Topic Particle - 는 / 은

Please refer to Korean Listening Exercise - Topic Particle 는/은 for the audio recording of the sentences found in this lesson.

Particles are functional words that do not have any meaning in themselves.

They are like helpers in that they are attached to the end of nouns to indicate what that noun is and how it functions in a sentence.

This particles section is divided into several parts.

These are:


Note: 는/은 and 가/이 are 'Subject particles.' The explanations are given in the 'Subject Particles' section.


Please have a look at the following examples to learn how particles are used in sentences.

For example,
  • 나는 학생이다 = I am a student
는, the topic particle, is attached to the end of 나, which means the pronoun "I", to show that the topic is about "I" or the subject is "I".

Here is another example,
  • 나도 학생이다 = I am a student, too.
In this sentence, , the additive particle, is attached to 나 to show that in addition to a person or people who are students, "I", too, am a student.

Now, let us go through each of these particles.

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는/은 [Topic Particle] 

The first particle, we'll learn, is 는/은, the topic particle. 는/은 is used for a subject or topic of a sentence. 는 is used for nouns without a final consonant, and 은 for nouns with a final consonant.

Let me explain,
  • 나는 = I am
  • 사람은 = A person is
 나 consists of ㄴ+ㅏ
  • ㄴ = n (an initial consonant)
  • ㅏ = a (a vowel)
As you can see, 나 is a word without a final consonant, therefore 는 is attached to it.

On the other hand, 사람 which means 'a person' has 람 as a final character, and 람 consists of ㄹ+ㅏ+ㅁ
  • ㄹ = r,l (an initial consonant)
  • ㅏ = a (a vowel)
  • ㅁ = m (a final consonant)
사람 is a word with a final consonant. Therefore, 은 is attached to it.

The reason for these two different types of the topic particle, 는/은, is that for words with a final consonant, it is easier to pronounce them with 은 rather 는.
Compare these two pronunciations,
  • 사람는 = sa-ram-nun
  • 사람은 = sa-ram-un → sa-ra-mun [사라믄]

As you can see, 사람는 is more rigid and awkward to pronounce, whereas 사람은 is more fluid and easy to pronounce. 사람은 is actually pronounced 사라믄. The final consonant of 람, which is ㅁ, is transferred to 은 to make it sound 믄.

(사람은 sounds a bit like "Sarah Moon" whereas 사람는 may sound like "Saram Noon".)
Listen to the pronunciations for yourselves in the Google Translate.

The following are example sentences using 는/은, the topic particle.
  • 나는 학생이다 = I am a student
  • 그는 친절하다 = He is kind
  • 이것은 연필이다 = This is a pencil
  • 하늘은 높다 = The sky is high
  • 그녀는 공부한다 = She studies 
  • 존은 갔다 = John went
  • 영수는 먹었다 = Young-su ate

    나 = I (pronoun)
    학생 = a student
    그 = he
    친절하다 = kind
    이것 = this
    연필 = pencil
    하늘 = sky
    높다 = high
    그녀 = she
    공부하다 = study
    존 = John
    가다 = go
    영수 = Young-su (a male name)
    먹다 = eat

    Use Google Translate to listen the pronunciations of these words.

    Note: There are no articles in the parts of speech in Korean. "A, an and the" which are used to identify and specify a noun in English and other languages are absent in Korean grammar.


    Continue to the next section:

      60 comments:

      1. "This particle [는/은] is used as "am/are/is" in English."

        I would disagree. 는/은 is a subject marker. It tells you what the subject of a sentence is. The "am/are/is" meaning is conveyed in the verb, so in:

        나는 착하다 = I am kind ('착하다' contains the 'is' meaning because 착하다 means 'be good (in character)'.)

        In the case of something like, '나는 학교에 갔다' or 'I went to school', there is no 'is' meaning. In both cases, '은/는' just tells you what the subject is.

        ReplyDelete
      2. Dear....

