how to use different types of particles in Korean sentences.

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By Keehwan Kim · March 21, 2024 · 14 minute read

When you’re learning Korean, you’ll hear the word ‘particle’ a lot, as the Korean language has many different particles. Korean particles have many different uses. They can be used:

  • to identify the sentence subject or the object of the verb
  • like the prepositions ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’ to describe where something happens or when something happens, or
  • like the word ‘and’ to say ‘A and B’.

In this article, we will learn about different types of particles, how we use them in Korean sentences with lots of helpful examples. And as Korean is an honorific language, we’ll also show you how to express different levels of formality through the use of particles.

If you need a refresher, brush up on the Korean alphabet before we get started.

What is a Korean particle?

Firstly, particles are what we call grammar words. They don’t have any particular meaning on their own, and they are mainly used to express concepts and help join words together to form sentences. For example, in the sentence ‘I wake up at 8’, the word ‘at’ is like a Korean particle. The word ‘at’ doesn’t have any meaning on its own, but it helps to express when I wake up. And that’s how Korean particles are used.

Particles are generally used with nouns. Let’s start by looking at subject, topic and object marking particles.

Subject, topic and object marking Korean particles

Let’s begin with a simple English sentence.

  • Minsu learns English.

The typical word order of an English sentence is subject-verb-object, so in this sentence, we know that the sentence subject is ‘Minsu’, the verb is ‘learns’, and the object of the verb is ‘English’.

A typical word order of a Korean sentence is ‘subject-object-verb’. But quite often, depending on the context, Korean sentences can omit the sentence subject or the object of the verb. So to clarify the sentence subject and object, we use subject marking particles and object marking particles. Here is the same English sentence in Korean.

민수가 영어를 배워요. [Minsu-ga yeong-eo-reul bae-wo-yo.] - Minsu learns English.

The subject of this sentence is 민수 [Minsu], and the object of the verb is 영어 [yeong-eo] meaning English. However, as you can see, they are used with additional syllables. 가 is a subject marking particle, so we use it with 민수 to identify it as the sentence subject. 를 is an object marking particle, so we use it with 영어 to identify it as the object of the verb. We have two different subject and object marking particles, and we use one or the other depending on the noun form. Below is a table to show how we use the different particles.

Subject marking Korean particle - 이/가

Particle Noun form Noun Noun + particle
Noun ends in a consonant 선생님 (teacher) 선생님이
Noun ends in a vowel 민수 (Minsu) 민수가

Object marking Korean particle - 을/를

Particle Noun form Noun Noun + particle
Noun ends in a consonant 점심 (lunch) 점심을
Noun ends in a vowel 커피 (coffee) 커피를

Example sentences.

  • 선생님이 커피를 마셔요. [Seon-saeng-nim-i keo-pi-reul ma-syeo-yo.] - The teacher drinks coffee.
  • 민수가 점심을 먹어요. [Minsu-ga jeom-sim-eul meo-geo-yo.] - Minsu eats lunch.
  • 학생이 책을 읽어요. [Hak-saeng-i chaek-eul il-geo-yo.] - The student reads a book.
  • 아이가 티비를 봐요. [A-i-ga ti-bi-reul bwa-yo.] - The child watches TV.

One thing to note is that for the subject marking particles, we also have its honorific form, and that’s 께서 [kke-seo]. We use 께서 when referring to someone we want to show respect to, so the sentence about the teacher drinking coffee can be written with 께서. When we use 께서, the noun can end in a vowel or a consonant.

  • 선생님께서 커피를 마셔요. [Seon-saeng-nim-kke-seo keo-pi-reul ma-syeo-yo.] - The teacher drinks coffee.
  • 아버지께서 집에 오세요. [A-beo-ji-kke-seo jib-e o-se-yo.] - Father is coming home.

In Korean, we also have something called a topic marking particle. Just like subject and object marking particles, there are two different topic marking particles. The table below shows how you can use topic marking particles.

Topic marking Korean particle - 은/는

Particle Noun form Noun Noun + particle
Noun ends in a consonant 서울 (Seoul) 서울은
Noun ends in a vowel 민수 (Minsu) 민수는

While the use of subject and object marking particles are more straightforward, the uses of topic marking particles are more varied. Firstly, they can be used to mark the sentence topic.

