Korean Verbs: When and How Are They Conjugated?

Korean verb

What is the Korean Verb Conjugation?

Why learn Korean verb conjugations?

Korean verb conjugations are the most important part of Korean sentences.

It’s essential to learn Korean verbs to fully understand the language. The more verbs you understand, the better you can communicate and read the text. It’s also important to learn how to conjugate verbs so that you can properly convey your thoughts and speak naturally with fewer mistakes.

Verb conjugations are prevalent to achieve grammatical functions in Korean.

Korean verb conjugations determine the tense, mood, and context of sentences. So, when you learn how to properly conjugate verbs, your Korean language comprehension is enhanced.


Different Forms of Korean Verbs

Different forms of Korean verbs include dictionary form, verb stem, sentence ending form, noun modifier form, passive verb, causative verb,  indirect quotation form, etc.  

korean verbs: examples of korean verb forms

This table isn’t even exhaustive of all the possible forms for these verbs, but don’t get overwhelmed!


How Does Korean Verb Conjugation Work?

Basically, the verb stem stays consistent, and the verb ending changes.

Formation of Korean verbs

Each verb in Korean has two parts: a word stem and a word ending or suffix.

Verbs can also be quite long because of all the suffixes that mark grammatical contrasts.

To conjugate a Korean verb, the first step is to separate the word stem from the “다” ending, which is a word ending used to make a verb’s dictionary form. Then, we can transform, or conjugate, the dictionary form into the many different forms by adding another word ending behind the word stem.

When Are Korean Verb Conjugations Needed?

korean verbs: korean vs. english factors for verb conjugation

First/second/third person of subject? No 

In many languages, a verb conjugation depends on the subject of a sentence. However, Korean grammar does not make any differentiation.

Sample sentences:

그는 동물을 사랑해요→  He loves animals.

저는 동물을 사랑해요 →  I love animal.

The subject is 3rd person and the verb “love” should be conjugated into “loves”. But in Korean, 사랑해요 is the same with the verb in a sentence with the first-person subject.  

Singularity/plurality of subject? No

Korean verbs are always conjugated in the same manner, regardless of the number of people.

그는 동물을 사랑해요 → He loves animals.

그들은 동물을 사랑해요 → They love animal.

The verb 사랑해요 does not change according to the number of people in the subject.

korean verbs: English vs. Korean verb conjugation for the subject

Past, present, future tense? Yes

In English, loved, love, and will love are past, present, future tense forms of the verb “love”. Korean verbs also show the tenses by conjugation.

사랑했어요 →  loved

사랑해요 → love

사랑할 거예요 →  will love

Korean verb conjugation for tense

Formality & Politeness? Yes

Conjugations happen differently depending on formality and politeness level

Formal Polite→  저는 동물을 사랑합니다

Informal Polite → 저는 동물을 사랑해요

Casual → 나는 동물을 사랑해

Korean verb conjugation for formality and politeness

Speech Act? Yes

Korean conjugations even determine if you ask or order for something. For more information about different Korean sentence structures of different speech acts, read  Korean Sentence Structures: A Complete Overview

저는 동물을 사랑해요 → I love animals.

동물을 사랑해주세요 → Please love animals.

Passive? Yes

When a verb is changed to passive, the verb is conjugated with some infixes like -이, -히, -기, -리. Not all verbs have passive forms.

먹다 + -히 = 먹히다 →  to be eaten

보다 + -이= 보이다 → to be seen

Causative? Yes

This form is also made by attaching some infixes like -이, -히,-리,-기,-우-추.

먹다 + -이 = 먹이다 → to make eat

보다 + -이 = 보이다 →  to show

Modifying nouns? Yes

To modify nouns, verbs can be added to the suffix -는, which is to show the ongoing action for the verb.  

내가 사랑하는 사람 →  The one that I love

사랑하다 + -는 = 사랑하는

It modifies the noun 사람.

Indirect quotation? Yes

When citing what someone said, -고 can be attached and used with the verb 하다.

그는 동물을 사랑해요 → He loves animals.

그는 동물을 사랑한다고 했어요 → He said that he loves animals.

사랑하다 + -고 + 했어요 = 사랑한다고 했어요

Korean Verb Conjugation For Formality & Politeness

For more information about Korean formality, politeness, and honorifics, read The definitive guide to Korean speech levels.

Conjugation Rules for the Three Most Common Speech Levels

In Korean, you must consider formality and politeness level when speaking, especially because different conjugations of the same word can depend on who you’re speaking to. Korean verbs should be conjugated according to the speech level.

korean verb conjugation for 3 most common speech levels

  • Formal Polite

To make a formal and polite speech, you have to add ~ㅂ니다/습니다 at the end of your sentence. If a word stem ends in a vowel, you add ~ㅂ니다. If a word stem ends in a consonant, you add ~습니다.

보다 + ㅂ니다 = 봅니다 see

먹다 + -습니다 = 먹습니다 eat

하다 + ㅂ니다 = 합니다 do

사랑합니다 + ㅂ니다 = 사랑합니다 love

  • Casual

The rule of choosing between 아 and 어 is decided by the character that’s in front of 다. If the last vowel in the verb is ㅏor ㅗ, it should use 아. Otherwise, it should use 어.

먹다(eat) +어 = 먹어 → eat

If the verb stem ends in a vowel, the 아 or 어 will combine with the previous syllable.

보다 (see) + 아 = 보아 -> 봐 (ㅗ + 아 = ㅘ) → see

If the verb stem is 하, you add 여and 하여 can be shortened to 해.

하다 →  해 do

사랑하다 →  사랑해 love

  • Rule of Thumb – Informal Polite

This is done the exact same way as the informal form, but you can just add ‘-요’ to the end of the word. In Korea, the ~요 ending adds respect and politeness to your sentences, as shown in the examples below. 