        Thanks for your post for us as a reference to learn Korean, but one important thing I'd like to ask you? Particles are used to modify Nouns or Verbs? I learned that particles are subject markers, so, they modify nouns, aren't they?

        ReplyDelete
      3. Yes, you're right.
        Every particles listed here all modify nouns.

        ReplyDelete
      4. Thanks jstele, it is indeed more suitable to call [는/은] as subject particles

        ReplyDelete
      5. i was confused before with when to use 는/은 vs 이/가 , but this helped explain it to me. thank you~~~

        ReplyDelete
      6. I thought 이/가 were the subject whereas are topic particles

        ReplyDelete
      7. the topic particle is to emphasize another part of the sentence
        eg. 부산은 차요 the emphasis being on "not cold"

        ReplyDelete
      8. thankyousomuch for this!
        ive been searching for around for a bit for some decently laid out simple korean grammar and this is perfect! :D :D

        p.s.
        does '가' always change 나 → 내 ?

        ReplyDelete
      9. You're welcome, Lisa. My pleasure!

        나 always changes to 내 before 가.

        Therefore, 내가 must be used at all times, and 나가 is definitely incorrect.

        ReplyDelete
      10. "I thought 이/가 were the subject whereas 는/은 are topic particles"

        Hmm I as well thought 는/은 were topic particles. In Japanese the equivalent は is called a topic particle. And at KoreanClass101, they call 는/은 topic particles.

        이/가 aren't necessarily subject particles. Identifier is the right word.
        クレープが食べたい。
        Kure-pu ga tabetai.
        If you say it's a subject particle, then the crepes (french pancakes) want to eat. No, it identifies the thing I want to eat.

        는/은 are used to distinguish something from other things. Like compared to everything else, the sky is so blue.
        하늘은 저리도 파랑이에요.
        sky [topic particle] so blue is
        As for the sky, it is so blue.

        The only thing I've disliked is that 는/은 can be replaced with either 이/가 or 를/을 depending on the situation.

        Identifier particles are usually used with existence. I haven't seen topic particles used that much.

        ReplyDelete
      11. I think my complaint is comparatively easy.

        "도 is used in the similar way as 는/은. However 도 adds the meaning of "also and too." "

        You mean to. Too means too much, oo little, or whatever.

        Awesome guide by the way. I find it very comprehensive and clear.

        ReplyDelete
      12. Luke

        This is the best Korean learning website I have ever come across so far. I've been a Korean drama fan for quite a few eyars now and am farmiliar with some of the spoken Korean already, but when it comes to reading and speaking Korean and making my own sentences, I simply could not make any profess without good resources. You make learning Korean soooo much easier for a beginner like me. Now when I try to read a Korean, a lot of things suddenly make sense. Thank you so much. Great stuff!

        ReplyDelete
      13. @ Anomynous "You mean to. Too means too much, oo little, or whatever"

        Too WAS correct. "to" (with one o) is a preposition(I went "to" the park), whereas "too" is a modifier as you pointed out (I am too tired), but it can also be synonymous with "also"(He works there, too.)

        ReplyDelete
      14. On 은/는 I think you mean Pronoun not verb

        ReplyDelete
      15. Hi Rhys,

        Well spotted, I just corrected.
        Cheers.

        Luke

        ReplyDelete
      16. Haha No problem.
        Anyway thanks, this blog is a great help!

        ReplyDelete
      17. IS anyone on this still?

        ReplyDelete
      18. Hi, could you axplain about the action verb and non-action verb. Is 가/이 used as object particle for non-action verb? I found it in some Korean song lyrics. By the way, I have a suggestion. Could you please make grammar explaintation through song lyrics? this will help me a lot to understand the content and learn new things too.

        ReplyDelete
      19. 가/이 is always used as an identifier particle. It's like 은/는 except that 가/이 specifically identifies who actually did something.

        If you could give me an example when 가/이 is used as an object particle for non-action verbs, I could better answer your question.

        I might also consider making grammar explanations for song lyrics. Any suggestions for the songs?

