Basic Korean Grammar // The Top 5 Korean Grammar Points for Beginners

The Top 5 Basic Korean Grammar for Beginners

Lex the Lion

The basic Korean grammar is perhaps the most difficult challenge for new language learners.

That’s because Korean grammar is very different from English grammar, operating on an entirely separate set of rules.

It’s not the most intuitive system for native English speakers, who always have to learn, practice, and correct themselves.

Don’t fear though…

Despite these difficulties, it’s important to learn proper grammar.

Grammar serves as the basic structure on which languages are built. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to construct basic sentences or communicate our ideas.

If you’re a new learner, don’t get intimidated.

What’s important is that you start from somewhere. And to help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the top five basic Korean grammar points that a language learner must know.

Basic Korean Grammar | – 이다, – 이에요/예요

Basic Korean Grammar | 있다, 있어요

Basic Korean Grammar | 없다, 없어요

Basic Korean Grammar | 안, – 지않다/않아요

Basic Korean Grammar |

Basic Korean Grammar | How to get good at Korean grammar?

basic Korean grammar
Hangeul is another accepted way to write it!

Basic Korean Grammar |  – 이다, – 이에요/예요

이다 (ida) is a grammatical particle attached to the end of a noun.

It expresses a state of existence. The English equivalent would be “is,” “are,” “am,” or “to be,” depending on the context.

This grammar point is used when the speaker wants to introduce a new topic.

This includes self-introductions, as in “I am Mary.”

It’s also used when the speaker wants to state that something simply is. Let’s take a look at a couple examples listed below.

Lex the Lion
  • 사과이다. (sagwa ida) = It’s an apple
    • Here, the noun is 사과 (sagwa), which is the Korean word for apple. By adding 이다 (ida), we are expressing that an apple exists. In other words – “there is an apple” or “it is an apple.”
    • A curious feature of 이다 (ida) is that if it’s attached to a word that ends in a vowel sound, the first character 이 (i) can be optionally dropped. In some instances, it’s considered more natural. So in this example, you can say 사과다 (sagwa da) instead.
  • 앤이다. (Anne ida) = It’s Anne/I’m Anne
    • Here, the noun is actually a person named Anne, which is spelled in Korean as 앤. By adding 이다 (ida), we are expressing the idea that Anne exists. When another person says this sentence, it means “It’s Anne.” However, if Anne herself says this, it means that she is indicating herself, so “I’m Anne” is more accurate.

이에요 (ee-eh-yo) and 예요 (yeh-yo) are the more polite versions of 이다 (ida) listed above. They have same meaning as 이다 (ida), but they simply sound more respectful.

이에요 (ee-eh-yo) is attached to nouns that end in a consonant. 예요 (yeh-yo) is attached to nouns that end in a vowel.

Take the examples listed below.

  • 사과예요. (sagwa yeh-yo)= It’s an apple
    • The word for apple 사과 (sagwa) ends in a vowel sound, so we attach 예요 to the end. It functions similarly to the basic 이다 example above, providing the same meaning.
  • 앤이에요. (Anne eeh-eh-yo) = It’s Anne/I’m Anne
    • The name Anne 앤 ends in a consonant, so we attach 이에요 at the end. It functions similarly to the basic 이다 example above, providing the same meaning.

TOP TIP | If you’re unsure of whether to use the basic 이다 (ida) or the more polite 이에요 (ee-eh-yo)/예요 (yeh-yo), we recommend using the latter.

After all, it’s always better to be considered overly polite than to be unintentionally rude.

ExampleBasic formFormal
It’s an apple사과이다. (sagwa ida)사과예요. (sagwa yeh-yo)
It’s Anne/I’m Anne앤이다. (Anne ida)앤이에요. (Anne eeh-eh-yo)

Basic Korean Grammar | 있다, 있어요

있다 (itda) is a grammar point that comes after a noun. It serves two functions.

The first function is to point out that something exists, usually at a certain location, which is what distinguishes it from the previous grammar point.

In English, this is like saying “at” or “in” somewhere.

  • 서울에 있다. (Seoul-eh itda) = I’m at Seoul/It’s at Seoul
    • Seoul is Korea’s capital city. By adding 있다 (itda), we’re saying that someone or something is in Seoul.

The second function of 있다 (itda) is to express possession – the idea that someone has something.

  • 연필 있다. (yeonpil itda) = I have a pencil/They have a pencil
    • 연필 (yeonpil) means pencil in Korean. By adding 있다 (itda), we’re communicating that someone is in possession of a pencil.

