How to Learn Korean Grammar Without Tearing Your Hair Out
Korean grammar follows set patterns and rules—it’s almost mathematical.
Once you know the patterns, you can fill them with different vocabulary and sentences just fall magically into place. It’s a beautiful thing!
This post will explore how to learn Korean grammar without getting overwhelmed!
- Know Where to Start Learning Korean Grammar
- Use Great Resources
- Take Great Notes
Know Where to Start Learning Korean Grammar
First of all, what should you even be trying to learn? If this is the first (or almost the first) step in your Korean learning journey, the grammar rules below are a great place to start. They allow you to talk about easy, relevant topics and can be used with lots of different verbs, so they’re great to learn while you’re building up your vocabulary.
These are the grammar rules every beginner must learn to get started in speaking Korean:
- 이에요/예요. This is the Korean copula. It’s an irregular verb with the same meaning as the “is/am/are” verb in English.
- 있어요. This is another irregular verb that’s also very common in Korean. It has two meanings: “to have” (possessive verb) and “to be” (location verb).
- 없어요 is the negative form of 있어요. It’s used to say “I don’t have [something],” or “[something] isn’t there.”
- Basic verbs.
- Negative verb form or 안 + verb, used to say “I am not doing.”
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can move on to grammar such as:
- Desire modal.
하고 싶어요. (I want to do.)
- Past simple tense.
했어요. (I did.)
- Present continuous tense.
하고 있어요. (I am doing.)
- Future simple tense.
할 거에요. (I will do.)
- Ability modal.
할 수 있어요. (I can do.)
- Request modal.
하세요. (Please do.)
Please note that I’ve used the verb 하다 (to do) to demonstrate these grammar rules.
Use Great Resources
Here are a few of my favorite sites for learning Korean grammar.
This lovely blog is run by an Australian university student who posts reviews, articles and interesting and important points about Korean self-study.
My favorite post from SydneyToSeoul is the Top 100 Most Useful Korean Verbs List, because verbs are such an important part of Korean and they’re a great starting point for building your vocabulary!
The list provides the verbs in simple, dictionary form, so you can practice conjugating them in different ways as you learn.
Learn Korean Language
This website may be plain, but it has the clearest and most detailed explanations of Korean grammar I’ve ever come across.
No matter what your question about the Korean language may be, you can probably find the answer on Learn Korean Language, complete with examples and practice sentences.
Reading paragraphs about grammar rules may not be your idea of fun, and certainly that isn’t enough on its own to learn a language. But sometimes it helps so much to just read exactly how a grammar point works, what it means and when you should use it.
Here's a quick look at the variety of video choices available to you:
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
Don't stop there, though. You can use FluentU’s unique quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU even tracks your progress and remembers all the words you've learned, making for a 100% personalized experience.
Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory. The best part? You can access the full FluentU video library with a free trial!
Start using FluentU Korean on the website or download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
Complete with simple lessons and audio examples, zKorean’s Korean Grammar and Vocabulary Reference is a great resource to have on hand when you’re learning a grammar point for the first time.
The lessons are clear and very short, usually only one or two paragraphs. The vocabulary lists are also very useful for all the stuff beginners need to know!
Memrise is another great way to practice Korean grammar on the go. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play and test your memory with vocabulary quizzes.
Users can submit “Mems,” which may include short notes explaining a grammar point, or little tricks to help you remember a word. They can be very funny and helpful.
A great Memrise quiz for beginners learning Korean grammar is Korean Grammar in Use, which contains a good mixture of useful vocabulary and simple grammar points to learn.
Take Great Notes
So, now you know what to learn and where to learn it… but now you’re wondering how to learn Korean grammar! I recommend you do it the old-fashioned way, by buying a notebook and filling it up with very good notes.
There’s well-documented evidence showing that our short-term memories are much shorter in a second language than in our first. This is why we need to revise and practice new vocabulary and grammar rules so often.
Of course, keeping notes on your computer makes it harder to lose them. It looks neat, and ideally you can check them every time you use your computer. But studies have shown that writing by hand improves our ability to memorize new information quickly, because it encourages us to think about what we’re learning and put things into our own words, rather than just copying and pasting from a website.
Make Your Brain Very Happy: Color-code!
Here’s the thing about brains: they love patterns.
And Korean grammar is all patterns, everywhere.
So if you can find the pattern, and if you can show the pattern clearly to your brain, it’ll be a very happy brain indeed—and you’ll be happy, too, because you’ll be able to speak better Korean!
The best way to help your brain notice and learn the patterns of Korean grammar is to use color-coding. Decide on a color code on the first page of your notebook, and use the same code in all your notes.
For example, in all your notes you could use a color code like this:
- Sentence subjects are in black.
- Particles are in green.
- Verbs are in red.
- Grammar conjugation is in blue.
- The sentence object, plus times, places and further details are in purple.
That way, you can tell at a glance what kind of word you’re reading, and what role it plays in the sentence.
For example, if you’re learning how to introduce yourself in Korean using the Korean copula (이에요/예요), your notes may look like this:
제 이름은 루시예요. (My name is Lucy.)
Or if you’re learning how to talk about things you want to do (using the desire modal), you could make example sentences like this:
저는 비빔밥을 먹고 싶어요. (I want to eat bibimbap.)
Another reason to decide on your color code early is because you’re far more likely to want to read back over notes that are neat, logical and attractive. You don’t want to waste revising time just trying to figure out your notes!
Of course, you can adapt all this to suit your learning style. If you find it easy to learn vocabulary, perhaps verbs and sentence objects don’t all need their own color. If you find remembering which particles to use really, really difficult, write them in a bright color to make them really pop!
Learn Grammar in Context: Create Your Own Examples
Context is super important in Korean, especially considering that Korea is defined by etiquette and politeness. The way you speak will be completely shaped by the level of formality you’re part of. For example, saying something as simple as “thank you” needs to be modified depending on the situation, as seen in the following video.
The best way to learn these things is to make up your own example sentences to demonstrate how to use new grammar in context. You’re more likely to remember example sentences that are relevant for you.
Challenge yourself to make up at least one new example sentence every time you revise a grammar point. This way, you’ll know how to use the grammar in different ways, and to talk about different topics.
Practice reading the example sentences out loud, and as you become more familiar with grammar practice, coming up with sentences on-the-spot while speaking.
Keep English to a Minimum
It sounds counterintuitive, but using too much English in your notes will slow down your learning.
You can write titles at the top of your notes in English, to make it easier to find the notes you’re looking for. But besides the title, there should be little to no English in your notes.
Simply, the more you’re forced to read Korean, the faster you’ll learn. We all know that immersion is the best way to learn a new language, and the sooner you begin to immerse yourself in Korean the better!
If you’re revising new grammar in Korean, you’ll remember more and be able to use the grammar more quickly than if you’re constantly translating words into English and back again. Similarly, as soon as you can read Hangul confidently, you should stop using romanization.
So, do as I say and not as I do: Don’t include English translations of your example sentences. If you read your example sentences and can’t understand what you’ve written, well then, you know what you still need to work on!
It may seem like a lot of work now, but don’t be afraid of Korean grammar!
Once you’ve mastered a few rules with your superior color-coding, speaking Korean won’t seem nearly as scary or impossible as it may have looked at first.