Korean Particles Guide: How to Use Korean Particles [With Examples]
Let’s learn Korean particles!
Do you know what a particle is? They are tiny building blocks essential to Korean sentence structure.
We don’t really have these in English, but they’re like articles or prepositions. That is, small words that function to complete and connect a sentence, like “to”, “in” or “an.”
So, Korean particles may be new and confusing grammar territory at first. But fear not! We’re going to break them down and make them make sense.
Why? Because it’s impossible to speak Korean well without understanding how to properly use particles.
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
Table of contents
- Korean Particles Explained: What They Are and How They Work
- How Many Korean Particles Are There?
- Topic and Subject Marking Particles in Korean
- Object Marking Particle in Korean: 을 / 를
- Time and Location Particles: 에 and 에서
- Direction Particles: 으로 / 로
- Possessive Particle: 의
- Connective Particles: 과 / 와, 하고, 고, and 이랑 / 랑
- Korean Counting Particles
- Question Particle in Korean: 까 and 을까요
- Korean Noun Endings + Particles
- Phew! Let’s Wrap It Up
… and more.
So, let’s dive right in.
Korean Particles Explained: What They Are and How They Work
Korean particles mark what role the noun before them plays in the sentence.
In English, we have prepositions like “with” and “in”. We have directional words like “to” and articles like “the”. We also have words and counters that mark time, place, amount of objects, possession, and more.
In Korean, these are all called particles.
So if you wanted to say “I’m going to the store” in Korean, you’d need to know the particle “to” in order for it to be grammatically correct.
Particles also tell you what the subject, topic, and object are of a sentence. They attach themselves to the end of the noun like a suffix. This helps you distinguish the function of the noun and the meaning of the sentence.
Why does this matter? Why wouldn’t that be obvious in the sentence?
Well, the subject of the sentence is often omitted in Korean. For example, in English, we say: “I’m going to the store to get milk.” But in Korean, it’s understood that “I’m” the one who’s going so they just say “going to the store to get milk.”
Since the subject is omitted, the particles help keep the sentence in order so you know the subject is omitted.
How Many Korean Particles Are There?
There are a lot. But it depends on who you ask and what you count as a particle.
According to some sources, there are around 128 particles in the Korean language.
But, there are 18 common Korean particles you need to know. The rest you can pick up as you go in Korean.
These 18 particles do the core grammar work in a sentence, such as marking the topic and expressing location or direction. They also mark possession, and help connect sentences.
Topic and Subject Marking Particles in Korean
First up is the subject particle in Korean, which is the most common but actually a little bit tricky.
Because in English, the subject and topic are the same thing (in most cases; in written context, there can be a difference).
In Korean, though, the subject and topic of a sentence can differ.
Topic Marking Particle: 은 / 는
은 (eun) / 는 (neun) mark the topic of a sentence, and are used to state known information or fact. It’s also used to emphasize a noun, or to contrast two nouns.
You’ll often use this with statements about yourself or others (such as talking about your job or describing someone’s personality). Or when you’re switching up the conversation and want to emphasize the new topic.
은 and 는 are the same, but 은 follows a noun that ends in a consonant (or batchim, the bottom character in a Korean hangul block). 는 follows a noun that ends in a vowel.
Here are two examples:
제 이름은 케이틀린입니다 Je ireum-eun Keiteullin imnida. “My name is Caitlin.”
그는 작가예요. Geu-nun jagga yeyo. “He is a writer.”
In both instances, the topic of the sentence that we’re emphasizing is followed by a statement that’s fact. He IS a writer, my name IS Caitlin.
Subject Marking Particle: 이 / 가
이 (i) / 가 (ga) function like 은 / 는, so it can be a bit confusing. You’ll get used to it with time!
As with the topic marking particle, 이 and 가 attach depending on the last character. 이 attaches to nouns ending in a consonant and 가 to nouns ending in a vowel.
이 / 가 follow a noun that’s the subject of a sentence presenting new information. So this information may not be fact, and may change.
If you’ve ever studied Spanish, think of this like ser vs. estar. 이 / 가 is like estar in Spanish and 은 / 는 is more like ser. (Ser and estar both translate to “to be” in English, but they can give a sentence a different meaning in Spanish.)
It’s also more often used in sentences where the subject is doing an action.
You’ll also notice that in the example sentences from above, while “I” and “he” are the topic, the focus of the sentence is “Caitlin” and “writer.” Because that’s what gives the important information.
But with 이 / 가, the important information is the subject — the noun it’s attaching to.
Here are examples:
개가 저기 앉아 있어요. gae-ga jeogi anja isseoyo. “The dog is sitting over there.”
내일 날씨가 추울 겠어요. naeil nalssi-ga chuul gesseoyo. “The weather will be cold tomorrow.”
Notice how the subject doesn’t have to be the first word of a sentence, and the important part is “dog” and “weather.” Without it, we wouldn’t know what’s sitting over there or what would be cold tomorrow.
Object Marking Particle in Korean: 을 / 를
To mark the object of a sentence (the noun that receives the action of the verb), you use 을 (eul) / 를 (leul).
