A Quick Impression of Korean Sentence Structures
Korean sentence structure is frequently regarded as one of the most challenging parts in learning Korean as a foreign language.
- Basic word order in Korean: SOV
- Basic word order in English: SVO
Let’s consider English as an example. English is a Subject-Verb-Object language, which means that the subject always comes before the verb, and the object comes after the verb. For instance, in the sentence “I eat apples”,
“I” is the Subject,
“eat” is the Verb，
and “apples” is the Object.
However, the Korean language works with a Subject-Object-Verb structure, so verbs and adjectives are placed at the end of a sentence. Therefore, the same sentence above would be organized as “I apples eat.”
Example sentences in this article are all in simple present tense and Hapsyo-che (formal honorific speech). For more information about Korean speech levels.
Basic Korean Sentence Structures of Various Speech Acts
Let’s see some different types of basic Korean sentence structures.
Korean Statement Sentence
- Subject + Noun (이다 to be)
The Korean verb “이다” (i-da) means “to be”, which serves like an English “be”-verb in a subject+noun sentence.
→ 이다 is neither a verb nor an adjective, but it can be conjugated like either one.
→ 이다 is used to indicate that a noun is indeed a noun. Common structure is Noun1은/는 and Noun2[이다],
나는 학생이다 (Naneun haksang ida) → I am a student
With the same meaning, this sentence can be changed into:
저는 학생입니다 (Jeoneun haksang imnida) → I am a student
Comparing the two sentences, “저” (Jeo) is more formal than 나 (Na) and -ㅂ입니다 is the formal and polite ending of “이다” .
- Subject + verb
English speakers learning Korean will be relieved to know that making a Korean sentence without an object is the same structure in English. First comes the subject, then comes the verb. Let’s take a look at some more examples.
저는 달립니다 (jeoneun dalrimnida) → I run.
달립니다= 달리다 (To run) + -ㅂ니다 (Polite/formal ending of 달리다)
저는 노래합니다 (jeoneun noraehamnida) → I sing
노래합니다= 노래하다 (To sing) + -ㅂ니다 (Polite/formal ending of 노래하다)
- Subject + object + verb
This sentence structure has already been explained before.
English: I drink water.
Korean S+O+V pattern in English: I water drink.
저는 물을 마십니다. (jeoneun mulreul masimnida)
- Subject + adjective
As mentioned before, the verb 이다 isn’t used in subject + adjective sentences.
When we use adjectives in English, we must use the be-verb.
For example, the sentence “The picture is beautiful” can’t be said as “The picture beautiful” without the verb “to be” or “is”.
Adjectives in Korean can function like verbs if they are conjugated into present and past tenses. However, when describing nouns using adjectives placed in front of them, like “a beautiful picture”, the adjectives must be conjugated to a descriptive form.
Thus, we don’t use “이다” when describing a subject in a subject + adjective sentence in Korean.
Take a look at the picture to see that 이다 isn’t used in these types of sentences:
Korean Question Sentence
- “Yes/No” questions
Another sentence structure commonly used in Korean are “Yes/No” questions.
“Yes/No” questions commonly begin with “do”, “will”, “can”, and more. Unlike the required “do”, “will”, “can”, etc. needed at the beginning of English yes-no questions, Korean language formulates a yes-no question simply by changing the sentence ending, from -ㅂ/습니다 in statements into -ㅂ/습니까 as questions. All other elements in the sentence remain in their places. -ㅂ니까 is added to end-vowel stems, and 습니까 is added after end-consonant stems.
Sample Sentence: 당신은 학생입니까? (Dangsineun hakssaeng imnikka?) → Are you a student?
당신은 사과를 먹습니까? (Dangshineun sagwareul moksumnikka?) → Do you eat apples?
- Five Ws
In English, the Five Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why) are questions that begin with letters “wh”. Syntacticians, or linguists who specialize in grammar and syntax, describe this process as “wh-movement”. Compared with a statement, a Five W (“wh-”) question in English changes the element in question into its corresponding wh-word and moves the wh-word to the beginning of the sentence, then the supporting “do” is placed after the wh-word.
Korean questions are simpler – they keep the wh-word in its place and don’t require do support. The question word – where, who, when, what, etc. – doesn’t need to come at the beginning of the sentence. It stays in the same place where the missing information that is being asked for would be included in the corresponding answer.
Sample sentence: 당신은 무엇을 먹습니까? → What do you eat? (Dangsineun muoseul moksseumnikka?)
Korean Command Sentence
In English, we can simply add “please” before a command to make it polite. In Korean, a single-verb command is expressed by conjugating the verb into an imperative ending. You can add -(으)십시오 to a verb stem. Similarly to English, a command in Korean does not have a subject.
In English, we can simply add “please” before a command to make it polite. In Korean, single-verb command endings like -(으)십시오 can be expressed by conjugating the verb into an imperative ending.
Like English, Korean doesn’t have a subject when using command sentence structure.
Sample sentence： 가십시오. (Ka sibsio) → (Please) go.
- Object + verb
Similar to a statement sentence, a Korean command also puts the object before the verb, which is the opposite of English.
Sample sentence: 사과를 드십시오 (먹으십시오). (Sagwareul deusibsio) → (Please) eat apples.
Korean Invitation Sentence
Invitation is a special type of sentence structure in Korean. English doesn’t have such a grammar, but usually, invitations are expressed in a “Let’s + verb” structure, while Korean invitational expressions are formed by conjugating the verb ending with -(으)ㅂ시다.
