19 In Korean Lessons

More on Korean Topic Particle 은/는

Recently discovered another great site on korean grammar. The entire thing is written in korean – but that’s the fun and challenging part right? 😛

  Korean Grammar in Korean

The site merits another post on its own and thus, let’s zoom in to the explanation. The information below is taken from the site. I’ve simply tranlsated it into English.


Topic Marker 은/는

When ‘은/는’ is attached to the noun right at the beginning of the sentence, the noun is the sentence’s ‘topic’.(hence the name ‘topic marker’) When it is not directly attached to the noun, but attached to other particles or endings, it has the meaning of ‘contrast’ or ’emphasis’.

1. When marking the sentence’s topic

예) 오늘은 집에서 쉬겠습니다
혜리는 카가 큽니다.
이 방만은 햇볕이 잘 들어요.
김치는 한국의 대표적인 음식이다.

2. when used to ‘contrast’ or ’emphasize’
The two clauses are contrastive

예) 그는 듣기는 못하지만 말하기는 잘합니다 – contrast between the person’s listening and speaking skills
선생님은 말씀하시는데 학생은 졸고 있어요 – contrast between the action of the teacher VS student

3. When attached behind other particles and endings
Usually used as an emphasis. Sometimes added behind adverbs too (not all adverbs can work this way)

예) 교실에서는 장난하지 마세요
사람이 빵말으로는 살 수 없다
집이 멀지는 않아요
한국말을 잘은 못 해요

이/가 VS 은/는

Here’s the horribly confusing part that none of us can understand. When used to mark the subjective case, what’s the difference between them? (Even the site admits that it’s confusing!)

1. 준수가 집에 있다

2. 준수는 집에 있다

When translated to english or other langauges, this simply means ‘Jun-Su is at home’. However, in korean..

Sentence 1:

This sentence specify that someone named ‘Jun-Su’ is at home.

Sentence 2:

Has a constrastive naunce to it. Keeping in mind the whereabouts of other people, the speaker says that Jun-Su is at home. The topic of the sentence is ‘the whereabouts of people’.

So, let’s look at another example.

1. 준수가 대학생이 되었다

2. 준수가 대학생은 되었다

Sentence 3:

In this sentence, the speaker is trying to tell others the fact that Jun Su has become a university student.

Sentence 4:

Has a vaguer meaning to it. Although Jun-Su has become a university student, there is something more to it. The sentence is hinting at something else. For example, Jun Su may have become a university student, but there are many problems or that she may not be able to graduate. smoothly.

Imagine trying to convey so much information in one sentence when translated to english. Mission Impossible.

Are you still there? – heh just checking (:

이번에는 제가 찍을게요

When saying this, you can trying to ‘differentiate’ yourself from a group of people and to stand out. For example, when voluteering, you can use this construction. (i.e 제가 할게요)

You can’t say 이번에는 저는 찍을게요 (X)

Similarly, in the sentence, 저녁은 제가 제가 사겠습니다, you are trying to ‘stand out’ and offering to pay for dinner.


Do check out the site! (: it’s really helpful.


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  • Reply
    6 June, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    The use of 은 in the sentence 준수가 대학생은 되었다 is very rare though. Other than that I basically agree with what the site says. 🙂

  • Reply
    8 June, 2009 at 10:50 PM


    I am also getting confused with the subjective particle 이 /가. Realised it when I am doing my essay. Ha!ha!ha!

    The elementary textbook from Korean school. I think the explanation is not that in depth.

    When comes to writing, I am not that certain which particle I should use. In other words, under what circumstances I should use 이 or 가

    Able to assist in clearing my doubts?

  • Reply
    25 July, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    stumbled upon this post somehow XD But great find! thanks for sharing :]

  • Reply
    25 October, 2009 at 8:22 PM

    I was lil’ confuse at first, but after reading the post, I’m not so confuse…I like your site, the way u share your experience of learning Korean. It’s kind of like reading someone’s blog as well as learning something….I’ve learnt quite a few things and also cleared some of my doubts about Korean after reading your posts…감사합니다 🙂

    • Reply
      25 October, 2009 at 9:33 PM

      Hi Jean! ^^
      Thanks for the comment! I’ll try to post more useful stuff on korean grammar ^^
      How long have you been learing korean? ^^

      • Reply
        26 October, 2009 at 9:15 AM

        hi, i’ve been learning for probaly ’bout a year. I learn it by myself so i’m not very good. Plus, i’ve to juggle my time on learning Korean and my studies. Now my exams are all over so i have more time. I still can’t read whole chunks of Korean text, just simple once…can u teach me? Maybe thru e-mail. cos i’m not usually online…BTW, i learn it from Koreanclass101.com or vids from youtubes…[:

      • Reply
        26 October, 2009 at 7:24 PM

        yeah I totally understand how hard it is to juggle between studies and Korean. I find that I have no time for anything else since college started >< haha I'm not the best person to teach you Korean but if you have any questions, I'll try my best to help 😀
        Koreanclass101.com is my fav site!!

