korean verb conjugation

Korean Verb Conjugation: A Beginner’s Dream Guide to Mastery

Is the dream versus the reality of learning Korean holding you back?

Korean may seem like an intimidating language to learn, but I assure you, it’s not as difficult as you may think!

While the grammar and alphabet are completely different than in English—here’s some really some good news—conjugating verbs in Korean is much easier than in many other languages.

Most European languages require you to learn dozens of tenses and memorize endless conjugation tables.

In Korean, you don’t have to worry about conjugating into the first person, second person and third person. All you need to learn are the three levels of formality and the four tenses we’ll describe below.

Ready to master Korean verb conjugation?

Let’s get right into it!
 


 

Learn a foreign language with videos

What to Know About the Subject, the Infinitive and the Formalities

Subject-Verb Agreement

Unlike the Romance languages, in Korean, you don’t have to consider the subject of the sentence when conjugating verbs.

For example, in English, we say “I eat” and “she eats.”

However, in Korean, the verb stays the same in both cases.

저는 먹어요 — I eat

그녀는 먹어요 — She eats

Korean Infinitives

An infinitive is another name for a verb when it’s unconjugated.

In English, we write the infinitive as “to + verb.”

For example:

To eat

To run

To see

In Korean, unconjugated verbs end in .

For example:

먹다 — to eat

달리다 — to run

보다 — to see

To conjugate a Korean verb, the first step is to separate the verb stem from the 다 ending.

Korean Formalities

One aspect of Korean that’s different from English is that you need to consider formality when speaking. You need to add honorifics to certain words and change the way you conjugate verbs.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the three primary levels of formality:

1. Casual formality is used with people younger than you and with close friends.

2. Polite low formality is used in most everyday situations, and with people you’re unacquainted with.

3. Polite high formality is used in public service announcements and when talking to people with a higher social status than you (i.e., your boss).

Now that you know with whom each formality is used, let’s look at the four most common tenses used in Korean. The majority of verbs will keep their original stem spelling when conjugated. However, some verbs may change their spelling slightly when conjugated.

We’ll focus primarily on verbs without irregularities in their conjugation since this is a beginner’s guide.

If you ever come across a verb you don’t know how to conjugate, you can always resort to using the Verbix conjugation tool!

And speaking of being a beginner, if you want a one-stop-has-it-all resource to help guide your Korean language journey, FluentU is that stop!

korean verb conjugation

FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, television show clips, news stories and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Every video includes interactive subtitles, vocabulary lists and practice exercises.

With FluentU, you’ll be exposed to authentic Korean being spoken by native Korean speakers. You’ll see and hear how verbs are conjugated in action and in real-life scenarios.

Give it a try as you read this post, and see how well you remember the grammar information when you see them in context! Check out the program in your browser or iOS/Android app with the free FluentU trial.

Korean Verb Conjugation: A Beginner’s Dream Guide to Mastery

How to Conjugate Present Tense Korean Verbs

Conjugating verbs in the present tense in Korean is easy!

All you have to do is drop the ending on the verb stem and add the verb ending that goes with the formality you want to use.

  • Casual formality 
    • Verb + or
  • Polite low formality 
    • Verb + 아요 or 어요
  • Polite high formality
    • Verb + 습니다 (if the verb ends in a consonant)
    • Verb +ㅂ니다 (if the verb ends in a vowel)

The final vowel determines whether 아 or 어 is used in the casual form or 아요 or 어요 is used in the polite form.

  • Use 아요 if the last vowel in the verb is or .

볶다 (to fry) → 볶아요

  • Use 어요 if the last vowel in the verb is anything else.

 먹다 (to eat) → 먹어요

If the verb stem ends in a vowel, the 아 or 어 that you add to the verb stem will combine with the previous syllable.

  • + =

가다 (to go) → 가요

  • + =

보다 (to see) → 봐요

  • + =

서다 (to stand) → 서요

  • + =

달리다 (to run) → 달려요

  • + =

배우다 (to learn) → 배워요

하다 — to do

하다 is one of the most common verbs in Korean.

It conjugates a little differently than other verbs. Instead of becoming 하요 as you’d expect from the rules above, it becomes 해/해요.

  • Casual formality:
  • Polite low formality: 해요
  • Polite high formality: 합니다

가다 — to go

  • Casual formality:
  • Polite low formality: 가요
  • Polite high formality: 갑니다

달리다 — to run

  • Casual formality: 달려
  • Polite low formality: 달려요
  • Polite high formality: 달립니다

How to Conjugate Present Continuous Tense Korean Verbs

If you want to talk about a current action that’s ongoing, you can use the present continuous tense. In English, this tense is formed by using am/is/are and adding “ing” to the main verb.

For example:

I am running.

She is sleeping.

They are going.

To conjugate Korean verbs into this tense, you drop the 다 ending and add the appropriate formality ending.

  • Casual formality
    • Verb + 고 있어
  • Polite low formality 
    • Verb + 고 있어요
  • Polite high formality 
    • Verb + 고 있습니다

하다 — to do

  • Casual formality: 하고 있어
  • Polite low formality: 하고 있어요
  • Polite high formality: 하고 있습니다

가다 — to go

  • Casual formality: 가고 있어
  • Polite low formality: 가고 있어요
  • Polite high formality: 가고 있습니다

달리다 — to run

  • Casual formality: 달리고 있어
  • Polite low formality: 달리고 있어요
  • Polite high formality: 달리고 있습니다

How to Conjugate Past Tense Korean Verbs

To conjugate verbs into the past tense, you need to look at the last vowel in the verb stem like you did in the present tense.

If the verb ends in or , you add 았다 to the verb stem.

If the last vowel isn’t one of these two, you add 었다.

Just like present tense verbs, some verbs that end in a vowel will condense.

For example: 가다 + 았어요 becomes 갔어요 instead of 가았어요.

  • Casual formality
    • Verb + 았어 or 었어
  • Polite low formality
    • Verb + 았어요 or 었어요
  • Polite (high formality)
    • Verb + 았습니다 or 었습니다

하다 — to do

  • Casual formality: 했어
  • Polite low formality: 했어요
  • Polite high formality: 헀습니다

가다 — to go

  • Casual formality: 갔어
  • Polite low formality: 갔어요
  • >Polite high formality: 갔습니다

달리다 — to run

  • Casual: 달렸어
  • Polite low formality: 달렸어요
  • Polite high formality: 달렸습니다

How to Conjugate Future Tense Korean Verbs

The future tense is a little trickier than the other tenses we’ve looked at. There are multiple ways of expressing the future tense.

The nuances of each conjugation are outside the scope of this article, so we’ll just focus on the most common way of talking about a future action.

To make the future tense, drop the ending from the verb and add if the verb ends in a vowel or if it ends in a consonant.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to add anything to verbs ending in .

  • Casual formality 
    • Verb + or 을 거야
  • Polite low formality
    • Verb + or 을 거예요
  • Polite high formality
    • Verb + or 을 겁니다

하다 — to do

  • Casual formality: 할 거야
  • Polite low formality: 할 거예요
  • Polite high formality: 할 겁니다

가다 — to go

  • Casual formality: 갈 거야
  • Polite low formality: 갈 거예요
  • Polite high formality: 갈 겁니다

달리다 — to run

  • Casual formality: 달릴 거야
  • Polite low formality: 달릴 거예요
  • Polite high formality: 달릴 겁니다

 

Compared to many other languages, Korean conjugation is rather straightforward. If you study and practice regularly, you’ll become a Korean verb conjugation machine in no time!
 

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.

Experience Korean immersion online!

Comments are closed.
[LANGUAGE]
[LANGUAGE]