Basic Korean Conjugations (Verbs and Adjectives)

Basically, all verbs and adjectives consist of two parts:

02.07.word-stem

  1. A word stem (the part that remains consistent)
  2. A word ending (the part that gets conjugated)

In the dictionary, all word endings are 다 which must be conjugated according to use.

Conjugations happen differently depending on at least 4 criteria:

  1. Sentence tense (past, present, future)
  2. Politeness level (formal polite, informal polite, casual speech)
  3. Passive and causative forms
  4. Speech styles

Basic Conjugation Tip

Unlike in English, Korean verbs are always conjugated in the same manner, regardless of subjects (first, second, third person) or number of people (I/we, he/them). Example:

이다 (to be) always conjugates to 이에요 in the informal polite style.

  • I am American. = 나는 미국 사람 이에요.
  • He is American. = 그는 미국 사람 이에요.
  • They are Americans. = 그들은 미국 사람들 이에요.

Basic Conjugation according to Politeness Level

Usage

  1. Formal Polite language is usually spoken to people who are older than you or in a higher position of authority.
  2. Informal Polite language is used simply as common politeness to all people.
  3. Casual Speech is used among friends, close relatives, and to those who are younger than you.

Questions

  1. Formal Polite: ends in ~(스)ㅂ니까?
  2. Informal Polite: ends in ~아/어요?
  3. Casual Speech: ends with the word stem and rising intonation.

Examples:

  1. FP: Are you watching a movie? = 영화를 봅니까?
  2. IP: Will you go to school? = 학교에 가요?
  3. CS: Do you want to eat lunch? = 점심 먹어?

Statements/Answers

  1. Formal Polite: ends in ~(스)ㅂ니다.
  2. Informal Polite: ends in ~아/어요.
  3. Casual Speech: ends with merely the word stem.

Examples: 

  1. FP: Yes, I’m watching a movie. = 네, 영화를 봅니다.
  2. IP: No, I’m not going to school. = 아니요, 학교에 안 가요.
  3. CS: I already ate. = 먹었어.

The #1 Easiest Conjugation Rule

The best way to start using Korean right away is simply to:

Add ~요 to the end of everything you say.

That’s the informal polite speech style and it works in all instances.

  1. You can speak it to people older or younger than you and still sound polite (it’s not honorific, but polite).
  2. If you don’t know the verb to use, just speak the noun you want and add ~요. (비빔밥 요. = Bibimbap, please.)
  3. Even if you don’t know the proper conjugation, just try it and add ~요. (나는 화나요. = I’m angry.)

Stay tuned for more Grammar Lessons on:

  1. Sentence Types (Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative, Propositive)
  2. Sentence Tenses (Past, Present, Future)
  3. Honorifics
  4. Connecting Sentences

7 comments

  1. Just btw, it’s not 이예요, it’s 이에요. Please correct the mistake, or you’ll have people learning it incorrectly and pronouncing it incorrectly as well.

    1. Thanks for catching my typo~ Actually, to foreigners learning Korean for the first time, it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two. They both sound quite the same when first listening, speaking, or writing. Good to have this comment on the post to assist everyone else who gets the subtle difference confused as well.~

      1. So, why haven’t you fixed it. I don’t care if it’s similar, it’s WRONG and DOES make a difference when writing.

          1. Why do you think they are similar? 예 is [ye] and 에 is [e]. One whole sound difference there, no way to mix them up tbh. And yes, I am a foreigner learning Korean, I ‘ve never met anyone who can’t tell the two apart.

          2. It’s not that the sound difference was troubling at first, it was when and how to use them. When listening to spoken Korean, I kept hearing “이에요” which is basically “예요” so I kept confusing the two. I’ve more or less learned my mistakes now – but especially at first, it was difficult for me to distinguish where and when each were used. Plus, sometimes, just typing in Korean on the keyboard, I made typos with each of them.

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