Expressing Can and Cannot Do

The expression can or cannot do in Korean is made using the pattern plain base+ (으)ㄹ 수 then 있어요 (isseoyo) or 없어요 (opseoyo).  This verb ending literally means ‘ a means exists’ or ‘a means do not exists’.   Here are examples:

  • 볼 수 있어요 (bol su isseoyo) can [I/we] see
  • 쓸 수 있어요 (seul su isseoyo) can write or can use
  • 걸을 수 없어요 (keoreul su opseoyo) can’t walk
  • 갈 수 없어요 (kal su opseoyo) can’t go

The behavior is the same as that of the verb ending for probable future (으)ㄹ 거에요 (eu0l koeyo) where l-extending verbs remains unextended when the attached as such:

살다 (to live) is transformed to 살 수 없어요 (sal su opseoyo) to mean can’t live.  살 in this form  is actually 사 (unextended form)+ ㄹ (the modifier in the verb ending).

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