This will be a very bite-sized lesson about the sentence structure of Korean compared to English. So, get ready to put all of the information we learned in the Learn Hangeul Series to use as we practice making very simple sentences!
Unlike the English sentence structure of Subject – Verb – Object (SVO), the sentence structure for Korean is Subject – Object – Verb (SOV). In Korean sentences, the verb is always at the end.
English Sentence Structure
Subject - Verb - Object (SVO) I (subject) eat (verb) an apple (object).
Korean Sentence Structure
Subject - Object - Verb I (subject) an apple (object) eat (verb).
Now that we understand the difference between English and Korean sentence structures, lets take a look at a few example sentences.
*** NOTE ***
There will be a couple of syllables in the sentences below that have not been covered yet. I will briefly explain them in this post, but we will look at them in further detail later. They will be highlighted in red font.
저는 사과를 먹습니다. I (subject) apple (object) eat (verb). I eat an apple. 저는 고양이를 좋아합니다. I (subject) cats (object) like (verb). I like cats. 저는 먹습니다. I (subject) eat (verb). I eat.
Above, you can see two example sentences. If you compare the highlighted words in the Korean and English sentences, you can see that there’s nothing that compares to the red pieces of the sentence. These items are called “particles” or “markers”. They are attached to the end of a specific section of the sentence to show what role that word plays in the sentence. As a native English speaker, this took a bit of time to get used to, but once you understand the significance of each particle, it will get easier. So, let’s take a look at these one at a time, and we will go over them in more detail in later posts.
- 은/는 – This is a Topic Marker and is used to show that I am specifically talking about myself; no one else. So, in the case of the sentences above, 저는 refers to “me” or “I”, and because of the particle, the listener will understand that you’re speaking about yourself in the sentence. Use Case Rules: if the word before the particle ends with a vowel, use 는. If the word before the particle ends in a consonant, use 은.
- 을/를 – This is an Object Marker and is used to show what the direct object of the sentence is. As with English, the direct object is the object that receives the action of the verb or is being directly directed/described by the verb. For example, “The boy kicked the ball.” “ball” is the direct object because it is what the boy is kicking; same rules apply here, except we use the 을/를 particle to show this connection. So in the second sentence above, we are directly talking about 고양이 (the cat) when we are describing what we like. Use Case Rules: if the word before the particle ends with a vowel, use 를. If the word before the particle ends in a consonant, use 을.
- 합니다 – This part of the sentence is not used to describe a certain part of a sentence. It is actually used to show politeness level between you and the listener. I will dedicate an entire post to this topic, but for now I will give a brief overview of this concept. There are three levels of politeness in Korean (we’ll just call them Formal, Polite, and Casual for now). Each of these politeness levels depend on certain factors such as age, workplace status, etc. Depending on where you stand compared to the listener, you will change the ending of the verb stem to that particular ending. I would compare this to saying something like “Hand me that.” during casual speak and “May I please have…” during formal speak in English. The form presented in the sentenced above are used when talking to someone with the highest respect/formality. I would also say this can be comparable to conjugations in Latin-based languages (Spanish, French, etc.), but instead of changing the ending to show who we’re speaking about, we’re changing it to show how polite we want to be while speaking to someone else. Hopefully this concept will come together a little more once we look deeper into verb conjugation and politeness levels.
*** Pro Tip ***
It gets repetitive saying the subject over and over again, right? Well, if the subject of the sentence is known, it is perfectly fine to omit the subject of the sentence. Let’s look at an example:
저는 고양이를 좋아합니다. 개를 싫어합니다. I cats like. Dogs don't like. I like cats. I don't like dogs.
You can see in the second sentence that we didn’t put “저는” again because the listener/reader already understood that the speaker was talking about themselves in the first sentence. Therefore, it is understood that the speaker is still talking about themself when saying “개를 싫어합니다.”
*** Share What You’ve Learned ***
If you want to challenge yourself and learn more vocabulary, take a peek at Google Translate to look up new words and make your own sentences. If you have any you would like to share, post them in the comments. Maybe you’ll help others expand their vocabulary with the words you use!