Simple Guide to Korean Particles 은는 vs 이가

Distinguish between particles 이/가 and 은/는

이/가 and 은/는 are two of the most frequently used particles in the Korean language. At the same time, they are usually the most confusing particles for Korean learners. We have another guide to more Korean particles if you wish to dig deeper.


Subject marking particles 이/가  

To sum it up, 이 and 가 are used to denote the subject of a sentence. 

  • 이 is used after a noun that ends in a consonant. (E.g. 선생님이 / 책이 / 이름이 )
  • 가 is used after a noun that ends in a vowel. (E.g. 학교가 / 엄마가 / 의자가 )
difference between 이/가 and 은/는
explanation for 가 in lingodeer‘s’ app

Let’s look at some example sentences:

신발이 더러워요.
The shoes are dirty.  

날씨가 추워요.
The weather is cold.

민지가 학교에 갔다.
Minji went to school.

강아지가 잠을 잡니다.
The dog is sleeping.

비행기가 공항에 도착했습니다.
The plane has arrived at the airport.

Topic marking particles 은/는

은 and 는 are used to denote the topic of a sentence.

  • 은 is used after a noun that ends in a consonant. (E.g. 선생님은 / 책은 / 이름은 )
  • 는 is used after a noun that ends in a vowel. (E.g. 학교는 / 엄마는 / 의자는 )
difference between particles 이가 and 은는
explanation for 은/는 in lingodeer’s app

For example:

오늘은 날씨가 좋아요.
The weather is nice today.

오늘 = “today”. It is the topic of the sentence.

그는 곧 결혼을 할 거예요.
He’ll get married soon. 

그 = “he”. It is the topic of the sentence.

Four Differences Between 은/는 and 이/가

Difference #1:  Subject vs Description

이/가 puts the focus on the subject:

누가 이 컵을 깼어요?
Who broke this cup?

가 puts the focus on “who” broke the cup.

제가 깼어요.
I did.

가 puts the focus on the subject “I”, who broke the cup.

은/는 puts the focus on the description:

수진 씨는 지금 뭐 해요?
What is Sujin doing now?

는 puts the focus on what Sujin is  “doing”.

수진 씨는 지금 요리하고 있어요.
Sujin is cooking now.

는 puts the focus on Sujin’s action, which is “cooking”.


Difference #2: New Information vs. Known Information

이/가 is used to introduce new information:

새로운 친구가 생겼어요. 그 친구는 17살이에요.
I have a new friend. The friend is 17 years old

Explanation: In the second sentence, the “friend” is no longer new information,  because the friend was previously mentioned in the first sentence. That’s why you have to use “친구”, and not “친구” in the second sentence.

은/는 is used to mention known information:

어제 한국어 시험이 있었어요. 그 시험은 너무 어려웠어요.
I had a Korean language test yesterday. That test was very difficult.

Explanation: Because the “test” is no longer new information, as it was previously mentioned in the first sentence, you have to use “시험은”, and not “시험이” in the second sentence.

Difference #3: Statements vs. Comparisons

이/가 is used to making broad statements:

드레스가 예뻐요.
The dress is pretty.

시장에 사람이 많았어요.
There were many people in the market.

은/는 is used in comparisons and contrasting:

저는 그림은 잘 그리지만 공부는 못해요.
I’m good at painting, but I’m not good at studying.

철수는 키가 크고 지민이는 키가 작아요.
Cheolsu is tall and Jimin is short.

그 식당은 햄버거는 맛있어요.
That restaurant has good hamburgers.
This has the nuanced implication “but not the salad” or “but not their service” etc. , compared to their hamburger.)

Difference #4: Only after subject vs. After any noun

이/가 can be used only after the subject of a sentence:

케이크가 맛있어요.
The cake is delicious.

고향이 어디십니까?
Where is your hometown? 

부산이 제 고향이에요.
Busan is my hometown. 

은/는 is used after any noun that requires emphasis:

저는 김지민입니다.
I’m Jimin Kim. 

이것은 책이에요.
This is a book.

그것은 의자입니다.
That is a chair.

Conclusions: 이/가 vs 은/는 

Please note that these are some of the most complicated grammar rules in Korean. Even advanced Korean learners often get confused when trying to distinguish the correct use of 은/는 and 이/가.

The best way to better understand these particles is to read Korean texts as much as you can, while keeping the aforementioned explanations in mind.


Now you know the difference between Korean particles 이/가 and 은/는. But how to use them correctly in sentences? Download LingoDeer Plus now to practice how to use particles, verb conjugation, and more with fun, engaging language games! It’s available on both Google Play and App Store!

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D Gal
D Gal
3 years ago

In your examples for how 은/는 can be used after any noun (not just the subject), aren’t those all subjects? Perhaps my grammar is rusty.

3 years ago
Reply to  D Gal

In my experience, in the grammar context “subject” refers to something that is completing an action. So 이/가 is attached to nouns that are completing an action, or is associated with the verb of the sentence (eg. 민지가 학교에 갔다, or 드레스가 예뻐요).

However “topic” is just whatever you are talking about, not necessarily what is doing the action. Like how in the sentence “저는 그림은 잘 그리지만 공부는 못해요” the speaker is contrasting their ability to draw and and study, so 그림 and 공부 receive the topic markers.

You may also look at the sentence ” 철수는 키가 크고 지민이는 키가 작아요”
We are comparing 철수 and 지민, so they receive the topic markers. But also in this sentence, the descriptive verb 크다 is being ‘done’ by their height 키, so 키 is the subject and receives the subject marker, making it 키가.

I hope that makes sense! And anyone feel free to correct me haha I am still learning myself but thought I would share the way that I’ve come to understand it!

3 years ago
Reply to  D Gal

Sorry to comment again haha but I thought I should use an example from the section you were actually asking about 😂

As I said before subject is whatever is associated with the verb. Take the example 그것은 의자입니다.

We’re talking about “that thing” so 그것 receives the topic marker.

The verb for the sentence, 이다, is not connected to 그것, though, which is why it is not a subject in this case.

Hope that makes a little sense 😅

3 years ago

안녕 현영씨

Je m’appelle Edwin.
Je suis indonésien mais je parle français (certifié DELF B1).

Maintenant, je voudrais bien apprendre le coréen.
Si vous vous intéressez à faire un échange linguistique, vous pouvez m’envoyer un msg via mon email.

Enchanté et bonne journée.


3 years ago

this helped so much thank you, God bless

3 years ago

This information is very helpful. My first language is English and the idea of subject marker and topic marker is very new and unusual. Your explanation helps a lot! Thank you.

Topic and subject marking particles – Kitchen Table thoughts
2 years ago

[…] The link is here. […]

2 years ago

This was very helpful, thank you! It’s good to know that this is a normal thing to struggle with, even as an advanced learner. I think I grasp it much better now with those 4 guidelines/tips.

2 years ago

The best explanation for these particles that i’ve met so far.감사합니다.

2 years ago

I’m currently on the “Directions” lesson (Korean I), in which there are these examples:

  1. 교실 어디에 ㅐ있어요? “Where is the classroom?”
  2. 주유소 어디에 ㅐ있어요? “Where is the gas station?”
  3. 도서관 어디에 ㅐ있어요? “Where is the library?”

They are virtually the same question in English, but is there a difference of nuance between these sentences?

8 months ago

what is topic and subject?