Korean Verb Conjugation: Everything You Need to Know as a Beginner
Korean verb conjugation can seem a bit tricky when you first dive into the language. But don’t worry! Korean conjugation isn’t as difficult as it first appears.
In fact, Korean verb conjugation is a lot simpler than some other languages, like English or Spanish. And if you’re reading this – you probably already have a native or working understanding of English grammar. So you can definitely master Korean grammar too!
There are a few unique points to Korean conjugation though, such as the level of formality you need to use based on who you’re speaking with.
On the flip side, you don’t have to worry about subject-verb agreement or the conjugation changing based on who’s speaking/the subject.
This becomes intuitive the more you speak and practice Korean, though. So don’t get too caught up in it. You’ll learn all you need to know here!
Table of contents
- Korean Verb Conjugation
- Korean Formalities: An Important Aspect of Korean Conjugation
- How to Conjugate Korean Verbs: Present Tense
- Korean Irregular Verb Conjugation
- How to Conjugate Korean Verbs: Past Tense
- How to Conjugate Korean Verbs: Continuous Tense
- How to Conjugate Korean Verbs: Future Tense
- You Made It! You’ve Completed Your Intro to Korean Verb Conjugation
Let’s knock out some basic FAQs first:
Does Korean have verb conjugation?
Obviously, if you’re here, you probably know that Korean does, in fact, conjugate verbs.
How do verbs work in Korean?
So, how do you conjugate Korean verbs? Korean verbs are made up of a verb stem and a suffix or suffixes. To conjugate verbs, you’ll change the suffix to the tense or grammatical pattern you need.
Here’s what this looks like:
먹다, meokda, “to eat” in its infinitive (dictionary) form→ drop 다, da, so that you only have the verb stem 먹 → Add 어요, eoyo → 먹어요, meogeoyo, “eat” in present tense.
So verb conjugation works by learning the stem and changing the suffixes. We’ll dive more into this in a moment.
Also, in Korean, the sentence structure is different than in English. Instead of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) format, Korean follows the Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) pattern.
This means verbs are always at the end of Korean sentences.
How many verb conjugations are there in Korean?
A lot. But there are about 40 verb endings you need to know. These verbs can then be combined in various ways to make other verb conjugations. So verb suffixes can get quite long!
If you ever get confused, want to check your conjugation, or look up a verb and its forms, I have a resource for you. You can use an automated Korean verb conjugator like Dongsa Korean Verb Conjugator or Verbix to look up verb patterns.
I still recommend learning the grammar patterns on your own, though, and not relying on these too heavily!
Here’s a look at what we’re going to learn: the four basic Korean verb conjugations.
|Present Tense||Verb stem + 아 / 어||Verb stem + 아요 / 어요||Verb stem + ㅂ니다 / 습니다|
|Past Tense||Verb stem + 았어 / 었어||Verb stem + 았어요 / 었어요||Verb stem + 았습니다 / 었습니다|
|Continuous Tense||Verb stem + 고 있어||Verb stem + 고 있어요||Verb stem + 고 있습니다|
|Future Tense||Verb stem + ㄹ/을 거야||Verb stem + ㄹ/을 거예요||Verb stem + ㄹ/을 겁니다|
You’ll notice on the chart that there are different formalities. This impacts how you conjugate a verb.
In Korean, there are various levels of politeness and formality which you need to use depending on three key factors: situation, familiarity, and age.
Yes, age! Age is huge in Korean culture.
If someone is older than you, even by a little, you need to use more formal speech than if they’re the same age as you or younger.
The three main levels of politeness are:
- Casual speech: For friends, people younger than you, and sometimes family. For beginners without friends and family who speak Korean, you won’t use this one too much right now.
- Informal polite speech: This is the speech pattern you’ll use in most situations, especially when you’re not familiar or close to the people you’re talking to.
- Formal polite speech: Mostly used in situations like the workplace, speaking to customers in a store, public service announcements, or when showing respect to those older than you. Some Koreans are moving toward informal polite speech, though, in some of these situations, so follow the lead of those around you.
First up, you need to know how to conjugate Korean verbs in present tense. This is also how you conjugate adjectives as well in Korean!
Here are some verb examples:
|To write or to wear a hat||쓰다||sseuda|
|To be, have, or exist||있다||itda|
To start, we’re going to warm up with the easiest conjugation to learn: formal polite speech.
Even though you won’t use this one as often unless you plan to work in Korea, it’s still a good idea to learn how to conjugate Korean verbs in formal polite speech. And it’s a good way to practice identifying the verb stem and adding a suffix.
To conjugate in present formal tense, drop 다, da, and add -ㅂ니다, mnida, if the verb stem ends in a vowel, or -습니다, seumnida, if it ends in a consonant.
가다, gada, “to go” → 갑니다, gamnida
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹습니다, meokseumnida
Pretty straightforward, right? And if you want to make it a question, all you have to do is drop 다, da, and add –까, kka.
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹습니까?, meokseumnikka, “(Did you) eat?”
Present polite tense – the most common tense you’ll use, though – is a bit more complicated. I know it’ll seem like a lot to remember, but I’ve got some good news!
One: This tense becomes very intuitive once you start using it. You’ll notice it conjugates the way it does because it sounds smoother and is easier to pronounce. So when you mess up, you’ll notice it right away.
Two: Once you memorize this tense, it helps you with every other conjugation pattern. They all stem from this one. So putting the work in here goes a LONG way and pays off!
To conjugate in present polite tense, we need to look at what the last vowel sound is in the verb. (Even if a consonant comes after it.)