있어요 (ee-suh-yo) is simply the more formal version of 있다 (itda). Here are the previous examples, this time using 있어요 (ee-suh-yo).

  • 서울에 있어요. (Seoul-eh ee-suh-yo) = I’m at Seoul/It’s at Seoul
  • 연필 있어요. (yeonpil ee-suh-yo) = I have a pencil/They have a pencil

As you can see, the meanings are the same as before, but 있어요 (ee-suh-yo) sound politer.

If you’re unsure of which one to use, you should always default to the formal 있어요 (ee-suh-yo).

ExampleBasic formFormal
I’m at Seoul/It’s at Seoul서울에 있다. (Seoul-eh itda)서울에 있어요. (Seoul-eh ee-suh-yo)
I have a pencil/They have a pencil연필 있다. (yeonpil itda)연필 있어요. (yeonpil ee-suh-yo)

Basic Korean Grammar | 없다, 없어요

없다 (eopda) is the opposite of 있다 (itda).

While 있다 (itda) affirms that something exists, 없다 (eopda) is a negation, implying that something does not exist or is not possible.

없다 (eopda) is a grammar point that usually follows a noun. Like 있다 (itda), it serves two functions.

The first function is to point out that something does not exist.

See the example below:

  • 서울에 없다. (Seoul-eh eopda) = I’m not at Seoul/It’s not at Seoul
    • By adding 없다 (eopda) to the end of Seoul, we’re saying that someone or something is not in Seoul.

The second function of 없다 (eopda) is to express non-possession – the idea that someone does not have something.

  • 연필 없다. (yeonpil eopda) = I don’t have a pencil/They don’t have a pencil
    • By adding 없다 (eopda) to end of 연필 (yeonpil), we’re communicating that someone is not in possession of a pencil.

없어요 (eop-seo-yo) is the formal version of 없다 (eopda). Here are the previous examples using 없어요 (eop-seo-yo).

  • 서울에 없어요. (Seoul-eh eop-seo-yo) = I’m not at Seoul/It’s not at Seoul
  • 연필 없어요. (yeonpil eop-seo-yo) = I don’t have a pencil/They don’t have a pencil
ExampleBasic formFormal
I’m not at Seoul/It’s not at Seoul서울에 없다. (Seoul-eh eopda)서울에 없어요. (Seoul-eh eopseoyo)
I have a pencil/They have a pencil연필 없다. (yeonpil eopda)연필 없어요. (yeonpil eopseoyo)

NOTE | Default to the polite 없어요 (eop-seo-yo) if you’re unsure of which form to use.

Basic Korean Grammar | 안, – 지않다/않아요

안 (ahn) is a grammar point that comes before an adjective or verb.

Its purpose is to negate that adjective or verb, saying that such a quality or action does not exist.

Its English equivalent would be “not.”

  • 안 예뻐 (ahn yeppeo) = It’s not pretty/You’re not pretty
    • 예뻐 (yeppeo) is Korean for “pretty.” By adding 안 (ahn) in front, we are saying that someone or something is not pretty.
  • 안 좋아 (ahn jo-ah) = I don’t like it/They don’t like it
    • 좋아 (jo-ah) is Korean for “like.” By adding 안 (ahn) in front, we are saying that a person does not like someone or something.

An alternate grammar point that serves the same function is 지 않다 (ji anta).

Unlike 안 (ahn), it is attached to the end of an adjective or verb.

  • 예쁘지않다 (yeppeuji anta) = It’s not pretty/You’re not pretty
    • We take the Korean base word for pretty (예쁘다) and remove the superfluous 다 (dah). Then we attach 지 않다 to the end. This serves as a negation – claiming someone or something isn’t pretty.
  • 좋아하지않다 (jo-ah-ha-ji anta) = I don’t like it/They don’t like it
    • We take the Korean base word for like (좋다) and remove the superfluous 다 (dah), just like in the previous example. Then we attach 지 않다 to the end. This also serves as a negation – claiming a person does not like someone or something.

지 않아요 (ji an-ha-yo) is the formal version of is 지 않다 (ji anta). It has the same meaning, but it sounds more polite. This is the version you should generally use.

Here are the previous examples, except this time using 지 않아요 (ji an-ha-yo).

