When you learn about Korean adjectives for the first time you probably got surprised they behave like verbs. Most of us think of adjectives as words that go in front of nouns to modify them, also known as an attributive adjective. It is entirely possible for you to use a Korean verb or adjective in that way. You will, however, need to change it a bit.

Korean Verbs

When you first start learning Korean you will eventually discover an interesting fact. In Korean, an adjective behaves very much as if it were a verb. In fact, Koreans refer to adjectives as descriptive verbs as they are verbs that describe a state something or someone is in. Other verbs, those we are used to, are known as action verbs.

For some grammar points it is important to know what kind of verb you are dealing with.

The distinction between a descriptive verb and an action verb is most often unimportant. They behave pretty much in the same way. However, for some grammar points it is important to know what kind of verb you are dealing with. Changing a verb to a word that modifies a noun is such a case.

I can only suggest that you try to remember whether a verb is a descriptive verb, called an adjective from now on, or an action verb, from now on just referred to as verb. It is nearly impossible to tell whether a verb is one or the other just from reading it.

Noun Modifying Verb/Adjective

While all verbs can be conjugated and used in a sentence, you can also use a certain grammar pattern so you can use it to change a noun. This way of using verbs, especially adjectives, is how most Korean learners are used to. As hinted at before, it is critical you know whether you are dealing with is an adjective or a verb.

Let us start exploring the wonders of this grammar topic that will open a lot of possibilities to any Korean learner!

Used with an Adjective

When you want an adjective to change a noun, you can do this by simply using either -ㄴ or -은. You use  -ㄴ when the adjective stem ends in a vowel and you use -은 when it ends in a consonant (batchim). It is really that simple.

There is, however, one exception to this rule: verbs who end in either 있다 or 없다 inside, such as 재미있다 (to be interesting; to be fun). In that case, you will have to add -는 instead of -은.

Noun Modifying Adjective - -ㄴ -은
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Summary of rules to have adjectives modify nouns.

Used with a Verb

You can also change plain old verbs so you can use them to change a noun. However, verbs keep their ability to have various tenses even as a noun modifier. Depending the tense, they will use a different ending. When verbs are as a modifier they will be translated using “that” or “who”.

If you want to use a verb as a present tense noun modifier you simply need to attach the ending -는 to the stem regardless whether it ends on a vowel or a consonant.

If you want to do the same thing, but in a past tense, you it becomes a bit confusing since you use then either -ㄴ or -은; the same ending adjectives use with the same rules. You use  -ㄴ when the verb stem ends in a vowel and you use -은 when it ends in a consonant (batchim).

Lastly, it is also entirely possible to do this with a future tense. In that case you use either -ㄹ or -을. The mechanics are pretty similar to the past tense. You use  -ㄹ when the verb stem ends in a vowel and you use -을 when it ends in a consonant (batchim).

Noun Modifying Verbs - -ㄴ -은 - 는 -ㄹ -을
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Summary of rules to have verbs modify nouns.

Additional Notes

  • When you want to use more than one adjective or verb to change a noun, only the last verb needs to be ‘conjugated’. The other verbs use connective endings such as -고 (and) or -거나 (or).
  • 있다 and 없다 are special. You can only use them in the present tense. The ending they use, is always -는.
  • It is also possible to make verbs and adjectives negative. To make them negative, you use -지 않은 for adjectives and verbs in the past tense; you use -지 않는 for present tense verbs and you use -지 않을 for future tense verbs