If you've been learning Korean for any length of time, then you've probably noticed aspects of the language that are quite distinct from English, such as Korean particles.
They look like this:
- -은 (subject particle)
- -을 (object particle)
- -에 (location particle)
They attach to words in Korean to demonstrate different grammatical functions. At first glance, they seem confusing and complicated, because they’re so unfamiliar to English speakers.
But truthfully they aren’t complicated nor are they confusing. In fact, they are yet another example of how Korean can be much simpler than English.
Think about how to make a plural in English.
- add an s: cat – cats
- do nothing: sheep – sheep
- need an entirely new word: person – people
- change some of the word: goose – geese
- use a new ending: child – children
We’ll stop there because we’d be here all day if we went through all the myriad ways that English breaks its own rules.
Now let’s look at how to make plurals in Korean:
That’s it! You always use the -들 particle to form the plural in Korean. Congratulations. You just learned how to make plurals in Korean.
So while at first glance, these particles in Korean might seem confusing, they’re really not that bad.
Here’s what you'll learn in this post:
- Subject and object particles
- Time, location, and direction particles
- Giving and receiving
- Togetherness and connection
- To and from
- Plural and Possession
- Examples of particle order
Once you’re done today, you’ll know just about all of the particles you might ever want to use in everyday life while speaking Korean.
So let’s get started!
By the way, if you want to learn Korean fast and have fun while doing it, my top recommendation is Korean Uncovered which teaches you through my fun, unique and effective StoryLearning® method.
If you’re ready to get started, click here for a 7-day FREE trial.
#1 Subject And Object Korean Particles
As well as the order of the words in the sentence, Korean marks the subject and the object using particles. Let’s look at the subject particles first.
- ~은/는 (~eun / neun) – subject marker
- ~이/가 (~i / ga) – subject marker
The subject comes first in Korean, and you also mark it with a particle. If the word ends with a consonant, use 은/이. If the word ends with a vowel, use 는/가.
The difference between ~은/는 and ~이/가 is quite subtle because they do a very similar job. In most cases, they are the same.
~은/는 are technically topic markers, and ~이/가 are subject markers. We won’t go into too much detail here because the topic and the subject of a sentence are very often the same thing.
As you learn and use Korean more, you’ll get an instinctive feel for how these will be used anyway. In any case, it’s rare for either to be truly incorrect, simply unnatural sounding. And often, it’s a case of both being fine.
- 형은 빵을 먹어요 ( My brother eats bread.)
- 준호는빵을 먹어요 (Junho eats bread.)
- 형이 빵을 먹어요 (My brother eats bread.)
- 준호가빵을 먹어요 (Junho eats bread.)
The object marker is a little simpler:
- ~을/를 (~eul/reul)
If the word ends in a consonant, use -을. If it ends in a vowel, use -를. The object comes after the subject in Korean but before the verb.
- 언니가 빵을 먹어요 (My sister eats bread.)
- 언니가 파를 먹어요 (My sister eats green onions.)
#2 Time, Location, And Direction
When discussing things that happened at a certain place or point in time, we attach a particle to the relevant noun.
- ~에 (~e ) – at
We use this to mark a point in time or place. Think of it like “at” in English.
- 3시에 (At three o’clock)
- 학교에 (At school)
The next one is very similar to the above particle.
- ~에서 (~ eseo ) – at
The difference is that we use this one when discussing actions that happened at a given time or place.
- 제가 영화관에서 봤어요 (I saw it at the cinema.)
When talking about direction in Korean, you use a particle that demonstrates this.
- ~으로/로 (~euro/ro ) – direction
If the word ends in a consonant, you use -으로, if it ends in a vowel simply use -로.
- 북쪽으로 (In a northern direction.)
- 위로 (In an upward direction.)
#3 Giving And Receiving
In Korean, you mark the noun that will give or receive something. So if you’re giving something to someone, you use this:
- ~한테 (~hante) – to give to
- 엄마한테 선물을 주었어요 (I gave the gift to mom.)
Similarly, you can mark the giver of a gift or object:
- ~한테서 (~hanteseo) – to receive from
- 엄마한테서 받았어요 (I got it from mum.)