Can you guess how you’ll use each? If you guessed that 을 is used with nouns ending in a consonant and 를 with nouns ending in a vowel, you are correct!
Now, if you know your basic Korean grammar, then you know that Korean sentence order is subject-object-verb (SOV). This is the opposite of English which follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) grammar pattern.
What this means is, in English, our sentences with objects look like:
I play video games. Subject – verb – object
But in Korean, it’d be:
I video games play. Subject – object – verb.
So using our topic and object marking particles, we have:
나는 비디오 게임을 하세요. na-neun bidio geim-eul haseyo. “I play video games.”
Note: You can drop 나는 (na-neun) if it’s already understood that “I” play video games. The topic is often dropped in Korean.
Time and Location Particles: 에 and 에서
Next up we have time and location particles that help us express where and when things take place.
에 (e) can express both time and location, and it’s used regardless of the noun ending in a consonant or vowel. 에 could be translated as “to,” “in,” “on,” or “at.”
So you would use this particle when talking about a place you’re going to, where you put something, where you’re currently at, what you set something on, etc.
편의점에 가요. Pyeonuijeom-e gayo. “I will go to the convenience store.”
책을 책상 위에 놓았어요. Chaek-eul chaeksang wi-e nohasseoyo. “I put the book on the desk.”
As for 에서 (eseo), it marks the location in which you are doing or did something. It can also be used as “from.”
미국에서 왔어요. Miguk-eseo wasseoyo. “I’m from America.”
체육관에서 운동했어요. Cheyuggwan-eseo undong haesseoyo. “I worked out at the gym.”
In the first situation, we use 에서 to mean “from” and in the second, we use it to say where I did my workout.
You can also use 에서 to say where something occurs or what it’s like in that place. So when you’re describing where the adjective description takes place, you use 에서.
캘리포니아에서 주택은 비싸요. Kaelliponia-eseo jutaek-eun bissayo. “Houses are expensive in California.”
There are two special notes here:
- When using here (여기, yeogi), there (거기, geogi) and over there (저기, eogi), you only use ~서 (seo) instead of 에서 (eseo).
- 에서 (eseo) cannot be used with the verb 있다 (itda, “to have” or “to exist”). You’ll always use 에 (e) with this verb.
Direction Particles: 으로 / 로
으로 (euro) / 로 (ro) are direction particles with some overlapping meanings with our location particles. But 으로 / 로 have many different uses.
으로 / 로 can mean “to,” “towards,” “by,” “with,” “from” or “for.” There are even more situations where you’d use this common Korean particle, but that gives you a good idea of its meaning.
As with some of the other particles, 으로 is used when the noun proceeding it ends in a consonant. And 로 when it ends in a vowel (or if the noun ends in ㄹ, because they flow together when speaking).
버스로 학교에 갈 거야. Beoseu-ro hakkyo-e gal geoya. “I am going to school by bus.” (Or in more natural English, “I’ll take the bus to school.”)
일으로 갈 거예요. Il-euro gal geoyeyo. “I’m going to work.”
In that last example, we could’ve also used 에 and said:
일에 갈 거예요 Il-e gal geoyeyo. “I’m going to work.”
They mean pretty much the same thing, except using 으로 states you’re going in the direction of work. Kind of like in English how we say, “I’m headed to work, so I’ll pick it up on my way there.” This particle gives that same understood context that you’re heading in a specific direction.
Because of that, 으로 / 로 can also be added after ~쪽 (jjok) to specifically say you’re moving “in the direction of _”.
저쪽으로 걸어요. jeo-jjok-euro geoleoyo. “Go that way.”
저 (jeo) is “that”, so attaching ~쪽 makes it “that way” or “that direction.” Add on the particle 으로 / 로, and it means to go in the direction of “that.”
Possessive Particle: 의
의 (ui) is how you express ownership or possession in Korean. Attach it to a noun to make it possessive, the same as adding “‘s” in English.
엄마의 차. Eomma-ui cha. “Mom’s car.”
그의 책. Geu-ui chaek. “His book.”
A note about the pronunciation: 의 (ui) when added to words like this is pronounced more like 에 (e) than “oo-ee”. So 엄마의 is said more like “awm-mah-eh” than “awm-mah-oo-ee”.
The exception is with “I” and “you” in Korean. These words get contracted in their possessive form:
나 (na, informal “I”) → 나의 (naui) → 내 (nae) 저 (jeo, formal “I”) → 저의 (jeoui) → 제 (je) 너 (neo, “you”) → 너의 (neoui) → 네 (ne)
This makes sense if you remember that 의 sounds more like “e”. The pronunciation flows better this way.
내 친구. Nae chingu. “My friend.”
네 음식. Ne eumsik. “Your food.”
Connective Particles: 과 / 와, 하고, 고, and 이랑 / 랑
These connecting particles all mean “and” or “with,” or connect two verbs that happen back-to-back.