  • 민수는 점심을 먹어요. [Minsu-neun jeom-sim-eul meo-geo-yo.] - Minsu eats lunch.
  • Topic marking particles kind of mean ‘as for’ or ‘in terms of’, so the literal meaning of this sentence is ‘As for Minsu, he eats lunch’, but this sentence is loosely translated to ‘Minsu eats lunch. When we use sentences like this, we can use it to emphasize certain points, and depending on the context, we can use this sentence to emphasize who ate lunch (Minsu), or what Minsu did (eat lunch). Hungry? Learn how to order food in Korean here.

The other important use of topic marking particles is to show a contrast between two things.

  • 서울은 더워요. 그런데 부산은 추워요. [Seoul-eun deo-wo-yo. Geu-reon-deu Busan-eun chu-wo-yo.] - Seoul is hot. However, Busan is cold.

The word 그런데 means ‘however’, and it’s used to contrast the weather in Seoul and Busan. When we describe the weather in Seoul and Busan, we could use the subject marking particles and say 서울이 and 부산이. However, since the aim of the sentence is to contrast the weather in the two cities, we use the topic marking particles and say 서울은 and 부산은.

Korean location particles

Perhaps the most common type of particle in Korean is location particles.

  1. 에 (in, on, at)

We use the particle 에 to say where someone or something is located.

* 저는 집에 있어요. [Jeo-neun jin-e i–sseo-yo.] - I am at home.

  • _가방이 어디에 있어요? [Ga-bang-i eo-di-e i–sseo-yo?] - Where is the bag?__
  1. 에서 (in, on, at)

We use the particle 에서 to say where someone does something.

  • 민수가 집에서 자요. [Minsu-ga jib-e-seo ja-yo.] - Minsu sleeps at home.
  • 수지는 어디에서 일해요? [Suji-neun eo-di-e-seo il-hae-yo?] - Where does Suji work?

Tip: People often confuse the particles 에 and 에서 as they both can mean ‘at’ in English, but remember that we can only use 에 to say where someone or something exists, and we use 에서 to say where someone does something.

  1. 에 (to)

Another use of 에 is to say someone’s destination, so we use it with verbs of movement to say where someone or something is going.

  • _민수가 학교에 가요. [Minsu-ga hak-gyo-e ga-yo.] - I go to school.
  • 수지는 어디에 가요? [Suji-neun eo-di-e ga-yo?] - Where does Suji go?_
  1. 로/으로 (towards)

We can use 로/으로 to talk about the direction of movement, so it’s similar in meaning to ‘towards’. We use 로 if the noun it is used with ends in a vowel, such as 학교 (school), but we use 으로 if the noun ends in a consonant, such as 집 (home).

  • _수지가 학교로 걸어가요. [Suji-ga hak-gyo-ro geo-reo-ga-yo.] - Suji walks towards the school.
  • 민수가 집으로 뛰어가요. [Minsu-neun jib-eu-ro ttwi-eo-ga-yo.] - Minsu runs towards home._
  1. 에서 (from)

As you can see, some particles can be used in various ways, 에서 is one of them. We can use 에서 to say where someone or something is from.

  • _저는 학교에서 왔어요. [Jeo-neun hak-gyo-e-seo wa-sseo-yo.] - I came from school.
  • 마크는 미국에서 왔어요. [Ma-keu-neun mi-gug-e-seo wa-sseo-yo.] - Mark came from the USA._
  1. 까지 (to, until)

We use 까지 to mean to or until a certain place, and we often combine 에서 and 까지 to mean ‘from… to…’.

  • _제가 인천까지 운전할게요. [Je-ga in-cheon-kka-ji un-jeon-hal-ge-yo.] - I will drive to Incheon.
  • 서울에서 부산까지 오래 걸려요. [Seoul-e-seo Busan-kka-ji o-re geol-ryeo-yo.] - It takes a long time from Seoul to Busan. _

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Korean linking particles

We use linking particles to join two nouns. There are three particles that mean ‘and’ or ‘with’, and they are 와/과, 하고, 랑/이랑. One particle functions as ‘or’, and that’s 나/이나.

  1. 와/과 (and, with)

와/과 is the most formal form, and we use these particles when we are referring to those that we need to be respectful to, such as our teachers. We use 와 if the noun ends in a vowel, such as 아버지 (father), and we use 과 if the noun ends in a consonant, such as 선생님 (teacher).

