Today I want to talk about a very important Korean grammar topic. That topic is the expression -(으)면 which is a very easy way to express a conditional in Korean. Conditionals are an important part of any language as we use them daily. So let’s give this first method a look over.
The purpose of the expression -(으)면 is similar to both the zero and the first conditional in English. You can use to state a general truth about something (the zero conditional) or you can express what might happen if a condition is met. In other words you use the expression -(으)면 to either talk about daily or repetitive occurrences or expressing a supposition on what can happen. Let’s take a look at both uses:
Example 1: 주말에 날씨가 좋으면 수영해요.
Translation: I go swimming in the weekend, if the weather is good.
Example 2: 마트에서 할인을 하면 새로운 노트북을 사려고 해요.
Translation: If there are discounts at the mart, I intend to buy a new laptop.
How To Use
Using the -(으)면 expression is not overly complicated, though there are still a few rules you will need to keep in the back of your head. However, like always, let’s talk conjugation rules. You can use this pattern both with adjectives and verbs. The basic rule behind the conjugation is the “Batchim/No batchim” with adding the “으” syllable. The rule goes as follows for -(으)면:
- If the verb stem ends in a vowel or ㄹ, you simply attach the ending -면 to the verb stem.
- If not, however, you use the ending -으면.
As always when conjugating, keep the Korean irregular verbs in mind. The difference in conjugation between the ㄹ irregular verbs and the ㄷ irregular verbs tends to confuse people.
As mentioned, you can use the -(으)면 pattern to express repeated or daily occurrences. However, when you are talking about one time events or repetitive things of the past, you cannot use the pattern -(으)면. For that you will have to resort to using 때 instead. Example:
Incorrect: 친구가 안 오면 제가 집에 돌아갔어요.
Correct: 친구가 안 올 때 집에 돌아갔어요.
Translation: I went home, when my friend didn’t come.
It is possible to use two different subjects in the clauses of a -(으)면 sentence. However, if you do, you cannot use the topic particle -은/는 for the subjects. You will have to use the subject particle 이/가.