Korean Adjectives: 70 Descriptive Verbs and How to Conjugate Them
Imagine a world without adjectives.
Everything would be bland, dull and shapeless. Nouns would just be there, colorless.
So today, let’s punch up your Korean—add infinite richness, nuance, colors and layers to your verbal repertoire—by learning adjectives, also known as “descriptive verbs.”
Let’s get into this colorful part of Korean grammar!
- 70 Essential Korean Adjectives You Must Know
- Where to Place Korean Adjectives in Sentences
- How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives
- How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives for Formality Levels
- How to Conjugate Korean Adjectives According to Tense
- And One More Thing...
70 Essential Korean Adjectives You Must Know
Shapes and sizes
Adjectives to describe people
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.
While studying Korean adjective placement is a great start, it’s important that you also listen to natural Korean to really master it. You can do this via FluentU, which also comes with a host of language learning tools.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
As you listen, pay attention to where native speakers place their adjectives.
You can also listen to Korean podcasts or watch Korean movies to help you master adjective placement.
Before we go into how to conjugate adjectives, here are some rules to remember about Korean adjective placement:
1. Adjectives 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.
2. Adjectives 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
Using adjectives is like conjugating verbs in Korean.
Conjugation is the process of making the verb form “agree” with the other parts of a sentence like person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood or voice.
For example, the verb “to jump” can become “I jump,” “I jumped” and “I am jumping.”
Many languages use verb conjugations, but Korean takes it a step further and also conjugates adjectives.
Think of Korean adjectives as starting their lives as Korean verbs.
They belong to a class of verbs known as “descriptive verbs.” (The other three classes are “processive,” “existential” and “copulative” verbs. “Processive verbs” are basically what we consider action words in English.)
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.”
Korean adjectives have a stem and an 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:
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.
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 긴 , 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.
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).
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!
And One More Thing...
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