갑시다. (kapsida) → Let’s go.
- Object + verb
사과를 먹읍시다. (sagwareul mokeupsida) → Let’s eat apples.
Korean Particles: Indispensable in Korean Sentence Structures
In order to better understand and form Korean sentences, you should be aware of markers or particles in Korean. Having a tight grasp on Korean particles is necessary, as there are no official translations of these particles to English, as English speakers don’t use any grammar functions like them.
Particles are attached to words in Korean sentences. They indicate which word is the subject or object in a sentence.
Topic vs. Subject Marking Particles
이/가 are used for the subject of the sentence.
는/은 are the particles used to indicate the topic of the sentence. The topic is like the subject of a sentence, but with some differences.
The topic marker puts the emphasis on the verb while the subject marker places emphasis on the subject.
그는 고양이를 봅니다. (keuneun koyangireul bomnida) →He sees a cat.
It emphasizes on the fact that he sees a cat.
그가 고양이를 봅니다. (keuga koyangireul bomnida) → It’s him who sees a cat.
In this sentence, the emphasis would be on him, who sees the cat.
We encourage you to read more about subject and topic marker particles on our blog! See more here: Understand the Difference between 은/는 and 이/가 in 2 Minutes
Object Marking particles
Particles 를 and 을 are placed after a word to indicate the object of a sentence.
Example: 저는 영화를 봅니다. (Jeoneun yeonghwaleul bonida) → I watch a movie.
를 marks that “A movie” is the object in the sentence.
Adding adverbials in Korean Sentence
Essentially, adverbials give more information about an action word. They can be a single word (happily, here) or phrase (at work, in two days) and state how, where, when or how frequently something occurs or is done.
Adding Manner in Korean Sentence
저는 밥을 맛있게 먹습니다. → I eat rice deliciously.
저는 열심히 공부합니다. → I study hard.
In English, we can put adverbs before or after verbs, whereas Korean adverbs should be added before the verb they are describing.
Adding Time in Korean sentence
저는 어제 밥을 먹었습니다. → I ate rice yesterday.
어제 저는 밥을 먹었습니다. → Yesterday I ate rice.
To be more specific time-specific, say from the largest units to the smallest ones.
저는 어제 오전 8시에 일어났습니다. → “Yesterday I woke up at 8am.”
Adding Place in Korean Sentence
저는 식당에서 밥을 먹었습니다. I ate rice at the restaurant.
Locations are put between subject and object or before verbs. -에서 is location particle, which is similar with “at/in” in English.
Particle 에 is similar with “to”. It makes a word become a location.
저는 학교에 갑니다. → I go to school.
그는 서울에 일을 하러 갑니다 → He goes to Seoul to work.
Complete Korean sentence structure (declarative):
subject + time + place + object + manner + verb
저는 요즘 집에서 한국어를 열심히 공부합니다.
I study Korean at home very hard these days.
The Flexibility of Korean Sentence Structures
Korean sentence structures are actually quite flexible. Let’s learn a couple of rules of flexibly forming sentences and sound more native.
Possibility to omit the subject in Korean Sentence Structure
Unlike English, it is quite common to omit the subject in Korean sentences.
저는 사과를 먹습니다 → I eat apples
This can also be written as:
사과를 먹습니다 → I eat apples
Like the second case, if the Subject is inferred from the context by the readers or speakers, you can drop it from the sentence. Depending on a situation or context, it is possible to speak without a subject.
Possibility to omit some particles in colloquial Korean Sentence
Koreans, especially in spoken Korean, often omit the particles from sentences when the context is enough to make clear what the subject or object in a sentence is even without particles.
저는 사과(를) 먹습니다. → I eat apples.
그는 영어(를) 공부합니다. → He studies English.
Flexible word order in colloquial Korean Sentence
When the meaning is clear or roles are marked clearly with particles, Koreans occasionally just switch the order in a casual conversation. All the components can move to any position in a sentence. As mentioned, particles clearly mark what is the subject or object in a sentence, so Koreans can tell what’s the subject or the object no matter what.
저는 사과를 먹습니다. → I eat apples.
사과를 저는 먹습니다. → I eat apples.
사과를 먹습니다 저는. → I eat apples.
Learn & Practice more sentences with LingoDeer
Learn and practice what has been mentioned
- Declaratives, Questions, Imperatives, Invitations
LingoDeer has about 100 lessons covering the different kinds of Korean sentence structures, including declaratives, questions, imperatives, and invitations. Specifically, LingoDeer provides declarative sentences with various topics and situations, namely four lessons for questions, two for imperatives and one for an invitation. You can practice these sentences in the Review section where quizzes and activities such as listening, word-matching and free typing are available.
More to learn about Korean sentences
LingoDeer’s curriculum also covers many lessons for other types of sentences like negation, honorifics, and suggestions. Users enjoy how LingoDeer organically integrates these sentences in lessons, and how the sentences are so practical that you can use them in real life!
LingoDeer also reviews negation, one of the trickiest concepts for foreign learners to understand. Thankfully, LingoDeer offers three lessons for this topic so learners can gradually acquire and practice new skills using negation with confidence. Start learning now.
- Days of the Week in Korean
- How to Work in South Korea as a Foreigner
- 10 Useful Ways to Say Sorry in Korean (and How to Respond)
- 25 Useful Korean Idioms for Everyday Life
- Get Spooky in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese
- Top 100 Korean Adjectives and How to Use them in Sentences