A while ago I wrote about the progressive tense -고 있다. Today I decided to write about the first tense any learner will have to face, the Korean present tense. The tenses in Korean are a lot easier to use than the English tenses, but I think for the most the Korean present tense can be a challenge due to its peculiar conjugation.

Please note that this article is written using the forms used in informal, polite level of speech, known in Korean as 해요체. This is because it is the most commonly used level of speech in Korea in daily situations.

Present Tense Use

The Korean present tense is far easier to use than its English counterpart. Whereas English divided things up in a perfect, simple and continuous form, the Korean language sticks to just one. So in Korean for all those English situations you could use simply use the Korean simple tense. Korean needn’t always be so complicated as you can see.

While for the English Present continuous, you also can use the Korean progressive tense, but it would be equally okay to simply use the present tense. It is a choice you can make.

So when do you use this tense? You use it when talking about things in these four situations:

How To

The Korean present tense in its polite, informal style is perhaps one of the most convoluted conjugations the Korean language has to offer. It is why it might overwhelm some learners at first. However, once you get the system it will become a second nature. This tense conjugation in its polite, informal styles adheres to the 아/어 rule of Korean grammar. Because of that there are 4 different scenarios you’ll need to keep in mind.

1. -아요

The first situation is when a verb stem’s final syllable contains the vowel ㅏ or ㅗ, mind you it is contains, not end in. If that is the case then you need to use the verb ending -아요. When adding this verb ending, you end up with three distinct situations:

  1. The verb stem ends in a consonant, such as 살다: 살 + 아요 = 살아요.
  2. The verb stem’s last letter is the vowel ㅏ, such as 가다. If so the 아 syllable of the ending is removed: 가 + 아요 = 가요.
  3. The verb stem’s last letter is ㅗ, such as 오. Then the 아  syllable of the ending disappears with its ㅏ combining with ㅗ to form ㅘ: 오 + 아요 = 와요.
Tense: The Present Tense: -아요
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The Korean present tense: -아요

2. -어요

The second situation occurs when the verb’s final syllable contains any other vowel than ㅏ or ㅗ. Once again it is contains, not ends in. In that case the verb ending you need to use to form the present tense is -어요. When ending this verb ending, you end up with four distinct possibilities:

  1. The verb stem ends in a consonant, such as 먹다: 먹 + 어요 = 먹어요.
  2. The verb stem’s last letter is either the vowels ㅐ, ㅓ or ㅕ, such as 보내다. If so,  the 어 syllable of the verb ending completely disappears: 보내 + 어요 = 보내요.
  3. The verb ends in ㅜ, such as 배우다. In this case, the the 어 syllable disappears and the ㅜ and ㅓ combines to form ㅝ: 배우 + 어요 = 배워요.
  4. The verb stem’s last letter is ㅣ, such as 마시다. If this is the case, the 어 syllable disappears with the ㅣ and ㅓ combining to form ㅕ: 마시 +어요 = 마셔요.
Tense: The Present Tense: -어요
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The Korean present tense: -어요

3. 하다

The third situation when dealing with the present tense in polite, informal style is with 하다 verbs. 하다 verbs have their own distinct form, which is pretty easy to remember. The conjugated form of 하다 is 해요. That’s all that is to it and it is true for all 하다 verbs such as 싫어하다, 일하다, 전화하다, etc.

Tense: The Present Tense: 해요
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The Korean present tense: 해요

4. 이다/아니다, the copulative

The last possible situation is the copulative verb 이다 and its negative counterpart 아니다. This copula verb has a unique conjugation, but it is one of the first conjugations any Korean learner learns. The conjugation of 이다 depends on the noun it is used with and you have two situation:

  1. The noun ends in a consonant (batchim): 이다 is conjugated as 이에요.
  2. The noun ends in a vowel (no batchim):  이다 is conjugated as 예요.

아니다, however, simply has one form: 아니에요.

Those were all the rules you need to know regarding the Korean present tense. With these rules you can conjugate any Korean verb, except the irregular verbs, without any problem. If you have any questions or suggestions let me know in the comments.