        By the way, I'm actually doing the minimal work on my blog right now so I can't promise that I'll post them soon. But I'll post them whenever I can afford to.

        Cheers

        ReplyDelete
      20. Thank you Luke!
        n_n

        I'm so happy reading your blog! n_n

        thank you for your time!!!

        ReplyDelete
      21. Hi
        In many other websites and books, the particle -이 / -가 is the subject particle and -는 / -은 is called the topic particle wich is used to mention what the sentence is about. So...I'm kind of confused...

        ReplyDelete
      22. Luke, when making a time or place particle sentences , the order is in the middle right. But when you are making a long sentences that need both time and place to be put, which order do you have to put first. Is it subject-time-place-verb or subject-place-time-verb or either order is possible? Example,
        i:로크는 한국에 5월에 왔다.
        ii:로크는 5월에 한국에 왔다.

        Thank you very much.

        ReplyDelete
      23. Hi Lezz,
        I'd say either of them is possible. However, if you're writing a plain sentence. For example, "I came to Korea in May." It'd be more natural and common to write,

        루크(Luke?)는 5월에 한국에 왔다.
        subject-time-place-verb

        However if you want to emphasize the fact that you came to Korea "in May", you'd write,

        루크는 한국에 5월에 왔다.
        subject-place-time-verb

        Whichever comes right before a verb usually gets emphasized.

        So go with the subject-time-place-verb unless you want to emphasize "when"
        in which case you'd go with the subject-place-time-verb pattern.

        So the example above,
        제니는 한국에 5월에 오전에 왔다.
        the time has been emphasized.

        However it'd be more common to write in a simple, plain sentence, 제니는 5월에 한국에 왔다.
        = Jenny came to Korea in May.

        Good point. I might improve on this "particles" post in near future.

        ReplyDelete
      24. This is such a useful site, and you have obviously worked very hard on it. You have explained "nun 는/ga 가" better than the many text books that I have. Kamsa hamnida! 감사핲니다

        ReplyDelete
      25. your explanation of these two particles is very helpful to us..we were enlightened by it and of course by you..however, i just want to clear another thing..let's say i just want to say we planted trees..what will i use? 우리가 or 우리는..if someone asked me if what did we do, then i will say 우리는 나무를 심었, isn't it? and when someone asked me who planted those trees, then i will say 우리가 나무를 심었, am i right? but as i asked you, what if no one asked me what or who and then i just want to say or tell that we planted trees..which one will i use? thanks for your very good tutorial..

        ReplyDelete
      26. I really enjoyed studying Korean Language! And I learned a lot of things by just reading your posts.

        I'm new here in Blogspot so you may visit my blog and tell me something that I can Improve to my blogs.

        I love studying foreign language and I'm stuck in this Language, including the Nihon-go.

        The two language resembles each other and they almost have the Chinese origins.

        Kamsahamnida!

        ReplyDelete
      27. This is the best explanation of this concept I've ever read. Bookmarked!

        ReplyDelete
      28. Hi, Jhommark

        You'd just say 나무를 심었어, leaving out 우리가/우리는.

        In fact, in Korean, unlike English or other languages, we leave out the subject.

        ReplyDelete
      29. This is the best tutorial I've ever came across to! Why didn't I ever found this in the first place before? Everything is just so perfectly laid out, comprehensively explained, for beginners like me. Originally I just had the interest to learn Korean because I'm fond of watching Korean Dramas (I know right, so childish of me) and I get tired of reading the subs (lazy me) cause I think I kinda waste my time reading the subs and I couldn't focus on what's happening in the scene itself.. Anyways, I pretty much have a basic picture of Korean grammar, just the S-O-V structure, but now I'm willing to start from the beginning again about this as I realize this tutorial will be more easy to understand than the two previous ones I saw online also... THANK YOU VERY MUCH AGAIN!! :)

        ReplyDelete
      30. Hi Aui, you're welcome! :)
        Hope you get the most out of the resources here.