  • Reply
    26 October, 2009 at 9:15 PM

    haha. thanks, friend.

    Maybe if i have any problem I just ask you through your e-mail. it’s the soeulareyou@gmail.com, am i rite? Do you have a hotmail account? i mean if you dun mind, can i have your hotmail account. I prefer hotmail. it’s okay if you dun have one.

    You’re a great friend

  • Reply
    26 October, 2009 at 9:22 PM

    erm, i get it wrong, it should be seoulareyou@gmail.com…미안합니다 >_<

  • Reply
    4 February, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    First, thank for sharing the wonderful site! Whether I’ll be able to survive with it is the question. Nonetheless I’ll give it a try when I have more time. Sigh, TOPIK is just around the corner and I haven’t started preparing for it. But I have to prioritize school works. 😐 TOPIK can wait (or I can cram topik preparation after my finals. ㅋㅋㅋ)

    Second, thanks for the explanation of 이/가 VS 은/는!!! If I have to choose one thing that I hate in Korean language, I would choose this. Most beginners book (and teachers) will not discuss the difference (and will always say that it will be discussed on a more advanced level). The first clear explanation I encountered was TTMIK’s explanation. It is still confusing but at least I get to understand it more. Glad you blogged about this. I learned a lot from you. It’s still (very) confusing though. But I was able to get a lot of new info about it again. Funny thing is… when you said that’s it’s impossible to translate some sentences in English (exactly as it is / the exact meaning), my mind trailed off a bit. I’m part of a subbing group. It just wondered how many sentences have we translated that has lost it’s complete ‘sense’. Then your next line was: Are you still there? – heh just checking (: And I was like, “How’d she find out that my mind’s trailing away already?”
    I think I really need to practice, practice and practice constructing sentences (both written and spoken). Something that I’m too lazy to do. I could easily spend an all-nighter learning a new grammar pattern or memorizing vocabs (and dialogues) from dramas, read Korean text (books or online), but I’m just too lazy to write sentences on my own. 🙁 This needs to be changed, asap! 😐

    • Reply
      4 February, 2011 at 11:15 PM

      are you taking the intermediate TOPIK this time? ^^

      actually up to now, I still get a little confused over the particles. I think practice helps, once you get exposed to alot of korean texts, you will naturally pick up when to use either particle.

      subbing is a difficult task i think. i find it hard to rephrase/translate even from english to chinese (or vice versa) even though they are my native languages ):

      why not get a korean blog at naver or thistory?

      • Reply
        4 February, 2011 at 11:27 PM

        I’m not yet sure if I’ll take TOPIK this year. You’ll be taking the advanced TOPIK, right?

        Yeah, subbing is difficult, but fun. I really think that my listening skills improved a lot through subbing. I don’t translate but I help (read: butt in) sometimes. Funny, there was a time when we even debated whether we’ll use ‘want’ or ‘like’ for a particular dialogue.

        I’m thinking of getting a Korean blog too… but maybe after Finals. I won’t be able to write much anyway. ㅋㅋㅋ

  • Reply
    10 March, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    May I ask you.I want to try the intermediate *TOPIK(KLPT)*test.But I am staying in Denmark.How to try or Where can I contact ? When will *KLPT* start this year?
    Khin Aye

  • Reply
    10 March, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    KHIN AYE says:
    March 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm
    May I ask you.I want to try the intermediate *TOPIK(KLPT)*test.But I am staying in Denmark.How to try or Where can I contact ? When will *KLPT* start this year?
    Khin Aye

    • Reply
      10 March, 2011 at 10:51 PM

      KLPT application will usually open in september. I’m not sure Denmark offers TOPIK as i think the only country in europe who offers it is russia.

    • Reply
      Noun Sipha
      20 May, 2011 at 9:02 AM

      Rally i want about topic(KBS)can you tell me?

  • Reply
    12 June, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    this is the only thing that i know from korean!
    but i really love korean and i want to learn it.
    could you please help me,and tell me where to start.i`m really confused if i have to start with grammar,memorizing vocabs or verbsor…….

  • Reply
    12 June, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    and thanks for your good explanation, the other saits only tell us about UN/NUN,
    it was great to know the difference,but i dont even know the meaning of sentences.
    ohhhhhhhhhh,i`m so behind,
    common guys,please.can anyone help me with progressing.
    by the way,i want some free pdf teaching korean,and some short stories in korean so the grammar and vocabs are easy.
    thanks for your help.

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