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Korean Verb Conjugation

Conjugating verbs in Korean is much easier than in many other languages.

Unlike the Romance languages, in Korean, you don’t have to consider the sentence’s subject when conjugating verbs. The verb stays the same.

Infinitive verbs are also straightforward. In English, we say “to + verb.” In Korean, infinitives simply end in . Such as 먹다 — to eat.

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

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Korean verb conjugation—including the three levels of formality and the four tenses.

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Korean Formalities and Verb Conjugation

Instead of being conjugated according to pronouns (I, you, we, etc.), Korean verbs are conjugated based on formality level.

There are three main levels of formalities in Korean:

  • Casual formality (for people younger than you and close friends)
  • Polite low formality (for most everyday situations and with people you’re unacquainted with)
  • Polite high formality (for public service announcements and when talking to people with a higher social status than you)

Next, there are the four verb tenses:

  • Present tense
  • Present continuous tense
  • Past tense
  • Future tense

Most Korean verbs are regular—meaning the verb stem stays the same when conjugated. But there are a few irregular verbs where the stem changes.

Since this is a beginner’s guide, we’ll focus primarily on verbs without irregularities in their conjugation.

If you ever encounter a verb you don’t know how to conjugate, you can always use the Verbix conjugation tool.

You can also see how conjugations are used in real Korean conversations on FluentU.

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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:

FormalityConjugation
Casual formalityVerb + or
Polite low formalityVerb + 아요 or 어요
Polite high formalityVerb + 습니다 (if the verb ends in a consonant)

Verb + ㅂ니다 (if the verb ends in a vowel)

Whether you use 아 or 어in the casual form or 아요 or 어요 in the polite form depends on the last vowel.

  • Last vowel in the verb is or ㅗ = 아요

볶다 (to fry) → 볶아요

  • Last vowel in the verb is anything else = 어요

 먹다 (to eat) → 먹어요

아 or 어 will combine with the previous syllable if the verb stem ends in a vowel.

  • + =

가다 (to go) → 가요

  • + =

보다 (to see) → 봐요

  • + =

서다 (to stand) → 서요

  • + =

달리다 (to run) → 달려요

  • + =

배우다 (to learn) → 배워요

Let’s take a look at how three common Korean verbs are conjugated in the present tense according to each formality:

Formality하다 — to do가다 — to go달리다 — to run
Casual formality달려
Polite low formality해요가요달려요
Polite high formality합니다갑니다달립니다

Note that 하다 conjugates a little differently than other verbs. Rather than becoming 하요 as you’d expect from the rules above, it becomes 해/해요.

How to Conjugate Present Continuous Tense Korean Verbs

The present continuous tense is used for actions that are currently ongoing. This tense is formed in English by using “am/is/are” and adding “-ing” to the main verb.

After dropping 다 from the infinitive, add one of these formality endings:

FormalityConjugation하다 — to do가다 — to go달리다 — to run
Casual formalityVerb + 고 있어하고 있어가고 있어달리고 있어
Polite low formalityVerb + 고 있어요하고 있어요가고 있어요달리고 있어요
Polite high formalityVerb + 고 있습니다하고 있습니다가고 있습니다달리고 있습니다

How to Conjugate Past Tense Korean Verbs

Like the present tense, past tense conjugations rely on what vowel the verb stem ends in.

  • Ends in or = add 았다 to the verb stem
  • Ends in any other vowel = add 었다

Some vowel endings also combine like the present tense:

가다 + 았어요 → 갔어요

FormalityConjugation하다 — to do가다 — to go달리다 — to run
Casual formalityVerb + 았어 or 었어했어갔어달렸어
Polite low formalityVerb + 았어요 or 었어요했어요갔어요달렸어요
Polite (high formality)Verb + 았습니다 or 었습니다헀습니다갔습니다달렸습니다

How to Conjugate Future Tense Korean Verbs

There are multiple ways of expressing the future tense, but we’ll just look at the most common conjugation in this article.

After dropping from the verb, add (for verbs ending in vowels) or (for verbs ending in consonants).

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

FormalityConjugation하다 — to do가다 — to go달리다 — to run
Casual formalityVerb + or 을 거야할 거야갈 거야달릴 거야
Polite low formalityVerb + or 을 거예요할 거예요갈 거예요달릴 거예요
Polite high formalityVerb + or 을 겁니다할 겁니다갈 겁니다달릴 겁니다

 

And there you have it—the complete, beginner-friendly rundown on Korean verb conjugation.

If you study and practice regularly, you’ll become a Korean verb conjugation machine in no time!

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