Grammar Note: Korean Verb Essentials

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Today I want to talk about some important information that doesn’t really fit in any other post I have lined up: Korean verb essentials. While I have certainly talked about plenty of Korean verb endings, the essential mechanics of Korean verb conjugation remain untouched. In this post I want to discuss those Korean verb essentials.

As you might have noticed a lot of your message is expressed within the verbs of your sentence. You can do a lot of things to a single verb and that might seem a bit overwhelming. However, once you get the essential ideas behind it, it won’t seem so overwhelming. In the chaos of Korean grammar there are, like in all language, a certain rules you can fall back on. To help me illustrate everything here I will use the simple action verb 가다 (to go) throughout this post.

Korean Verb Essential: Verb Compounds

The first thing you need to know about the conjugated Korean verb is that it will consist, at most, out of 4 parts: the verb stem, the honorific affix, the tense affix and the verb ending affix. Depending the sentence you will use a selection of these with 2 being the minimum. The verb stem and verb ending are the only compounds that are absolutely required.

The order of these components is also fixed. The verb stem is always the first part of any conjugated verb. The honorific affix will follow immediately after the verb stem should it be necessary. The tense affix comes after the honorific affix. All of this is then ended by the verb ending. Quite simple.

In this post we will go over all four parts that make up a conjugated Korean verb.

Korean Verb Essential: Verb Stem

The most basic element of Korean verb essentials is the verb stem. It is your main reference point for every other possible thing you can add to it. It will decide how you can properly add all other possible verb compounds to it. The verb stem is easily figured out. All verbs have a ‘dictionary form’ which always ends in -다. If you want the verb stem, all you have to do is take away that -다.

Example: 가다 = 가 is the verb stem.

However, when you are dealing with one of the Korean irregular verb groups, you need to be careful. Many of their verb stems undergo a certain change when confronted with several affixes. You will need to know when these changes happen as they have an impact on how to properly attach the various other components of Korean verb conjugation.

Korean Verb Essential: Honorific Affix

The honorific affix is the first of the optional compounds a Korean conjugated verb can have. This component always comes immidiatly after the verb stem. It has two forms -시- and -으시-. You use -시- when the verb stem ends in a vowel and you use -으시- when it ends in a batchim or consonant.

Example: 가다 = 가시다 is the honorific form of 가다.

This goes for all Korean verbs. However, some verbs don’t use this system at all. These verbs have specific honorific counterparts you need to use instead of turning them honourific using -(으)시-. Such verbs include 자다 (주무시다), 말하다 (말씀하시다), 먹다 (잡수시다/드시다) and 마시다 (드시다).

Korean Verb Essential: Tense Affix

Following on the honorific affix, the tense affix is another optional component of the Korean verb essentials. However, while I call it tense affix, this is a generalization as not everything in here is actually tense related. There are three affixes possible: the past tense marker (-었/았/했), the past perfect marker (-았었/았었/했었) and the conditional marker (-겠). If this affix is not present that means the tense is the present.

Example: 가다 = 갔다 is the past tense of 가다.

We already discussed all of these affixes, but differently. I didn’t explain it like this because that would only confuse many. However, these affixes themselves are always followed by verb endings themselves. That is the only thing you need to remember from this.

Korean Verb Essential: Verb Ending

The last component of the Korean verb essentials is the verb ending and there are a lot of forms of verb endings. First you can divide them into two major groups: the sentence endings and the final endings. The sentence endings are endings that is not only the last component of the verb conjugation, but it also marks the end of your sentence. The final endings are verb endings, but they do not mark the ending of the sentence.

Sentence endings are not only important because they mark the end of a sentence, but they also infer the politeness and formality of your speech.They infer that by using endings such as -요 (polite speech), -ㅂ니다/습디다 (formal speech), -(는)다 (plain form). Other sentence endings are combined with politeness/formality markers such as the ending -네(요).

Example: 가다 = 가는군요.

Final endings do not infer the level of politeness and formality, that is reserved for the sentence endings. However, the final endings are among the most meaningful components a verb can contain. They often indicate whether the clause of which the verb is part is things such as reason or a condition or perhaps they express a temporal relation between clauses. Among final endings you can count -(으)면서.

Example: 가다 = 가면서

NOTE: When you go in depth on Korean verb grammar you will notice the literature will offer even more divisions. I have simplified those divisions to just 4.

Overview of Korean Verb Essentials

Overview of Korean Verb Essentials
A very short overview of all the basic components of Korean verb conjugation.

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October 18, 2017

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