  • _선생님과 학생이 걸어가요. [Seon-saeng-nim-gwa hak-saeng-i geol-eo-ga-yo.] - The teacher and the student are walking.
  • 저는 아버지와 저녁 먹었어요. [Jeo-neun a-beo-ji-wa jeo-nyeok meo-geo-sseo-yo.] - I ate dinner with father._
  1. 하고 (and, with)

하고 is less formal than 와/과, but it is still a polite way of saying ‘and’ and ‘with’. We can use 하고 with all kinds of nouns, regardless of how the noun ends.

  • _저는 아침에 빵하고 소시지를 먹어요. [Jeo-neun a-chim-e ppang-ha-go so-si-ji-reul meo-geo-yo.] - I eat bread and sausage in the morning.
  • 수지는 민수하고 학교에 가요. [Suji-neun Minsu-ha-go hak-gyo-e ga-yo.] - Suji goes to school with Minsu._
  1. 랑/이랑 (and, with)

랑/이랑 is less formal than 와/과 and 하고, so it’s the most colloquial form and using 랑/이랑 is common in everyday life. We use 랑 if the noun ends in a vowel, such as 친구 (friend), but if the noun ends in a consonant, we use 이랑, such as 형 (older brother).

  • _저는 어제 친구랑 영화를 봤어요. [Jeo-neun eo-je chin-gu-rang yeong-hwa-reul bwa-sseo-yo.] - I saw a movie with a friend yesterday.
  • 저는 어제 형이랑 누나를 만났어요. [Jeo-neun eo-je hyeong-i-rang nu-na-reul man-na-sseo-yo.] - I met my older brother and older sister yesterday. _
    1. 나/이나 (or)

나/이나 is used to mean ‘or’, so we use this particle to connect different options. We use 나 if the noun ends in a vowel, but if the noun ends in a consonant, we use 이나.

  • _저는 아침에 빵이나 과일을 먹어요. [Jeo-neun a-chim-e ppang-i-na gwa-il-eul meo-geo-yo.] - I eat bread or fruit in the morning.
  • 저는 아침에 커피나 차를 마셔요. [Jeo-neun a-chim-e keo-pi-na cha-reul ma-shyeo-yo.] - I drink coffee or tea in the morning._

Using ‘from’ and ‘to’ particles in Korean

We’ve already seen how we can say where someone came from somewhere using 에서, and we’ve also learned how we can use 에, 로/으로, and 까지 to say where we are going to or towards. However, in Korean, when we want to say ‘I gave something to someone’, or I received something from someone’, we use another set of particles, and they are 께, 에게, and 한테. One important point to note is that we only use these particles when referring to people or animals. If we are referring to places and objects, we use the particle 에 instead.

  1. 께 (from, to) - honorific

께 is the honorific form, so we only use this particle when referring to those that we need to be respectful to, such as our parents. 께 can mean from or to depending on the context and the verb we use. For example, if the verb is 드리다 (to give), 께 means ‘to’, but if the verb is 받다 (to receive), then 께 means ‘from’.

  • _오늘 아버지께 선물을 드렸어요. [O-neul a-beo-ji-kke seon-mul-eul deu-ryeo-sseo-yo.] - I gave a present to my father.
  • 선생님께 도움을 받았어요. [Seon-saeng-nim-kke do-um-eul ba-da-sseo-yo.] - I received help from the teacher._
  1. 에게 (from, to)

에게 is the formal form, and in formal situations, such as at work, it’s important to use this formal form, 에게.

  • _아버지에게 편지를 보냈어요. [A-beo-ji-e-ge pyeon-ji-reul bo-nae-sseo-yo.] - I sent a letter to my father.
  • 선생님에게 전화가 왔어요. [Seon-saeng-nim-e-ge jeon-hwa-ga wa-sseo-yo.] - I got a call from the teacher._
  1. 한테 (from, to)

한테 is the colloquial form, so it’s more commonly used than 께 and 에게.

  • _친구한테 전화했어요. [Chin-gu-han-te jeon-hwa-hae-sseo-yo.] - I called a friend.
  • 민수한테 전화가 왔어요. [Minsu-han-tae jeon-hwa-ga wa-sseo-yo.] I got a call from Minsu_.

