Korean Statement: The Review

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 너 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 =)

Command, Suggestion and Past in Formal Style

There are different verb endings for command and suggestion in formal style.  For statement in command tone the verb ending to use is 십시오 (shipshi.o) and 으십시오 (ushipshi.o) for verb ending in vowel and consonant respectively. So 가십시오 (kashipshio) would mean ‘go!’ and 읽으십시오 (ilkushipsio) would mean ‘read!’.  The usual verb ending for command statements are actually 시오 /으시오 (shi.o/ushi.o) however, this is deemed too authoritative thus the use o honorific marker 십 is recommended.

The verb ending for command is often misspelled as 시요, this should be carefully noted as 시오 and not the polite verb ending 요.

To make a statement suggestive the verb ending ㅂ시다/읍시다 (shida/ushida) is added to verb with final vowel and consonant ending respectively.  To summarize the verb endings the i learned, i created the table below for reference:

Type of Statement Vowel Ending Verb Consonant Ending Verb
Statement ㅂ니다 습니다
Question ㅂ니까 습니까
Command 십시오 으십시오
Suggestion ㅂ시다 읍시다

All the verb ending above is attached to base form of the verb except for the past formal style.  As what I previously learned past base of verb is formed by the using the infinitive form plus ㅆ then the verb ending will always be 습니다 as ㅆ is consonant. Here are some examples:

  • 갔습니다 (kassumnida) – went
  • 했습니다 (haessumnida) – did it
  • 앉았습니다 (anjassumnida) – sat

Formal Style Verb Ending

Most of the first Korean phrases I learned are actually written in the Formal Style of speaking while my previous entries including examples made use of the polite and intimate or casual style.  The formal style is often used for communications with impersonal relations such as official discussion, business or to someone whom you met the first time.  This is the safest way to communicate in Korean specially if you are not sure of the age or the status of the person you are talking to. 

The verb ending for formal style is ㅂ니다 (pronounced as mnida) for verb ending in vowel and 습니다 (pronounced as sumnida) for verb ending in consonant.  Please note that the final consonant ㅂ is given the ‘m’ sound instead of the usual b/p.  Example would be for verb 가 (Ka which means go) in formal style this verb will be 갑니다 (kamnida) while verb 신 (shin which means to wear shoes or socks) would be 신습니다 (shinsumnida).

However, there is a rule in using this verb ending for  the ㄹ-extending verb.  Those verb that ends with ㄹ, drops it before attaching to the verb ending.  So for the case of the word 살 (sal which means live) when used in formal style this becomes 삽니다 (samnida). 

To make the expression in question form, 다 (da) in the verb ending is replaced by 까 (kka).  Unlike in the polite ending 요 (yo) which can only be discerned as question by means of voice tone.  Let’s take the classic phrase 안녕 (annyeong) which is a Korean greeting meaning ‘hi’ but it literally means ‘be well or be in good state’, in formal style this is expressed as 안녕합니다 (annyeonghamnida) so it’s like saying hi to someone that you don’t know or met the first time.  When used this way ‘안녕합니까?’ it now means ‘how are you?’