korean adjectives

Korean Adjectives [Descriptive Verbs]

Korean adjectives actually belong to a class of verbs.

This is why you’ll also see them referred to as “descriptive verbs.”

These descriptive verbs are conjugated to become adjectives.

It’s like taking the verb “bounce” and turning it into an adjective by adding -y at the end—making it “bouncy.”

So, to really get a strong understanding of adjectives in Korean, you’ll need to learn more about verbs:

For now, I’ll start you off with a list of common Korean adjectives that you can focus on learning.

If you want to take a deeper dive into their conjugations and where to place them within sentences, that will all be later on in the post. 

Contents

Common Korean Adjectives

Shapes and sizes

big 두꺼운 thick
작은 small 얇은 thin
long 일자형의 straight
짧은 short 둥근 round
좁은 narrow 삼각형의 triangular
넓은 wide 정사각형의 square

Colors

검정 black 보라 purple
하얀 white 갈색 brown
회색 gray 주황 orange
파랑 blue 노랑 yellow
빨강 red 초록 green

Tastes

bitter 매운 spicy
salty 달콤한 sweet
sour

Qualities

늙은 old 젖은 wet
새로운 new cheap
좋은 good 비싼 expensive
나쁜 bad 빠른 fast
깨끗한 clean 느린 slow
더러운 dirty 무거운 heavy
empty 가벼운 light
가득한 full 같은 same
딱딱한 hard 다른 different
부드러운 soft 이른 early
건조한 dry 늦은 late

Adjectives to describe people

예의 바른 polite 슬픈 sad
무례한 rude 건강한 healthy
조용한 quiet 멍청한 stupid
시끄러운 loud 똑똑한 smart
외향적인 outgoing 뚱뚱한 fat
수줍은 shy 날씬한 slim
웃긴 funny 미혼인 single
진지한 serious 결혼한 married
아름다운 beautiful 가난한 poor
못생긴 ugly 돈이 많은 rich
행복한 happy

Where to Place Korean Adjectives in Sentences

Like English, Korean adjectives can be placed before or after the noun. But the adjectives look a little different, depending on their placement.

Before the noun

In English, we often place adjectives before nouns. For example, “big ears” and “small head.” In these cases, the adjectives modify the nouns that immediately come after them.

In Korean, just like in English, you simply stick the conjugated forms before the noun.

For conjugated forms like 큰 and 작은, you simply put them side-by-side right before their noun.

For example, “big ears” would be 큰 immediately before 귀, the Korean word for ears.

큰 귀 — big ears

Similarly, “small face” would be 작은 before 얼굴, the Korean word for face.

작은 얼굴 — small face

Incidentally, big ears are considered lucky in Korea. They believe it allows you to hear good fortune when it’s calling you. A small face, for its part, is a coveted Korean beauty standard.

After the noun

In English, adjectives that come after the noun will be your statements like:

My house is big.

My car is small.

Korean sentences usually end with a verb or an adjective.

And here’s a bit of good news: for the adjectives that come after the noun (those at the end of sentences), you can just use the “dictionary form.”

That is, the 다 form, the most basic, unconjugated state of the adjective.

Here are some examples: 

우리 집은 크다 — Our house is big

우리 차는 작다 — Our car is small

In this sentence, 크다 is used instead of the conjugated 큰. For the second, notice that 작다 is used instead of the conjugated 작은.

So to summarize, for adjectives before the noun, you use the conjugated forms. For adjectives after the noun, at the end of sentences, you may use the 다 form.

How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives

Stem + Ending

If you see a list of words and all of them end with 다, then you’re looking at a list of Korean verbs in the infinitive form. For example:

크다 — to be big

작다 — to be small

예쁘다 — to be pretty

The 다 forms are what you’ll be searching for in Korean dictionaries.

But this isn’t the form you usually deal with in conversations. Instead, you’ll be dealing with conjugated adjectives that have gone through some transformation.

So how are we going to deal with these 다 verb forms and turn them into adjectives?

Step 1: Drop the 다

The first step to conjugating Korean adjectives is to remove the 다 from the word.

Once you do that, you now have the verb stem. In the examples above, by removing the 다, you’re left with:

예쁘

Once you have the verb stem, the only remaining thing to do is add the ending.

Step 2: Add the appropriate ending

You never use just the verb stem or the core word alone. After dropping the 다, you now need to stick the landing and bring in the suffix.

The ending adds another unit of meaning to your verb stem.

In Korean, the endings of verbs are what give the word a more precise meaning.

For our purposes here, the suffix you use will depend on whether or not the stem ends with a vowel or a consonant.

