Basically, all verbs and adjectives consist of two parts:
- A word stem (the part that remains consistent)
- 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:
- Sentence tense (past, present, future)
- Politeness level (formal polite, informal polite, casual speech)
- Passive and causative forms
- 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
- Formal Polite language is usually spoken to people who are older than you or in a higher position of authority.
- Informal Polite language is used simply as common politeness to all people.
- Casual Speech is used among friends, close relatives, and to those who are younger than you.
- Formal Polite: ends in ~(스)ㅂ니까?
- Informal Polite: ends in ~아/어요?
- Casual Speech: ends with the word stem and rising intonation.
- FP: Are you watching a movie? = 영화를 봅니까?
- IP: Will you go to school? = 학교에 가요?
- CS: Do you want to eat lunch? = 점심 먹어?
- Formal Polite: ends in ~(스)ㅂ니다.
- Informal Polite: ends in ~아/어요.
- Casual Speech: ends with merely the word stem.
- FP: Yes, I’m watching a movie. = 네, 영화를 봅니다.
- IP: No, I’m not going to school. = 아니요, 학교에 안 가요.
- 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.
- You can speak it to people older or younger than you and still sound polite (it’s not honorific, but polite).
- If you don’t know the verb to use, just speak the noun you want and add ~요. (비빔밥 요. = Bibimbap, please.)
- 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:
- Sentence Types (Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative, Propositive)
- Sentence Tenses (Past, Present, Future)
- Connecting Sentences