Subject Particles - 는 / 은 and 가 / 이

For the video recording of this lesson, please see below. :)


는/은 and 가/이 both are used for the subject of a sentence but 는/은 introduces a topic or a subject whereas 가/이 identifies a subject.

In addition to their differences already explored above, here is another big difference between the two particles.

The topic particle, 는/은, is used in cases when we make a general or factual statement whereas 가/이 is not.

For example,
  • 치타는 빠르다 = Cheetah is fast
  • 치타는 느리다 = Cheetah is slow (This would be a wrong statement)

However, if you visited a zoo and saw a cheetah who seems to move very slowly, you might say,
  • 치타가 느리다 = (That) cheetah is slow

So the identifier particle, 가/이, indicates a certain person or thing that the speaker and listener know or are aware of. In this case, it would be that cheetah in the zoo.

Here is another example,
  • 바다는 푸르다 = The sea is blue
  • 바다는 까맣다 = The sea is black (In general, this is a wrong statement.)

But say, you saw the sea at night and you may exclaim,
  • 바다가 까맣다! = The sea is black!

The sea in this sentence is identified as a particular sea at night, and both the speaker and listener know which sea is being talked about. This is not a general statement. Therefore the identifier particle, 가/이, is used in this case.

Of course, 바다가 푸르다 is also perfectly acceptable. However, the difference is that the sea in this sentence is also a particular sea that is known by both the speaker and the listener.
  • 바다는 푸르다 = The sea is blue (A general statement)
  • 바다가 푸르다 = The sea is blue (The sea is identified and known by the speaker and listener)

It's similar to the way articles are used in English.

For example,
  • An apple is red = 사과는 빨갛다  (A general or factual statement about an apple)
  • The apple is red = 사과가 빨갛다 (A particular apple that the speaker identifies and indicates to the listener)

Continue to the next section:

47 comments:

  1. I'm still having difficulty determining when to use 가/이 또는 은/는 . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi 이자민,

      here's the simple way of thinking 가/이 and 은/는.

      simply put,

      이/가 is used for a specific statement,

      은/는 is used for a general statement.

      for example,
      a building = 빌딩은, the building = 빌딩이

      Delete
    2. 와! The best explanation. 너무 감사합니다, Luke-님!

      Delete
  2. I still don't fully understand the difference between 이/가 and 은/는, or when to use 이/가.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. simply put,

      이/가 is used for a specific statement,

      은/는 is used for a general statement.

      for example,
      a building = 빌딩은, the building = 빌딩이

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    2. 이 after consonants
      가 after vowels.

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    3. I can't decide which subject that use with 는/은 and 이/가.

      Delete
  3. The examples you give for general statements would be more correct in the plural form.

    "Cheetahs are fast.", instead of "A cheetah is fast."

    Your website is really useful, by the way. Thank you for taking the time to make it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks, noted!

      though I can't use the plural form in Korean cos that'd be different in meaning.

      So I guess, go with a grammatical error.

      Delete
  4. thank you, you helped a lot! very clear explanation :)

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  5. This explanation is perfect. Very helpful indeed. Thanks a lot for your hard work.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi,

    you mean we use 가/이 when we talk about something we know about it or something we see it in the seam time

    is tat all right

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 가/이 is used when we both know what specifically we're talking about.

      For example, a building = 빌딩은, the building = 빌딩이

      hope this helps.

      Delete
    2. Would it be correct if I say:
      “That cheetah is fast”
      “그 치다가 빠르다” ?

      Delete
  7. Hey,

    How do we know when to use 가 or 이?

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  8. I understand! Thank you soo much!!!!

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  9. I think Erik is suggesting that, as an English speaker, reading "A cheetah is fast." is confusing. It's the same for the other examples using "cheetah". I don't think Erik is stressing an English grammar "mistake", just that the sentence is awkward. Using a different subject for the example sentence would help get your intention across.

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  10. so far this is the best site for learning korean... i've been trying to understand korean for more than five years already but with this i think i'll fully grasp everything

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi. I want to ask. Does 이/은 and 가/는 have to do with 이씁니까 , 입니다 ,이씁니다,임니까 ?

    ReplyDelete
  12. hi. Can you tell me more about isseumnikka , imnikka, imnida, and isseumnida ? Thank you 😄 ur blog is really useful ! May God bless you 😙

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hello, this is a very clear article and thank you for writing it. I just have one question, when talking about someone we both know would we use 가/이 then?
    For example, so-and-so is so pretty would it be so-and-so가/이 너무 예뻐요? Or would we use 은/는?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks, this was super helpful!

    So does that mean if you use 이, 그, or 저 at the beginning of a sentence, you'd also always use 이/가 since we're clearly talking about a specific [noun]?

    For instance

    사과는 빨갛다 [OK - "An apple is red" with a general apple]
    사과가 빨갛다 [OK - "The apple is red" re: a specific/particular apple]
    이사과가 빨갛다 [OK - "This apple is red" re: a specific apple that is close to the speaker]
    이사과는 빨갛다 [NOT OK, since 이 indicates a particular apple ("this apple") but 는 indicates a generalized statement?]

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi
    Isn't it the other way around?

    The sites I linked below both state that when you use the indefinite article 'a/an' you use 이/가 and when you use the definite article 'the' you use 은/는. I'm confused as to which way around it is? Can anyone clarify?

    http://wiseinit.com/%EC%9D%80%EB%8A%94topic-marker-vs-%EC%9D%B4%EA%B0%80subject-marker-korean-grammar-vs-grammar-10

    http://hangullove.com/good-explanation-for-particles-%EC%9D%80%EB%8A%94-%EC%9D%B4%EA%B0%80-and-%EC%9D%84%EB%A5%BC/

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  16. 감사합니다! Really helpfull !

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  17. Omg thank you so much!! This really helped a lot . I've been confuse about for the past 3 months Kkk thanks again!!

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  18. Ive honestly been trying to figure this out for at least 4 years. Thank you so muchhhhh

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  19. "백현 포스터가 어딨어요?" Or "백현 포스터는 어딨어요?"

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  20. 고마워요~!

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  21. Thank you soooooo much

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  22. So 은/는 and 가/이 means 'is' and that it's used depending if it's used as a general statement or something presently talked about?

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  23. You saved my life!! I had no idea when to use them but you just made it so so much easier for me. Thank you!

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  24. This was the most helpful post from all on the internet! Thank you so much! I've watched videos and read posts on this topic but I had no idea what they are talking about... but this was amazing! Thank you so much!

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  25. Finally I can get the differences!! Is more easy we you put English examples after the korean examples thank you~

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  26. Would it be correct if I say
    “That cheetah is fast”.
    “ 그 치다가 빠르다”

    ReplyDelete
  27. FINALLY I UNDERSTAAANNNDD!!! THANK YOU!!

    ReplyDelete
  28. so it's like,
    a ballpen is black - 볼펜은 검은이다.
    the ballpen is black - 볼펜이 검은이다
    am I right? cause i don't get it much

    ReplyDelete

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