Korean and English have very different grammar structures, which can make learning Korean challenging for native English speakers. How should you overcome this challenge? The best way is to tackle the problem head on, by directly comparing Korean and English sentence structures. This article will give a very brief review of basic grammar concepts and then discuss the three main grammatical differences between Korean and English. If you plan to learn Korean, be sure to check out my Rocket Korean Review.
Quick and Easy Grammar Refresher
To get the most out of this article, you must understand some basic grammatical concepts. Most importantly, you need to understand subjects, objects and verbs. Simply put, a verb is a word that expresses action or being, words like eat, walk, and tell. The subject of a sentence, on the other hand, is the word that takes the action of the verb. Finally, the object in a sentence is the “thing” involved in the action. It often answers the “who,” “when,” or “where” kinds of questions.
For example, in the sentence, “Ryan wrote a letter.” The verb is “wrote.” Ryan is the one who did the writing, so he is the subject, and the letter is what Ryan wrote, so it is the object. Do you notice the order in which those words were placed?
Word Order: Korean vs. English
The order of the words in the sentence above is subject + verb + object. In Korean, the order of the words in a sentence is subject + object + verb. So, in this case, using Korean grammar, the sentence would read like this:
“Ryan letter wrote.” Or, in Romanized Korean, laieon eun pyeonji leul sseoss-eoyo.
Laieon = Ryan (there is no “R” sound in Korean)
pyeonji = letter
sseoss-eoyo = write
This is the most important part of Korean grammar to understand. You’ll have to fight all of your natural instincts, but you must place the verb at the end of the sentence when speaking Korean.
Korean Subject and object Markers
This is an easy comparison. In English, there are no subject and object markers. In Korean, there are. Take a look at the sentence above. Did you notice that there are 5 words in the Korean sentence but that I only translated three of them? The two words I didn’t translate are “eun” and “leul.” I didn’t translate them because there is no direct translation.
Notice that he word “eun” follows the word “Laieon” (Ryan). Laieon is the subject of the sentence; therefore, it is marked with the subject marker “eun.”
The word “pyeonji” (letter), on the other hand, is the object, so it is marked with the object marker “leul.” These markers can be confusing at first, but don’t worry. They come naturally once you begin to use them regularly. Confused? I have a whole page explaining Korean subject and object markers.
Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of nouns. In English they are the words “a/an” and “the.” Look at the sample sentence above one more time. You may have thought that I made a typo when I wrote the sentence, “Ryan letter wrote?” Actually, however, the sentence is correct when written in the Korean form because in the Korean language there is no use of articles at all.
Korean and English have very different grammar structures, which can make learning Korean a bit difficult for native English speakers. You can make the process much easier, however, if you understand the difference in word order, the difference in the use of subject and object markers, and the difference in the use of articles.
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Best of luck in this and all of your learning endeavors.
Take a break and watch this emotional 2010 Olympic performance by Korea’s Kim Yu Na.