        ReplyDelete
      31. I want the FORMAL... please make a Formal Grammar I know you made a Informal Grammar lesson.. I want the FORMAL... Thank you...

        ReplyDelete
      32. Hi Anonymous,

        This lesson is about the particles only.

        If you want to learn more about the formal/polite forms, please refer to the relevant lessons like "Nouns - Present, Past", "Adjectives - Polite [Present, Past]" and "Verbs - Polite [Present, Past]".

        You can find them on the right-hand panel where the lessons are listed down.

        ReplyDelete
      33. @jstele ... regarding to your comment about the particles (neun/eun) ... in addition to what Luke already said ... (neun/eun) particles are indeed subject markers .. it is similar to (ka/i) particles that they both indicate the subjects .. they cannot be used as "am/is/are" because the verbs and adjectives are always placed at the end of all sentences based on Korean Sentence Pattern

        Subject(or Doer)+ Object(including the Places, Time, etc.) + Verbs(or Adjectives, Adverbs)


        Since "am/is/are" are considered as "helping verbs/be-verbs" in English .. they cannot be (neun/eun)...

        ReplyDelete
      34. My Korean grammar skills have improved a lot after I read this blog.. thanks God I found this!

        ReplyDelete
      35. I'm too lazy to type this in Korean using Google Trans...

        this is very short because I'm still a beginner..

        Nan Luke-eul neomu komahaetda.

        ReplyDelete
      36. Oh by the way I also improved my reading speed in Korean because I read the subtitles(in Hangul) in K-pop songs..

        ReplyDelete
      37. This is incredibly helpful. I could never tell when to use 는/은 and 이/가, but after reading this blog I understand much better. Thank you so much:)))

        ReplyDelete
      38. wow, i love you so much right now!!
        thank you so much!!
        i've been wondering about the difrence for so long now, but any korean i asked about the diference was unable to explain it me.
        but it's really clair now, a better explanation wouldnt have been possible. :)
        thanks so much again!

        ReplyDelete
      39. Hi Cailin!

        You're welcome! My pleasure! :-)

        ReplyDelete
      40. thank you so much for explaining the difference between the two!
        i've looked everywhere, but it only says that it'll just sound natural after a while when you get used to the language, but you're explanation is really helpful! ^_^
        thanks again, your awesome!

        ReplyDelete
      41. 내가 also means 'I', right? so, in which cases do we use 내가?
        내가 제일잘나가. =)

        ReplyDelete
      42. Hi micKEY

        내가 제일 잘나가 means "I'm the one who's quite cool (recently/nowadays)"

        가 was used to emphasise the fact that it's "I", and not "others" who are quite cool/famous.

        ReplyDelete
      43. can you explain why when we use 가 in the sentence and say 'you', we read it as 니가/너가, but it written as 네가..
        and this blog really useful to learn more about korean especially grammar. I find it really difficult when learn from my mother language.. thanks for providing this.. ^^

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi Anonymous,

          Yes, 네가 is the correct written form, and when we speak, we usually say "니가 or less frequently 너가."

          I guess this is because it's more cumbersome to say "네가", and a lot easier to say "니가."

          But otherwise, I suspect it's one of the things that we use the way it is without thinking much about.

          There is no rule per se for why 네가 is pronounced "니가 or 너가," it is most likely due to the ease of pronunciation.

          Delete
      44. Hey Luke,

        Just to let you know that for this sentence, 바다는 푸르다, doesn't 푸르다 mean green, not blue?

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi MYDEARCHOPSTICKS,

          푸르다 can mean both blue and green. :-)

          But usually, 푸르다 has a nuance of blue.

          You could say 푸르다 is greenish blue as well.

          Delete
      45. Uaa! Kamsahamnida for this blog, luke :)
        This is a very helpful resources for my korean learning ^^
        Im a beginner who just started to learn korea about a few days ago.
        Thank God i found your blog.