먹어 + 요 = 먹어요 →  eat

봐 + 요 = 봐요 → see

해 + 요 = 해요 → do

사랑해 + 요 = 사랑해요 → love

Korean Verb Conjugation For Tense

Conjugation Rules for Present, Past and Future

The usage of present tense has already been illustrated through the sentences in the previous section, so this section will focus on other tenses.

Korean verb conjugation for past, present and future tense

  • Past Tense

In this case, if the verb stem ends in either ㅗ or ㅏ, you add -았 and -어요 to the word stem.

Otherwise, add 었+어요. If the verb is하다, its stem 하 is attached to 였 + 어요.

먹다 + 었어요 = 먹었어요 → ate

보다 + 았어요 = 보았어요 →  saw  (It’s shortened to 봤어요) 

하다 + 였어요 = 하였어요 → did  (Can be shortened to 했어요)

사랑하다 + 였어요 = 사랑하였어요 = 사랑했어요 → loved

Korean past tense verb conjugation

  • Future Tense (will+verb)

There is more than one way to express the future tense, but we will consider only the most common ways for future tense.

First, remove the -다 from the verb and add -ㄹ if the verb ends in a vowel or -을 if it ends in a consonant.

 먹다 + 을 거예요 = 먹을 거예요 → will eat

보다 + ㄹ 거예요 = 볼 거예요 → will see

하다 + ㄹ 거예요 = 할 거예요 → will do

사랑하다 = ㄹ 거예요 = 사랑할 거예요→  will love

Second, you can conjugate verbs to the future tense by adding -겠어요 to the stem of the word.

먹다 + 겠어요 = 먹겠어요

보다 + 겠어요 = 보겠어요

하다 + 겠어요 = 하겠어요

사랑하다 = 겠어요 = 사랑하겠어요

Other tenses?

Korean only has three tenses: present, past and future, but they also express the progressive and perfect aspect through verb conjugations. 

Korean verb conjugation for progressive & perfect aspect

  • Present Progressive (am/is/are + verb-ing)

To conjugate Korean verbs into present progressive tense, you drop the 다 ending and add -고 있어요.

 먹다 + -고 있어요 = 먹고 있어요 → is eating

보다 + -고 있어요 = 보고 있어요 →  is seeing

하다 + -고 있어요 = 하고 있어요 → is doing

사랑하다 + -고 있어요 = 사랑하고 → 있어요 is loving

  • Past Perfect

This tense is used when talking about an event that doesn’t continue in the present, or a past event that separates itself from the present. In other words, the past perfect is used to describe an action taking place before a certain time in the past.

If verb stem ends in vowel ㅏ or ㅗ, it is formed by adding -았었어요 to the stem. Otherwise, -었었어요 is added. For verbs ending 하다, -였었어요 is added.

먹다 + -었었어요= 먹었었어요 → ate

보다 + -았었어요 = 보았었어요 -> 봤었어요 →  saw

하다 + -였었어요= 하였었어요 -> 했었어요 →  did

사랑하다 + -였었어요= 사랑하였었어요 -> 사랑했었어요→  loved

Still a Long Way to Go

Don’t be overwhelmed. The more you learn, the easier it gets! 

It’s said that, in Korean, there are over 40 basic word endings and over 400 combinations of these endings, but you do not have to be intimidated. Korean word endings are numerous, but are quite regular and common. The more you learn, the easier proper verb conjugation gets! 

The conjugation system is the core of Korean grammar. When you learn how it works, it will help you to understand the beauty of Korean language and culture much more. 

Thankfully, LingoDeer covers everything you need to get started on learning Korean — conjugations, causative verbs, passive verbs, sentence structures of different speech acts, noun modifying forms, indirect quotations, etc. It also has another practice tool LingoDeer Plus where you can practice verb conjugation and multiple language skills easily! Give them a try if you wish to learn or practice Korean by yourself!


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2 years ago

Very very helpful..
Thank u so much

Oryna Ignatyeva
Oryna Ignatyeva
2 years ago

Great article!!!

2 years ago

thank you this helped me!

2 years ago

Do the present progressive / past perfect forms also conjugate according to politeness level? For instance, “hago isseoyo” versus “hago issseumnida” (I don’t have the hangul characters on my laptop keyboard, sorry)?

1 year ago
Reply to  Karen

Yes, they do
casual ~고있어
semi formal ~고있어요
formal ~ 고있습니다

1 year ago

thank you for sharing .

1 year ago

Hey, great guide but I have a question:

You said “The rule of choosing between 아 and 어 is decided by the character that’s in front of 다. If the last vowel in the verb is ㅏor ㅗ, it should use 아. Otherwise, it should use 어.”

Then why “배고프다” is conjugated “배고파요” and not “배고퍼요”? The last vowel before 다 is ㅡ, not ㅏor ㅗ, I don’t understand

7 months ago

Hi! This has been really helpful however one thing I’m still confused about is how to make a sentence using two verbs at once (or an adjective and a verb at once). For example, in the sentence “Stop eating”, both ‘to stop’ and ‘to eat’ are verbs but they can’t both be ending verbs right? Can I say, “먹은 그만둬요” or is that super wrong? Or for the sentence “Writing is difficult”, ‘to write’ is the verb and ‘difficult’ is the adverb but which is used as the ending verb and what do i do with the other? Can I say, “쓰다 어려워요” or is that nowhere near close too?

blogger deer
blogger deer
7 months ago
Reply to  Avery

I think “stop eating” should be 그만 먹어?
As for “writing is difficult”, the word “writing” is a gerund and it functions as a noun, not a verb tho.

6 months ago

Very very helpful..
Thank u so much