  • 예쁘지않아요. (yeppeuji an-ha-yo) = It’s not pretty/You’re not pretty
  • 좋아하지않아요. (jo-ah-ha-ji an-ha-yo) = I don’t like it/They don’t like it
ExampleBasic formFormal
It’s not pretty/You’re not pretty예쁘지않다. (yeppeuji anta)예쁘지않아요. (yeppeuji an-ha-yo)
I don’t like it/They don’t like it좋아하지않다. (jo-ah-ha-ji anta)좋아하지않아요. (jo-ah-ha-ji an-ha-yo)

Basic Korean Grammar | 못

못 (mot) is a grammar point that comes before a verb.

Its purpose is to negate that verb – to say that such action can’t be done or is impossible.

It’s English equivalent would be “cannot” or “can’t.”

Unlike the previous grammar point, 못 (mot) implies that the action cannot happen due to outside circumstances beyond the speaker’s control, or that that the action is simply impossible though the speaker would like to make it happen.

  • 못 가요. (mot gayo) = I can’t go/They can’t go
    • 가요 (gayo) is the polite form of “to go” in Korean. By adding 못 (mot) in front, we are saying that the following action is impossible. Therefore, it means that someone can’t go somewhere.
  • 한국말 못 해요. (Hanguk-mal mot haeyo) = I can’t speak Korean/They can’t speak Korean
    • 한국말 means the Korean language. That’s the noun of this sentence. The verb is of this sentence is 해요, which means “to do.” By adding 못 (mot) in front, we are saying that we cannot do it. So put together, this sentence means “I can’t do Korean” or “they can’t do Korean”. Although, “I can’t speak Korean” or “they can’t speak Korean” would probably be the smoother translations.
basic Korean grammar

How to Get Good at Korean Grammar?

First of all, a quick review. Here are the five basic Korean grammar points:

KoreanEnglish
– 이다, – 이에요/예요is, are, am
있다, 있어요at, in or has, have
없다, 없어요not at, not in or does not have
안, – 지 않다/않아요not
cannot

If these grammar points seem difficult, that’s fine!

Grammar is one of the hardest parts of studying a new language, especially a difficult language like Korean.

What’s important is that you expose yourself to enough Korean to hear this grammar used in context, then go on to practice this grammar and construct sentences of your own.

After that, there’s a lot more Korean grammar to learn and practice!

If you’re looking to make faster progress, we offer online Korean language courses for learners of any level, in both group classes and one-one-one sessions. Check out our Korean course options and see which one works best for you.


Fancy getting involved in other languages too? There’s no better place to start than here with these related posts we think you’ll also find useful:

And don’t forget, if you want to dive deeper into Korean (Mandarin or Japanese for that matter), then there is no better place to start than here…

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What are some of the most basic Korean grammar points?

Some basic Korean grammar points to learn are:

– 이다, – 이에요/예요 = is, are, am

있다, 있어요 = at, in or has, have

없다, 없어요 = not at, not in or does not have

안, – 지 않다/않아요 = not

못 = cannot

Check out our article to know exactly how to use each of them.

How do you say NOT in Korean?

The equivalent of NOT in Korean is 안 (ahn).

It is a grammar point that comes before an adjective or verb.

For example:

안 예뻐 (ahn yeppeo) = It’s not pretty/You’re not pretty

안 좋아 (ahn jo-ah) = I don’t like it/They don’t like it

What is “to be” in Korean?

To be in Korean is 이다 (ida).

It expresses a state of existence. The English equivalent would be “is,” “are,” “am,” or “to be,” depending on the context.

This grammar point is used when the speaker wants to introduce a new topic. This includes self-introductions, as in “I am Mary.”

It’s also used when the speaker wants to state that something simply is.

Examples:

사과이다 (sagwa ida) = It’s an apple

앤이다 (Anne ida) = It’s Anne/I’m Anne

How do you say “to have” in Korean?

To have in Korean is 있다 (itda), which expresses possession – the idea that someone has something.

Example:

연필 있다 (yeonpil itda) = I have a pencil/They have a pencil

Be careful though, 있다 has another function which is to point out that something exists, usually at a certain location.

Example:

서울에 있다 (Seoul-eh itda) = I’m at Seoul/It’s at Seoul

Where can I learn more Korean vocabulary?

As for many other languages you can learn more Korean vocabulary by practicing on apps such as Duolingo and Lingodeer, watching Korean dramas, listening to Kpop songs, or simply take a Korean class.

You can also visit our blog, as we regularly post articles about the Korean language, culture and more!

Want More From LTL?

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Want to study Korean in Korea instead? Our Korean courses in Seoul can either be taken in small groups of no more than 5 students or individually for a more tailored experience.

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