One of the first things you learn in any language is how to express the present. This is done by utilizing what is known as the present tense. Unsurprisingly, Korean also has a present tense, but the Korean present tense is not what you would expect it to be.
The present tense is the first piece of major Korean grammar, a Korean language learner has to deal with. However, what they learn as the present tense is technically not the present tense. Instead, it is but one of many forms the present tense can take. In Korean, the present tense is what does not have a tense marker like -았/었- or -겠다.
However, you’ve probably seen the present tense as either as -아/어요, -(스)ㅂ니다 and -(스)ㅂ니까. While technically such claims are true, it is not the entire story. You see those two forms are not just the present tense, they are the present tense form of a specific speech level. The first is the present tense form of 해요체, which you probably learned as the “polite” level. And, the second and third forms are the present tense forms of 하십시오체, what you’ve probably learned as the “formal” level. However, those are not the only forms for the present tense in Korean grammar. You still have, for example, 해라체, known also as 서술제, the written form, and 해체, known also as 반말, the intimate form.
In this article, we will discuss the present tense forms of 해요체, the -아/어요 form, only. This article will, however, not discuss the nuances and subtilities of the speech level itself. That happens in an article on the speech level.
나: 네, 맛있어요.
A: Is it delicious?
B: Yes, it’s delicious.
How To Use
The present tense is a rather simple Korean grammar topic. It all starts with the verb stem. You just take it and then you simply attach it the proper ‘present tense’ form to it. As mentioned in this article we will discuss the forms and the conjugation of the form -아/어요. However, the rules for the form -아/어요 apply largely as well to the 반말 forms, 아/어.
The Korean present tense is not as narrowly defined as it is in English. The Korean present tense, you can use when talking about the present, something in progress (the progressive) and the near future. Keep this in mind!
Present Tense Conjugation Rules
When conjugating verbs and adjectives in the present tense with the form -아/어요, you will stumble upon 4 distinctive situations. Those 4 situations are:
- -아요: When the final syllable of the verb stem ends with or in either the vowel ㅏ or ㅗ, you use the ending -아요. When the verb stem ends in a vowel, the form omits the 아 syllable, leaving just -요. Attention: When the verb stem ends in ㅗ, the vowel and the form -아요 combine and form -ㅘ요.
- -어요: When the final syllable ends with or in any other vowel, you use -어요. There are a few things to pay heed to:
- When the verb stem ends in ㅣ, the ㅣ and form -어요 combine to form -ㅕ요.
- When the verb stem ends in ㅜ, the ㅜ and form -어요 combine to form -ㅝ요.
- If the verb stem ends in any other vowel than ㅣ and ㅜ, the 어 syllable of the form -어요 is omitted, leaving just 요 behind
- 해요: 하다 is always conjugated as 해요.
- 예요/이에요: The unique present tense form of 이다. When a noun ends in a vowel (no batchim), you use 예요. But, when it ends in a consonant (batchim), you use 이에요.
That sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. All in all, getting this under your belt just requires a bit of practice. Of course, you can still add the honorific marker -(으)시다, between the verb stem and the present tense form. However, that changes little to the rules, we’ve discussed so far. You just need to use the honorific forms accordingly.