When I started learning Korean almost 4 years ago, I thought it would be as simple as learning the writing system which is 항글 (Hangul) and studying meaning of words, then I would be ready to communicate in Korean. So when I memorized those characters and bought a dictionary, I hurriedly looked for a Language Exchange partner only to find out I am far from being a decent speaker.
Since I don’t have time to attend a formal class I opted to buy a text book that will allow me to understand Hangul. I learned my first big lesson, this language is not like learning English. The basic structure of a Korean sentence is Subject-Object-Verb or SOV in short. No wonder I sounded like a fool putting up those words based on their dictionary meaning just how I would construct my English sentence. The sentence structure alone is a big difference. So when we typically say ‘I love you’, in Korean, the order would be ‘I you love’. The order of words in a sentence also signifies their importance. The first in the order is the least important and that the verb is the most important component of the sentence. The first words in a sentence are most likely to be dropped. This is because the subject or even the object can be implied in a conversation.
Using the sample statement ‘I love you’, this is 나 너를 사랑해요 (na noreul saranghaeyo) in Korean. Let’s dissect this simple statement.
- 나 (Na means I)
- 너를 (noreul means you)
- 사랑해요 (saranghaeyo mean love)
You might have heard 사랑해요 (saranghaeyo) in dramas and songs which actually means i love you as well. The subject and object in the statement were dropped but the meaning stays the same. This is why the role of the verb in a sentence is important.
Of course creating a clear statement doesn’t end with knowing the word order. Although subject and object can be dropped in a sentence this should not be taken as a rule of thumb. In the Korean language post-position and markers are used to emphasize the role of the word in a sentence. Again using the example above 나 너를 사랑해요, 너 which means you is marked as object in the sentence without it the sentence would be vague since the subject 나 (i) is not marked.
Can you just imagine how it is to create a compound or complex sentence in Korean? I am not even at that level but I am trying =)
This is sort of a continuation of my post yesterday. If you can determine the base form of the verb from the dictionary entry then its just proper to learn how to get the infinitive form. I was talking once with a language exchange partner who is studying Korean but is a native Spanish speaker. He mentioned that he can easily understand the idea of infinitive in verb as this seems to be the case in Spanish. From Wikipedia it says in studying Spanish and Portuguese, infinitives end in -ar, -er, or -ir. In the case of Korean language, verb in infinitive form can end in eitherㅓ (eo) orㅏ (a).
Learning the infinitive form of the verb in Korean language is important since this form of the verb is where it can already be used in a conversation. But one must realize that the infinitive form of the verb when used in a sentence without the appropriate style may appear disrespectful when talking to a native Korean. This is because Korean is spoken in either formal or casual-polite style, verbs normally use a marker to achieve this. Again this subject may require another post to fully understand. The style to be used has to be considered with reference to degree of relationship to the person you are talking to. Likewise there is a concept of honorifics in Korean language. Aside from the style, verb in honorific form is used if you are talking to someone older or of higher position than you are. So the infinitive form when used in a conversation without considering the formal or casual-polite style means your relationship to the person is intimate (closer). This style of speaking is referred to as 반말 (banmal meaning speaking intimately).
There are some rules to follow in deriving the infinitive form and this starts by identifying the base form of the verb. For vowel ending base verbs these are the things to know:
- If the base ends with the vowel ㅏ (a), ㅓ(eo) or ㅐ(ae) the infinitive form is equal to the base form. As such the base form of verb 가 (ka means go), 매 (mae means tie) and 서 (seo means stand) is also it’s infinitive form.
- For verbs with base form ending inㅣ (i), the infinitive form is made by adding ㅓbut is abbreviated to ㅕ(yeo) so its like ㅣ+ㅓ=ㅕ. Here are some of the samples under this case, 가르치 (karuchi base form of verb to learn) will become 가르쳐 (karucho) in infinitive form. Same goes with verb 마시 (mashi – drink) which becomes 마셔 ( masyeo).
- In the case of base verbs ending in ㅜ (u or oo in some romanization), the infinitive form is derived by adding ㅓ and abbreviated to ㅝ (ㅜplusㅓ) . Here is an example of its application, 주 (ju which means give) becomes 줘 (jwo or jueo). Please note though that verbs ending in ㅝ requires 어 to be added to the base form of the word to get the infinitive form. This is because there is no abbreviation for ㅝ combined with ㅓ. One sample of this is the word 숴 (sui which means to rest), the infinitive form of this verb is 쉬어 (sui-eo or swi-eo).