#4 Togetherness And Connection
There are quite a few different ways of talking about things or people being together in Korean. Don’t stress too much about choosing an individual one. Much like the two different subject markers, in many cases more than one can be correct.
- ~과/와 (~gwa/wa ) – with/and
Use -과 after a consonant and -와 after a vowel.
- 아침밥과 커피 (breakfast and coffee)
- 커피와 아침밥 (coffee and breakfast)
- ~이랑/랑 (~irang/rang ) – with/and
Use -이랑 after a consonant and -랑 after a vowel.
- 아침밥이랑 커피 (breakfast and coffee)
- 커피랑 아침밥 (coffee and breakfast)
- ~하고 (hago) – and
- 아침밥하고 커피 (breakfast and coffee)
If you want to talk about different actions happening together, you can use the connective, -고
- ~고 (~ go ) – connective particle
- 책 읽고 음악 들어요 (read a book and listen to music)
- 음식 먹고 티비쇼 봐요 (eat and watch TV)
#5 To And From
If you want to talk about time or distance within certain limits, we use these:
- ~부터 (~buteo) – from
- ~까지 (~kaji) – to
- 머리부터 발끝까지 (from head to toe)
- 3시부터 6시까지 (from 3 o’clock until 6 o’clock)
#6 Plural And Possession
As we mentioned earlier, making a plural noun in Korean is really easy.
- ~들 (~ deul ) – plural
- 아이들 (children)
- 영화들 (movies)
In much the same way that plurals were really easy in Korean, marking possession is similarly easy.
- ~의 (~ ui ) – possessive
- 엄마의 휴대폰 (Mum’s phone)
- 나의 휴대폰 (my phone)
Finally, if you want to isolate one thing from a group, you can use this:
- ~만 (~ man ) – just/only
- 밥만 먹었어요 (just ate rice)
It also functions like the word “only” in English.
- 한시간만 공부했어요 (only studied for an hour)
How To Use Multiple Korean Particles
In this section, we’ll have a look at examples in which more than one particle is required on a single word.
I mentioned earlier that particles are much simpler than they seem at first glance. And this is certainly true. But when you begin using multiple particles on a single word, it can get a little bit more difficult.
As you become more familiar with Korean, ordering particles will become second nature so don’t stress too much about this.
- 아이들이 (children (marked as subject))
- 아이들만 (only the children)
- 아이들의 (the children’s _____ (possessive))
- 아이들이랑 (the children and ____)
- 선생님들이 (teachers (marked as subject))
- 선생님들만 (only the teachers)
- 선생님들의 (the teachers’ _____ (possessive))
- 선생님들이랑 (the teachers and ____)
If we look at just one example, we can see how the order of the particles makes sense:
선생님들의 – the teachers’ _____
선생님 -들 -의
teacher – plural – possessive
You start with the word for teacher, 선생님. Then you mark it as plural with -들. Finally, you add the possessive 의.
It wouldn’t make any sense to mark the possessive before the plural, because we need to know that there are multiple teachers before we understand that those multiple teachers are in possession of something.
If you’re ever struggling to figure out the correct order when using particles, just go with what makes the most sense to you. Chances are, you’ll get it right.
Korean Particles: The Fundamentals
Korean particles are an example of a Korean grammatical structure which at first glance, seems to be truly alien to an English speaker.
But once you get into the nitty-gritty, you’ll find that they’re not only easier than they seem, but they are much easier than English in most cases!
Remember the example of the plural in English vs Korean. Children in English-speaking countries will often still make mistakes with plurals as they approach the end of their primary education.
As a new learner of Korean you can learn a single particle – a single syllable in fact – and you’ve finished learning Korean plurals for good!
As always, don’t let this aspect of Korean stress you out – that's just the fear villain talking. If you make a mistake, the worst you’ll ever receive is a polite correction.
And over time, they become like second nature anyway, especially if you apply the StoryLearning® method. So look out for the particles as you read Korean books and especially when you immerse yourself in a Korean short story.
So get started with Korean particles today!