Korean: Simple Present Tense Verb Conjugation

Common Politeness Levels in Korean

Note: If you are familiar with politeness levels in the Korean language, you are welcome to skip down to the conjugation information and examples. 

Before we dive into the wonderful world of verb conjugation, let me give you all a quick rundown of politeness levels. In the US, we primarily use words such as “sir”, “ma’am”, “miss”, etc. to show that we have a certain amount of respect towards that person. In Korean, this gesture of politeness is built in to the language. There are 7 speech levels in total, but there are three primary speech levels that are used more in everyday life. Therefore, we’ll focus on those for now and I may cover the others in a later post.

Formal (존댓말): – (ㅂ/습)니다 Used when speaking to senior, elderly, someone important, or someone new. (Examples: your boss, professor, someone you met on the street)
Polite (존댓말): – (아/어/여)요 Used when speaking to someone you know well or in a non-business setting. (Examples: classmates, restaurant servers, friends older than you)
Casual (반말): – 아/어/여 Used when speaking to someone you are very close with or have permission to speak 반말 with. (Examples: someone younger than you, siblings, significant other)

If you want to be safe and not sure what to use, the formal versions will be the safest way not to accidentally offend someone.

A great resource for learning more about politeness levels can be found HERE. The linked lesson is from the amazing people at TalkToMeInKorean.com. I absolutely LOVE their stuff, and it is one of the best resources I have found during my Korean language journey. Definitely check them out!

Simple Present Tense

In English, examples of simple present tense would be “I eat an apple.”, “I like to run.”, or “I don’t like dogs.”  In this lesson, we will be creating example sentences like these in Korean to help you begin your Korean conversational journey.

Let me premise this by saying that the highest politeness level does not follow the rules below. If you are using the formal level, you will just take off the 다 (as you’ll see below) and add -ㅂ니다 (if verb has no bottom consonant)/-습니다 (if verb has bottom consonant) to the end. For example, the phrase for “Thank you”: 감사합니다.

There are normally three rules when it comes to simple present verb conjugation, and those depend on the last vowel in the verb or if the verb ends in 하다. Yeah… It sounds complicated, but I promise it’s not that bad.

Simple Present Tense Conjugation Rules:

  • If the last vowel ends in ㅏor ㅗ , drop 다 and add 아 (casual) or 아요 (polite)
  • If the last vowel ends in any other vowel, drop 다 and add 어 (casual) or 어요 (polite)
  • If the last vowel ends in 하다, drop 다 and change 하 to 해 (casual) or 해요 (polite)

Conjugation Examples for Each Rule:

Verb: to buy (사다)

Formal: Polite: Casual:
삽니다 사요

Verb: to eat (먹다)

Formal: Polite: Casual:
먹습니다 먹어요 먹어

Verb: to work(일하다)

Formal: Polite: Casual:
일합니다 일해요 일해

Example Sentences:

Korean English
오늘 일해요. I work today.
저는 먹어요. I eat rice.
나는 고양이원해. I want a cat.
오늘 날씨싫어. I don’t like the weather today.
내일은 수요일입니다. Tomorrow is Wednesday.

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