We can also use 에게서 and 한테서 to mean ‘from’, and 한테서 is the colloquial form of the two.

Multi-functional particles in Korean

Many particles can be used in more than one way, and this is no different to English prepositions. For example, we can use ‘for’ to say the length of time (I studied for 2 hours), but we can also use ‘for’ to talk about purpose (I work hard for my family). Similarly, many particles can be used in several different ways, so don’t be alarmed to see many of the particles in this article used in different situations. Below are a few examples.

  1. 에 (in, on, at)

Earlier, we learned to use 에 to talk about location, but we can also use 에 to talk about time. 에 can be used with all kinds of time phrases, such as the time, day of the week, and year.

  • _저는 월요일에 운동해요. [Jeo-neun wol-yo-il-e il-hae-yo.] - I exercise on Monday
  • 저는 7시에 일어나요. [Jeo-neun il-gop-si-e i-reo-na-yo.] - I get up at 7._
  1. 로/으로 (by, with)
  • We can use 로/으로 to mean towards, but we can also use 로/으로 to talk about the method of doing something. So to say I cut this with scissors, or I got here by train, we use 로/으로.

  • _민수가 가위로 종이를 잘랐어요. [Minsu-ga ga-wi-ro jong-i-reul jal-la-sseo-yo.] Minsu cut the paper with scissors.

  • 핸드폰으로 봤어요. [Haen-deu-pon-eu-ro bwa-sseo-yo.] - I saw it on my cell phone._

  1. 나/이나 (express how something is a larger than expected amount.

나/이나 can be used to mean ‘or’, but we can also use 나/이나 to say how a certain amount is more than expected, and this helps to emphasize the size of the amount.

*_ 날씨가 40도나 돼요. [Nal-ssi-ga sa-sip-do-na dwae-yo.] - The weather is 40 degrees.

  • 저는 커피를 3잔이나 마셨어요. [Jeo-neun keo-pi-reul se-jan-i-na ma-syeo-sseo-yo.] - I drank 3 cups of coffee._

In these sentences, the function of 나/이나 is to express how 40 degrees is a higher than expected temperature, and 3 cups of coffee is more than what the person would normally drink.

So it’s important to remember that many particles are used in more than one way.

A few more common Korean particles

  1. 만 (only, just)

Depending on the context, we can use 만 to mean ‘only’ or ‘just’.

  • _저는 아침에 커피만 마셔요. [Jeo-neun a-chim-e keo-pi-man ma-syeo-yo.] - I only drink coffee in the morning.
  • 한 편만 더 보자. [Han pyeon-man deo bo-ja.] - Let’s watch just one more episode._
  1. 도 (too, also)

We can use this particle to mean ‘too’ or ‘also’ to indicate the connection of something to another thing that already exists.

  • _서울도 날씨가 좋아요. [Seoul-do nal-ssi-ga jo-a-yo.] - Seoul weather is good, too.
  • 민수도 바빠요. [Minsu-do ba-ppa-yo..] -Minsu is also busy._
  1. 의 (possessive marker)

의 is used to indicate possessive meaning, so it’s similar to ‘’s’ or ‘of’ in English.

  • _민수의 차가 커요. [Minsu-ui cha-ga keo-yo.] - Minsu’s car is big.
  • 이 차는 진수의 차예요. [I-cha-neun Jinsu-ui cha-ye-yo.] - This car is Jinsu’s car._
  1. 마다 (every)

We use 마다 to mean everything without exceptions, or to say that something happens regularly at a certain time.

  • _학교마다 시험이 달라요. [Sa-ram-ma-da si-heom-i dal-la-yo.] - Exams are different in every school.
  • 저는 월요일마다 운동해요. [Jeo-neun wol-yo-il-ma-da un-dong-hae-yo.] - I exercise every Monday._

Wrapping up Korean particles

While some particles are unique, such as topic marking particles, many Korean particles are similar to English prepositions. They help to indicate where someone or something is, where someone is going, or how we do certain things. Similarly to English prepositions, many of them are multifunctional, so as you learn how particles are used, you need to keep in mind that the same particle can be used in different contexts. Particles can also be used to express different formality levels when speaking, and knowing which particle to use in different situations is very important.

You’ve learned how to use the most common particles in Korean, so make sure to practice speaking in Korean and they will soon become second nature.

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