- Applying the same principle for verbs with base ending in ㅗ (o) , ㅏ is added to derived the infinitive form and then abbreviated to ㅘ. Therefore, the verb 오 (o) which means to come will become 와 (wa or oa). Same thing goes for the word 보 (bo which means to see or look), it becomes 봐 (bwa) in the infinitive form. Just a note that 봐 being one of the mostly used verb can be heard as just 바 (ba) when spoken in Korean.
- Lastly, for base verbs ending in ㅡ (eu or short u sound), there is a slight difference in determining the infinitive form. The ㅡ is dropped and replace by ㅓ. A good example would be the word 쓰 (sseu which means to write), this becomes 써 (seo) in infinitive form. However when you drop the ㅡ and the ending is a consonant the preceding vowel will be the basis of what will be added to the base to derive the infinitive form. This means that if the preceding vowel is ㅜ or ㅏ, ㅏ has to be added otherwise its ㅓ. A example of this case is the word 바쁘 (pappeu which means be busy), it becomes 바빠 (pappa) in infinitive form.
The last rule is something applicable for vowel ending base verbs. The preceding vowel is indicative whether ㅓorㅏ will be added to form the infinitive. All consonant ending base verbs ends with 어 (eo) the only exception is if the preceding vowel is 오 or 아 the ending would be 아 instead of 어. Here are some of the examples the order of the word is dictionary form followed by base form and then the infinitive form:
- 앉다 –> 앉 –> 앉아 (anja) means sit
- 읽다 –> 읽 –> 읽어 (ilko pronounced as iko) means read
- 좋다–> 좋 –> 좋아 (choa or chowa) means like
- 물다 –> 물 –> 물어 (muleo) means ask
Of course as to any rules there are exceptions. I may have to make another post for the exceptions but the highlight is, since verbs in infinitive form can be used in conversation you may hear these verbs as if its a complete sentence when Koreans are engaged in a conversation. As simple as 좋아 (choa) would mean something is liked or good or when you hear 앉아 (anja) it means someone is telling you to take your seat. This goes the same for a very common verb 괜찮아 (kwaenchna) or expression in Korean. This means i am okay, it’s okay or are you okay if used with rising tone at the end.
I decided to review on this basic component of the Korean Language, verb that is. I get a lot of questions on how to use the dictionary or how to use the words in the dictionary to make a sentence. This isn’t an expert’s advise, I will just attempt to explain on lay man’s term some basics on understanding verbs in Korean.
In most of the books I read, the importance of the verb is always highlighted because in some cases subject or object may be removed and the verb can stand on its own just like the way ‘Run!’ or ‘Sit!’ can be considered a sentence because it expresses a complete thought.
I made a page on English-Korean Dictionary or 사전 (sajon). Having one, is just one step towards pursuing self study but the Korean dictionary is not your typical English dictionary. The tricky part is, verbs are normally written in dictionary form. My language exchange partner before has warned me on using words from the dictionary. This is because the dictionary form of the verb cannot be used as is in a sentence. Verbs as listed in 사전 follows base+ ending 다 (da). This is true for all verbs . Here are some examples:
- 읽다 (ikda- to read)
- 먹다 (mokda – to eat)
- 자다 (jada- to sleep)
- 공부하다 (kongbuhada- to study)
These words as mentioned cannot be used as is in a sentence. You have to extract the base (or root) from the dictionary form to make use of the verb and that is by removing the ending 다. I am not sure if it’s right to say this or if it’s the scholarly way to explain it, the manner by which you use base form of the Korean verb maybe similar to the principles of conjugation of verbs. Korean verbs are conjugated from its base form. If I may go back to my English 101 conjugation is when you use root word of a verb to derive its other uses. From the examples above, one can extract the base form as follows –> 읽, 먹, 자 and 공부하.
The base form is where you create verbs in present, past and future tenses. The present tense is almost always equivalent to what the book says as Infinitive form. So in other words, verbs in Korean can be used written or spoken at least on the Infinitive form. Deriving the he infinitive form of the verb involves some rules. One thing is for sure, the infinitive form of verbs in Korean can only have two endings, that is ㅏ (a) or ㅓ (eo). I may have to make another post to explain the Infinitive form.
With this post, one may be disheartened in pursuing self study because having a dictionary and being able to read Hangul characters are just the very beginning. As the preface of the book Elementary Korean says, understanding the verb is the heartbreak hill in learning Korean. If you are not able to understand the dictionary, base and infinitive forms of the verb then you will not survive learning the language. If this is how you feel while doing self study (and by self study I mean reading Korean Language text book) i suggest you try learning the language in a different way maybe by memorizing phrases or using phrase books instead. I hope to encourage patience in learning the language in a structured manner rather than discourage anyone with this post. 화이팅!