Today I had some free time and thus I decided to check a basic, yet essential Korean grammar topic: “To be” In Korean. In Korean you have 2 verbs that can be translated into to be: 이다 and 있다. Both of them have their specific use and have antonyms; 아니다 and 없다 respectively.

The Copulative “To Be”

“To be” is an important verb regardless of the language you are speaking or learning. One of the major functions of “To be” is its role as a copulative verb. Copulative is grammar’s fancy way to say a verb joins a subject to an adjective or a noun. Generally those verbs have little meaning on their own.

In Korean the copulative verb is 이다. 이다 is a pretty unique verb in Korean as it has a peculiar conjugation in the polite present tense. Furthermore it attaches itself to the noun it is attaching to the subject. It is a truly a unique verb in Korean.

Please be aware that main function of 이다 is the copulative “To be”. Furthermore, it is always affirmative. If you need to express yourself being something not, you need to use its antonym: 아니다.

아니다: The Negation

아니다 is the opposite of 이다 and translates as “To not be” in English. It is essentially a way to negate something. When you say something you are not, you attach the particle 이/가 to that noun.

As is the case with its antonym 아니다 has a somewhat irregular conjugation, but it does not attach itself to another word.

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A summary for 이다/아니다, the copulative verb.

The Others: 있다 and 없다

However, sometimes we use to be in a different way. One of the ways we use “to be” is another way to say “to exist”; we use it to say where we are or the presence of something somewhere. In this case you have to use a completely different set of verbs in Korean. Those verbs are 있다, which is the affirmative verb, and 없다, the negative verb.

While it may be confusing that you need to distinguish what kind of “to be” is used when speaking Korean, there is a silver lining. These verbs are completely regular so it is a lot easier to conjugate.  Furthermore besides the meaning we already discussed, 있다 and 없다 can also be translated as “To have”.

Also sentences with 있다 and 없다 mark the subject located somewhere or is in possession of someone with 이/가.

Tip: Make sure to memorize 있다 and 없다 as a lot of grammar topics tend to use it as a verb!

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A summary for 있다/없다, the other “to be”.