        PS: Yes i trust in Jesus. He's the great I AM, the Way, the Truth and the Life. My blessed Redeemer :)

        Keep spreading the gospel! For it is the POWER of GOD unto salvation. AMen. God bless you

        Cheers

        ReplyDelete
      46. Hi there!
        Thank you for your explanations but it seems I'm still having a lot of trouble trying to discern when to use which particle... :( I think the main reason is because I've been reading up online about topic/subject particle which seems to have different explanations. Some say using 이/가 places the emphasis on the noun that precedes it, while using 은/는 places emphasis on whatever follows.

        This is in line with what you said, but many people have explained it in REVERSE:

        이것이 *연필*이에요. This is A PENCIL.
        *이것*은 연필이에요. THIS is a pencil.

        I've also read that 은/는 can also be used for contrasting:

        오늘은 예뻐 보여요. [Today(and not other days) you look pretty.]

        What would be the nuance of the sentence if 은 was replaced with 이? Since 가/이 as you have pointed out stresses what comes before it(오늘), would it have the same function as when using 은?

        I'm completely confused at this point, and I hope you can finally put my mind at rest and explain it in just a little bit more detail with the same sentences in korean using the topic and subject particles 이/가 or 은/는 with each and maybe stating the different nuances? Thanks in advance! :)

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi Sarah,

          I would say the emphasis can be on both "이것" and "연필" depending on how you interpret it.

          이것이 *연필*이에요. This is A PENCIL.

          The fact that other things are not pencils but "THIS" is the pencil.

          Or, put in a different way, if someone doesn't know what a pencil is you could point it out and say, 이것이 "연필" 이에요.


          When we say,

          *이것*은 연필이에요. THIS is a pencil.

          what we're saying is, while other things can be this and that, this is "a pencil."

          저것은 공책이에요 = That is a notebook.
          저것은 지우개예요 = That is a rubber/eraser.

          이것은 연필이에요 = This is a PENCIL.

          Or put in a different way, while those are different things, THIS is a pencil ("이것"은 연필이에요).

          So for 는/은, the nuance is "while those are such and such, this is ~~"

          whereas for 가/이, the nuance is "those are not "pencils," THIS is the PENCIL."

          Hope this helped clarify your confusion to some extent, I hope!

          Cheers.

          Delete
      47. Hi Luke,

        I have a question. Is 난 a shortened form of 나는? Where would you use 난?

        Thanks

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi Anonymous,

          Yes, 난 is a shortened form of 나는.

          난 is more often used in spoken Korean. :-)

          Delete
      48. Hi, I just wanted to say thank you very much indeed for the clearest and most comprehensive (without being overwhelming) explanation of various Korean grammar points I have been able to find so far. It has really helped me a lot! I am always so amazed that there are people who take time out to help others (essentially) for free like this. It's quite a testament to the kindness of strangers! Thanks ^_^

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi ella,

          You're welcome!
          Thank you for your compliment!
          Cheers. :-)

          Delete
      49. Hi.

        I stall feel confuse

        we use 는/은 when we explain something or When we want to draw attention to the person you're talking about



        what about 가/이 when we use

        i'm really sorry but my big problem is that so i need really your help to explain


        감사합니다

        ReplyDelete
      50. We use 는/은 when we talk about general things. For example, 제임스는 빠르다 = James is fast.

        We use 가/이 when we talk about specific things, for example, 제임스가 이 컴퓨터를 고쳤어 = James fixed this computer.

        ReplyDelete
      51. i see 가/이 only in specific things

        thanks a lot

        ReplyDelete
      52. Thank you for your lessons. I started to learn Korean from TTMIK but today I found your blog and the explanations are very, very good. Thank you so much. I have a question. Why the verb 공부하다 is 공부한다.
        감사합니다

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hi Camelia, 공부하다 is a plain form used in a dictionary but 공부하다 becomes 공부한다 which is a written form so you would use this form to say for example, 내 친구는 과학을 공부한다 = My friend studies science.

          Delete

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