If the stem ends with a vowel, you add ㄴ.

In the example above, 크 ends with the vowel —. So we add ㄴ to 크 and end up with 큰.

is the adjective “big” in Korean. You now know that it comes from the dictionary form 크다 .

If the stem ends with a consonant, you add 은.

In the example above, 작 ends with the consonant ㄱ.

So we add 은 to 작 and have 작은 , which means “small” in Korean and comes from the dictionary form 작다

Irregular Korean adjectives

Sounds simple enough, right?

There are of course a few exceptions to this rule. We consider them irregular adjectives. Here are two of the most common ones:

When the verb stem ends in ㅂ, drop it and add 운.

Say that after taking the 다, you see that the verb stem ends in ㅂ like 쉽다 , which means “to be easy.” Here’s how you conjugate it:

  • Drop the ㅂ
  • Add the syllable 운

After these manipulations, you have 쉬운 , which is the Korean word for “easy.”

When the verb stem ends in ㄹ, drop it and add ㄴ.

Now say that after removing the 다, you see that the verb stem ends in ㄹ like 길다 , which is “to be long.”

  • First, drop the ㄹ.
  • Last, add ㄴ.

You now have , which is Korean for “long.”

How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives for Formality Levels

In Korean, the way you talk depends on who you’re talking to.

(I guess everybody talks to grandma in a different way, that’s true across cultures, but it’s a whole new level of expectations with Korean.)

There are seven speech levels, but don’t worry, we won’t tackle all of them here. We’ll just concern ourselves with the most useful one—the informal polite form.

In the spectrum of formality, you’re in the safe middle here. It’s casual speech, but still has the polite flourish and you’re not in danger of disrespecting native speakers.

It’s the form you’ll most likely need in many of your interactions.

You’ve already learned about adjectives placed after the nouns. Another way of doing it is by using the informal polite form (요 endings).

Here’s how you can do that. 

For adjective stems that have the vowels ㅗ and ㅏ, you add 아요.

For example, let’s take the adjective 좋다 , which means good.

First, drop the 다, which leaves you with 좋.

Looking at the stem, you see that it has the ㅗ vowel. So you add -아요, making it 좋아요 .

So you can say:

날씨 좋아요 — The weather is good.

For adjective stems that don’t have ㅗ and ㅏ, you add 어요.

For example, “sad” in Korean is 슬프다 .

Taking out 다, we see that the stem ends with the vowel —. To conjugate, we add -어요, making it 슬퍼요 .

If anyone asks you, “How was the movie?”, you can say:

진짜 슬퍼요 — It’s really sad.

Therefore, when to add 아요 or 어요 seems straightforward enough. You simply check if ㅗ and ㅏ are in the stem.

There is, however, a very important and common exemption. That’s when you see 하. When you see 하, you can’t think to yourself, “Ah, the final vowel isㅏ.”

Nope, as an exception, 하 conjugates to 해요.

For example, 똑똑하다 is the basic form of “smart” in Korean.

You’ll notice that it has 하.

Therefore, we conjugate this with a 해요, ending up with 똑똑해요 .

How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives According to Tense

So far, we’ve only been talking about the present tense conjugation of adjectives.

English speakers might find conjugating adjectives with respect to tense a little bit odd, but in Korean, since adjectives function very much like verbs, they can also be conjugated according to tense.

That is, the tense is baked into the word itself.

That’s why we can just put nouns and adjectives/verbs next to each other without any intervening words. We can simply put them side by side because nuances like tense are embedded in the words themselves.

For example, in English, you have words like “were” and “was” to indicate past tense.

“She was sick” would describe a girl who was not feeling well in the past.

But in Korean, we indicate past tense a little bit differently. Again, it’ll involve looking at the last vowel in the stem.

Past Tense

For adjective stems that have the vowels ㅗ and ㅏ, you add -았어요.

For example, the past tense conjugation of 좋다 (good) would be 좋았어요 (was good).

For adjective stems that have the vowels other than ㅗ and ㅏ, like 맛있다 (delicious), you add -었어요 and end up with 맛있었어요 (was delicious).

Future Tense

To conjugate in the future tense, you add -ㄹ 거예요 or -을 거예요 to the verb stem.

If the verb stem ends with a vowel, like 예쁘 (pretty), we add -ㄹ 거예요.

So the future tense of this would be 예쁠 거예요 (will be pretty).

On the other hand, if the verb stem ends with a consonant, like 늦 (late), we add -을 거예요. So we end up with 늦을 거예요 (will be late.)

 

And there you have it—everything you need to know about using Korean adjectives, plus 70 of them to instantly add more color to your conversations!

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