how to ask questions in korean

How to Ask Questions in Korean in 9 Easy Ways

Asking questions is one of the keys to starting and maintaining a conversation in Korean (and any language).

Korean is particularly unique in that there are many ways to use question words and utilize grammar to create questions.

But don’t feel overwhelmed!

Our guide breaks down the numerous ways you can use question words and build questions in Korean, even if you’re a beginner.

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Are Korean Questions All That Different from English Questions?

Short answer: Yes and no.

In many situations, you can simply raise the intonation at the end of a question, much like in the English language. But there are many linguistic situations in which this doesn’t really work in Korean.

As with many Asian languages, question words must be added to sentences to formally make them into comprehensible sentences. Along with these question words, you’ll also need to modify different parts of a sentence in some situations to make it flow better or become easier to understand.

Let’s have a look at this in more detail. 

1. Raise the intonation at the end of a statement

This is by far the simplest way to turn a Korean statement into a question. Some sentences grammatically allow for this method. The types of questions that do not allow for this method are as follows:

  • Who
  • When
  • What
  • Where
  • Why
  • How (how much, how many, etc.)

When we ask a “did” question, we can use the intonation technique. It’s exactly like English in that you just have to raise the intonation at the end of the sentence to make it an understandable question.

Example:

밥 먹었어요. (bap meo-geo-sseo-yo) — I ate.

밥 먹었어요? (bap meo-geo-sseo-yo?) — Did you eat?

2. Use (wae) — why to create a “why” question

Asking “why” questions is a fairly easy process in Korean. The adverb is used to turn statements into “why” or “why did” questions by simply inserting it into the statement.

Depending on a variety of factors, can be placed in different areas of the sentence. Most of the time, it sits between the subject and object.

Examples:

고양이 좋아해요? (go-yang-i jo-a-hae-yo?) — Do you like cats?

고양이를  좋아해요? (go-yang-i-leul wae jo-a-hae-yo?) — Why do you like cats?

3. Use 언제 (eon-je) — when to create a “when” question

언제 and  operate in the same manner adverb-wise. 언제 is typically found in the middle of a sentence.

Example:

학교 갔어요? (hak-gyo ga-sseo-yo?) — Did you go to school?

학교 언제 갔어요? (hak-gyo eon-je ga-sseo-yo?)When did you go to school?

4. Use 어디 (eo-di) — where to create a “where” question

You guessed it. The adverb 어디 works in the same manner as 언제 and . However, you tend to find 어디 at the beginning of sentences.

Example:

어디 살아요? (eo-di sa-ra-yo?) — Where do you live?

미국에 살아요. (mi-gu-ge sa-ra-yo) — I live in America.

5. Use 누구 (nu-gu) — who to create a “who” question

누구 is a bit different than the other adverbs we’ve covered thus far. It essentially operates as both a pronoun and adverb in one word, though pronouns in Korean are very different from pronouns in English.

누구 can replace a noun in a sentence. It can also be used in place of the subject or object in a sentence and the ending changes slightly depending on the placement. 

It’s worth noting that when 누구 is used as the subject of a sentence, it changes into 누가 (nu-ga) — who. This might seem a little confusing, but it’s actually used the same way in English. 

Examples in English: 

Who will study math tomorrow? — “Who” becomes the subject of the sentence in English.

Whom will they meet up with tonight? — “Whom” becomes the object of the sentence in English.

Examples in Korean: 

누가 내일 수학 공부할 거예요? (nu-ga nae-il su-hak gong-bu-hal geo-ye-yo?) — Who will study math tomorrow?

그들은 누구를 초대했어요? (geu-deu-reun nu-gu-reul cho-dae-hae-sseo-yo?) Whom did they invite?

6. Omit the use of “you” in a question when directly speaking to the subject

You may have noticed that some of the questions we’ve listed omit the use of “you.” This is because “you” is very rarely used in the Korean language, as it’s often implied to whom the speaker is talking or about with the use of context.

If you’re asking someone a question and they’re the subject of the question, you can omit the subject entirely.

Example:

One of our earlier sentences included 고양이 좋아해요? (go-yang-i jo-a-hae-yo?) — Do you like cats?

In this sentence, 당신 (dang-sin) — “you” is omitted, but it’s implied that the question is directed to the person who’s also the subject of the question.

7. Use ㅂ니까  (b-ni-kka) or 습니까  (seum-ni-kka) for highly formal questions

ㅂ니까 and 습니까 are used as formal, highly respectful question words.

This is an easier aspect of asking Korean questions to remember, as the rules are fairly cut and dry:ㅂ니까 is added to the stems that end in vowels. 습니까 is added after stems that end in consonants.

It’s as simple as that!

Examples:

의식에 참석하실 겁니까? (ui-si-ge cham-seok-ha-sil geomni-kka?) — Are you going to attend the ceremony?

많이 드셨습니까? (ma-ni deu-syeot-seum-ni-kka?) — Did you eat a lot?

8. Add (yo) to formalize and soften questions

You can use to make questions stand out as more formal or polite. You typically only add to casual endings of verbs or adjectives. This creates a soft effect that’s kind and formal.

This might be a bit difficult to figure out, especially if you’re a beginner still struggling with verbs and adjectives. 

Think of it this way, though: Adding  to a sentence is essentially the same as saying, “Would it be alright if I went to her house?” as a softer, more polite way of saying “Can I go to her house?”

Examples:

이거 좋아해? (i-geo jo-a-hae?) – Do you like this? (casual)
 
이거 좋아해? (i-geo jo-a-hae-yo?) – Do you like this? (polite)
 
작아? (ja-ga?) – Is it small? (casual)
 
작아? (ja-ga-yo?) – Is it small? (polite)

9. Remove 요 (yo) and use (ni) at the end of casual questions

You can end many questions casually by removing the at the end of the sentence. The endings may vary in this case.

You can also add to the end. This is a very informal way to ask a question, so be mindful of whom you’re speaking to and what situation you’re in before using .

 must be used only for someone who is the same age or younger. For example, when chatting with a friend or family member (but not your parents or older siblings), would be appropriate to use as a question ending.

Example:

토요일에 부산에 가? (to-yo-i-re bu-sa-ne ga-yo?) — Are you going to Busan on Saturday? (polite)

토요일에 부산에 가? (to-yo-i-re bu-sa-ne ga-ni?) — Are you going to Busan on Saturday? (casual)

밥 먹었어? (bap meo-geo-sseo-yo?) — Did you eat? (polite)

밥 먹었? (bap meo-geon-ni?) — Did you eat? (casual)

 

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