If the vowel ends inㅏ, a, or ㅗ, o, you’ll drop 다, da, and add -아요, ayo.
가다, gada, “to go” → 가요, gayo
The last vowel is ㅏ, so you don’t need two ㅏ. Just add 요.
살다, salda, “to live” → 살아요, sarayo
The last vowel is ㅏ, followed by a consonant. Add 아요.
오다, oda, “to come” → 와요, wayo
The last vowel is ㅗ, so it contracts into 와.
If the vowel sound ends in anything else, you’ll drop 다, da, and add -어요, eoyo. But the rules change for each one:
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹어요, meogeoyo
Verb ends in a consonant, so add -어요.
마시다, masida, “to drink” → 마셔요, masyeoyo
Verbs that end in ㅣ contract into ㅕ.
배우다, baeuda, “to learn” → 배워요, baewoyo
Verbs that end in ㅜ contract into ㅝ.
내다, naeda, “to pay” → 내요, naeyo
For verbs that end in ㅓ, ㅕ, or ㅐ, you’ll just add 요.
쓰다, sseuda, “to write” and “to wear (a hat/on one’s head)” → 써요, sseoyo
Verbs ending in ㅡ, change ㅡ toㅓand add 요.
This one is super easy once you know polite form!
The conjugation is exactly the same, except you don’t add 요.
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹어, meogeo
가다, gada, “to go” → 가, ga
There are quite a few irregular verbs in Korean, but I want to specifically show you two that are really common.
First is 하다, hada, “to do.” You’ll see this one all the time on its own or combined with nouns to make them a verb. It conjugates as follows:
- Present formal tense: 하다 → 합니다, hamnida
- Present polite tense: 하다 → 해요, haeyo
- Present casual tense: 하다 → 해, hae
The next one is 이다, ida, “to be.” This is another one you definitely need to know, because this is a helping verb that often ends sentences. Here’s how it conjugates:
- Present formal tense: 입니다, imnida
- Present polite tense: 이에요, ieyo, when the previous word ends in a consonant and 예요, yeyo when it ends in a vowel
- Present casual tense: 이야, iya
How do you conjugate verbs in past tense in Korean? Well, now that you know the present tense, it’s not too hard!
Let’s start with polite form.
If the vowel ends inㅏ, a, or ㅗ, o, you’ll drop 다, da, and add -았어요, asseoyo.
가다, gada, “to go” → 갔어요, gasseoyo
The last vowel is ㅏ, so you don’t need two ㅏ, just like in present tense.
오다, oda, “to come” → 왔어요, wasseoyo
The last vowel is ㅗ, so it contracts into 와, like in present tense.
If the vowel sound ends in anything else, you’ll drop 다, da, and add -었어요, eosseoyo.
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹었어요, meogeosseoyo
The verb ends in a consonant, so add -었어요, eosseoyo, the same as before.
마시다, masida, “to drink” → 마셨어요, masyeosseoyo
Verbs that end in ㅣ contract into ㅕ, the same as in present tense
쓰다, sseuda, “to write” and “to wear (a hat/on one’s head)” → 썼어요, sseosseoyo
Verbs ending in ㅡ drop ㅡ and add -었어요. This is an irregular pattern you’ll see with ㅡ verbs.
If you’re speaking casually, just drop 요 from polite form. Everything else stays the same.
As for formal polite form, it’s similar to before, but you’ll add -습니다, seumnida to -었 or -았 instead of 어요.
가다, gada → 갔습니다, gassseumnida
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹었습니다, meogeossseumnida
Continuous tense, also called present progressive tense, is the “-ing” form in English. It’s what we use when we’re doing something now or over a period of time.
This tense is pretty easy. We drop 다, and add -고 있어요.
있다, itda, means “to exist,” “to be,” or “to have.” We use -고, go, to connect the two verbs, and then conjugate 있다 for formality and tense.
For formal speech, drop 다, da, and add 고 있습니다, go issseumnida.
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹고 있습니다, meokgo itseumnida, “eating”
For polite speech, drop 다, da, and add -고 있어요, go isseoyo.
먹다, meokda → 먹고 있어요, meokgo isseoyo
For casual speech, drop 다, da, and add -고 있어, isseo.
먹다, meokda → 먹고 있어, meokgo isseo
For past progressive (“was -ing”), you’ll use the past tense form of 있다.
먹다, meokda → 먹고 있었어, meokgo isseosseo, “was eating”
The last main Korean verb conjugation we’re going to cover today is future tense. If you want to say you’re “going to” do something, this is the conjugation.
We’ll start with polite form again.
For verbs ending in a vowel, you’ll drop 다, da, and add -ㄹ 거예요, l geoyeyo. If it ends in ㄹ, you’ll just add -거예요.
가다, gada, “to go” → 갈 거예요, gal geoyeyo
For verbs ending in a consonant (other than ㄹ), you’ll drop 다, da, and add -을 거예요, eul geoyeyo.
먹다, meokda, “to eat” → 먹을 거예요, meogeul geoyeoyo
For casual form, drop 예요 and add 야, ya:
가다, gada, “to go” → 갈 거야, gal geoya
For formal form, change to 거예요 to 겁니다, gamnida:
가다, gada, “to go” → 갈 겁니다, gal gamnida
Great work! I know that was a LOT to take in, and there’s still so much to learn. But this is a great starting point for expressing yourself in most situations.
If you feel overwhelmed, don’t sweat it. I promise it gets easier with practice. So why not try making some sentences of your own?