So let’s start with 과 (gwa) / 와 (wa). You connect 과 when the noun before it ends with a consonant and 와 when it ends with a vowel. It’s most often used in written speech and formal situations, and it’s usually used when the two nouns have a relationship. So in this sense, it’s more like “with.”
하고 (hago) can be used with either a consonant- or vowel-ending noun. 하고 is also more often used in writing. You use this “and” when the two nouns you’re connecting aren’t related in any way, you’re just stating them.
고 (go) is a connective particle that connects to verbs or adjectives rather than nouns.
Last up, 이랑 (irang) / 랑 (rang) are mostly used when speaking because it’s more casual. But otherwise, it’s the same as 과 / 와. 이랑 is used with consonant-ending nouns and 랑 with nouns ending in vowels.
계란과 베이컨을 먹어요 Gyelan-gwa beikeon-eul meogeoyo. “I eat eggs and bacon.”
사과하고 딸기가 있어요. Sagwa-hago ttalgiga isseoyo. “I have apples and strawberries.”
책을 읽고 자러 갔어요. Chaek-eul ilg-go jaleo gasseoyo. “I read a book and went to bed.”
밥이랑 고기를 먹어요. Bab-irang gogi-leul meogeoyo. “I eat rice and meat.”
Notice with 과 and 이랑, there’s a relationship between the two connected nouns: I’m eating them together. Whereas with 하고, I’m just stating two things I have. They’re not connected.
Korean Counting Particles
There are many Korean counting particles that are used to help count everything from the number of people to bottles to time and books. It’s a whole topic on its own, but here are a few of the basics you need to know:
- People: 명 (myeong), 분 (bun) or 사람 (saram)
- Animals: 마리 (mari)
- Books: 권 (gwon)
- Bottles: 병 (byeong)
- Hours: 시 (si)
- Span of hours: 시간 (sigan)
- Minutes: 분 (bun)
- Age: 살 (sal)
- Machines, tech, cars: 대 (dae)
- General counter for items: 개 (gae)
That last one is bold, because it’s your catch-all counter. If you can’t remember which counter to use, you can use 개 (gae) and be understood.
All the above counters except for 분 (bun) for minutes use the native Korean number system to count. 분 (bun), though, uses the Sino-Korean numbers. If you don’t know those yet, head over to this guide to Korean numbers.
Korean counters with the native Korean system list the item you’re counting first, then the number + counter:
저는 개가 두 마리 있어요. Jeo-nun gae-ga du mari isseoyo. “I have two dogs.”
With the Sino-Korean numbers, you don’t even need the item because it’s obvious. For example, with 분 (bun) for minutes:
콘서트는 5 분 후에 시작하세요. Konseoteu-neun o-bun hue sijag haseyo. “The concert starts in 5 minutes.”
With Sino-Korean numbers, you could use the hangul 오 (o, “five”) or use 5. But with native Korean numbers, you usually write it in hangul.
Question Particle in Korean: 까 and 을까요
To ask a question in Korean, you use the particle ~까 (kka) when using the formal Korean ending ~입니다 (imnida).
음식이 있습니까? Eumsik-i issseumnikka? “Is there food?”
But in polite and casual speech, there is no question-marking particle. You just raise the intonation of the final syllable, like in English.
음식이 있어요? Eumsik-i isseoyo? “Is there food?”
There’s one other question-ending we can use though, to ask “shall we?” It’s ~을까요 (eulkkayo) / ㄹ까요 (lkkayo).
We change the verb stem to end in 을 (if ending in a consonant) or add ㄹ to the bottom of the hangul block if it ends in a vowel. Then add 까 and it becomes a question to ask or invite someone to do something.
먹을까요? Meok-eulkkayo? “Shall we eat?”
갈까요? Galkkayo? “Shall we go?”
With “to eat”, the verb stem is 먹 (meok). It ends in a consonant, so ~을까요 is attached at the end. With “to go”, the verb stem is 가 (ga), so since it ends in a vowel, we attach ㄹ to the bottom, followed by 까요.
Korean Noun Endings + Particles
There are several other Korean particles that attach to the ends of nouns that mean specific things.
First is 도 (do). It means “also” or “too”, and it can replace other particles. Here’s an example:
나도 스타 워즈를 좋아해요. Na-do Seuta Wojeu-leul johahaeyo. “I love Star Wars, too.” or “I also like Star Wars.”
Next is 까지 (kkaji), which means “until.”
오후 7 시까지 일했어요. Ohu ilgopshi-kkaji ilhaesseoyo. “I worked until 7pm.”
Last one we’re covering is 만 (man). This one means “only”.
드라마 만 보아요. Deolama-man boayo. “I only watch dramas.”
Phew! Let’s Wrap It Up
Korean particles are a lot to learn — so don’t get overwhelmed with it all at once. Practice one particle at a time and get the hang of how and when to use it.
Practice making sentences of your own or speaking with a language exchange partner. The more you use them, the easier they’ll get!
Next, why not learn something fun like cute aegyo Korean phrases or find a new Korean drama to watch and learn.
And check out these resources to learn Korean. They’re Benny Lewis’s favorites, and he’s the founder of Fluent in 3 Months!