Korean Grammar: Case Markers

In this lesson, you are going to learn about the markers 이 / 가, 을 / 를, and 가 / 이.

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Korean Grammar: Subjects and Objects
The subject of a sentence is the ”doer.” That is, it is the thing that is doing the action described by the verb. The object, on the other hand, is the thing that receives the action from the subject. Look at this example. 

“Kim ate an apple.”

In this sentence, the verb is “ate.” Kim is the one doing the eating, so she is the subject of the sentence. “Apple” is what Kim ate, so it is the object. With a clear understanding of subjects and objects, we can now move on to the Korean subject markers 이 and 가 and the Korean object markers 을 and 를.

 

Korean Grammar: Subject markers, 이 and 가.
이 and 가 are used to mark the subject of sentence. Which one should you use? First of all, you should understand that 이 and 가 have exactly the same meaning. Why have two, then? 

It’s just for phonetic reasons. When your subject ends in a vowel, it sounds more natural to use 가. When your subject ends in a consonant it sounds more natural, use 이.

Got it? 이 and 가 are used to mark the subject of a sentence.

 

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Korean Grammar: Object Markers
As you have figured out, I’m sure, 을 and 를 are used to mark the object in a sentence. Like 이 and 가, 을 and 를 have exactly the same meaning. Use 을 if your object ends in a consonant and 를 when your object ends in a vowel. 

Got it? 을 and 를 are used to mark the object of a sentence.

 

Korean Grammar: Putting it All Together
Now let’s take another look at our sentence from above. 

“Kim ate an apple.”

If we mix the Korean and the English together, we get…

“Kim 이 ate an apple 를.”

If we use Korean sentence structure, it looks like this…

“Kim 이 apple 를 ate.”

And if we translate the sentence into Korean, we get this…

김 이 사과 를 먹어요.

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Korean Grammar: Leaving Out a marker
When speaking simple sentences, it is quite common to leave out, for example, a subject marker. For example if you wanted to speak the sample sentence above, you could just say… 

김 사과 를 먹어요.

Or even…

김 사과 먹어요.

 

Korean Grammar: Subject markers 이, 가 VS topic markers 는/은
Let me just tell you that the only real way to understand this distinction is to use the language and “get a feel” for which one to use. You should not waste too much time trying to understand the logical difference—it is, for the most part, in my opinion, a waste of time. That being said, here we go. 

As a general rule of thumb, remember this…

가/이 and 는/은 do the same thing, but 가/이 is used when it is necessary or important to identify a particular person/thing.

Let’s look at our sample sentence again using a topic marker and a subject marker.

“김 이 사과 를 먹어요.”

In this sentence, because 이 is used, special emphasis is placed on 김. When would you use this? Well, for example, say I was really angry and shouted…

“Who ate my apple?”

You would answer, “Kim ate your apple,” and you would want to stress that it was Kim (not you or anyone else) who did the deed, so you would want to use 이.

On the other hand, if said, just out of curiosity, “What did Kim eat?” You would say, “Kim ate an apple,” and there would be no need to stress that it was Kim who ate the apple (I already know who we’re talking about). By using 는/은 focus is inherently, but subtly, placed on what Kim ate rather than on Kim herself.

“김 은 사과 를 먹어요.”

 

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Your free trial gives you online access to a selection of Rocket Korean Premium interactive audio lessons and Korean language and culture lessons.

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