Nouns - Present, Past

Nouns [명사]

In this lesson, we're going to learn how to say a word in present and past tenses plus how to use the same expression in polite forms. 

Present and Past Tenses

Each table below show how to say 'an apple' and 'a pencil' in four different ways. The table is divided into present and past tenses, and positive and negative forms. Also, the first table shows the written form of Korean and the second table shows the spoken form.

  • The written form is used in literature such as books, newspapers and any form of writing that is not 'conversational.' The written form, in essence, is literary, factual and declarative. It is rarely used in normal everyday conversations. However, the news on TV uses this written form of Korean. It is also used in public speeches. The reason is probably due to the fact that the news and public announcements or speeches are usually all declarative and/or factual.

    • The spoken form is the usual way in which people speak and have a conversation. It is used in all types of spoken Korean such as normal conversations, dramas, and movies, with the possible exceptions of news, documentaries and other factual, formal types of programs on TV and radio.

    Informal Written Form
    사과가 아니다
    연필이 아니다
    사과가 아니었다
    연필이 아니었다

    Informal Spoken Form
    사과(가) 아니야
    연필(이) 아니야
    사과(가) 아니었어
    연필(이) 아니었어

    • 사과 = an apple
    • 연필 = a pencil
    • 사과다 = is an apple
    • 사과가 아니다 = is not an apple
    • 사과였다 = was an apple
    • 사과가 아니었다 = was not an apple
    • 연필이야 = is a pencil
    • 연필(이) 아니야 = is not a pencil
    • 연필이었어 = was a pencil
    • 연필(이) 아니었어 = was not a pencil
    Note: The verb ending,, is used for nouns without a final consonant, and 이다 for nouns with a final consonant. Likewise, in the spoken form, is used for nouns without final consonant and 이야 for nouns with a final consonant. Therefore:
    • 사과다
    • 연필이다
    • 사과야
    • 연필이야

    Note: In spoken Korean, the particles are usually omitted. In the above example, 가/이 are in brackets to show that they are usually left out.

    For more information on the 가/이 particle, please read Particles - 는, 가. 

    Polite Form 

    Each table below shows the polite form of the respective written and spoken forms we've looked at above which were in the informal form.

    Polite Written Form
    사과가 아닙니다
    연필이 아닙니다
    사과가 아니었습니다
    연필이 아니었습니다

    Note: To change the informal form to the polite form, the following rules apply:

    In the case of the present tense,
    • 사과다 → 사과입니다 = 다 (or 이다 in the case of nouns with a final consonant, e.g. 연필) is taken off and replaced by 입니다
    • 사과가 아니다  → 사과가 아닙니다 = 아니다 is changed to 아닙니다

    In the case of the past tense,  다 is changed to 습니다.
    • 사과였다 → 사과였습니다 
    • 사과가 아니었다 → 사과가 아니었습니다

    Polite Spoken Form
    사과(가) 아니에요
    연필(이) 아니에요
    사과(가) 아니었어요
    연필(이) 아니었어요

    Note: To change the informal form to the polite form, the following rules apply:

    In the case of the present tense:
    • 사과야 → 사과예요 = 야 changes to 예요(or 에요 in the case of nouns with a final consonant, e.g. 연필)
    • 사과 아니야 → 사과 아니에요 = 야 changes to 에요

    In the case of the past tense, 요 is attached at the end.
    • 사과였어 → 사과였어요
    • 사과 아니었어 → 사과 아니었어요 

    Here are some example sentences in the written form.
    • 가게다 = is a shop
    • 가방이다 = is a bag
    • 소고기였다 = was beef
    • 선생님이었다 = was a teacher
    • 꽃이 아니다 = is not a flower
    • 항구가 아니었다 = was not a port
    • 동물이 아니었다 = was not an animal

    Try translating the following sentences in the spoken form. What do they mean?
    • 시계야
    • 집이야
    • 비둘기였어
    • 사람이었어
    • 구름(이) 아니야
    • 빌딩(이) 아니었어
    • 닭고기(가) 아니었어

    • is a clock/watch
    • is a house
    • was a pigeon
    • was a person
    • is not a cloud
    • was not a building
    • was not chicken (meat)

    Now try rewrite the English sentences above in the polite spoken form of Korean, and pronounce them one by one.

    At this point, I'd recommend that you get hold of someone who is Korean to teach you the correct pronunciation of each sentence, but I think many of you would not have that kind of luxury. So alternatively, as imperfect as it may be, I'd recommend the Google Translate's 'Listen' feature. It allows you to listen to the pronunciation of the words you put in.

    For those of you who would like to know how to type in Korean, please try the google results for 'How to type in Korean.'


      1. Interesting how both Japanese and Korean use "da" as declarative particle (だ for Japanese, 다 for Korean)!

      2. Nice site. Thanks for helping us learners.

        The link for pronunciation doesn't seem to work.

        Also, underlining the letters may confuse a beginning student of Korean, who might think the line underneath is part of the character.

        Good site anyway. ^^

      3. I really like this, but one suggestion... could you move the particles before all this since they are more basic and you can't really move on to making sentences unless you know the basic particles first.

      4. Formal Spoken Form should be 사과예요 and also 아니예요, shouldn't it?

      5. Thanks for all of these simple and direct grammar lessons...this helps so much! Kamsahamnida!!

      6. 사과예요 is right. 사과예요 is a contracted form of 사과이에요.

        And it should be 아니에요 according to 배상복∙중앙일보 어문연구소 차장.

      7. Hi Luke, I just moved to Korea about a month ago and your blog has been quite helpful.

        Anyway, I have a question. I'm looking at some flash cards I made, and I notice one of them has the phrase "김 씨는 내 친구이다".

        I'm pretty sure I copied this directly from a textbook or something, so I'm wondering why "친구이다" has an 이 before the 다. Is this an exception to the "final consonant" rules, and are there any other common ones I should look out for? Or is there something here I'm overlooking?

        Thanks for the help!

      8. Are the endings supposed to be different or is it always 였어?

        The reason why i'm asking is because sometime it sayd 였어 and sometimes 었어. I'm not sure if I should memorize one or two endings^^

      9. 였어 is a shortened form of 이었어.
        We use 였어 for nouns that end with no final consonant such as 사과, 바나나 and 배.


        We use 이었어 for nouns with a final consonant such as 연필, 책상 and 문.

        연필이었어. [pronounced: 연피리었어]
        책상이었어. [pronounced the same]
        문이었어. [pronounced: 무니었어]

        이었어 is used with nouns with a final consonant for easier pronunciation.

        I hope this helps. :)

      10. To toadhjo

        I'm sorry for the late reply. I've been off my blog for a long time.
        I must say 친구이다 is an exception.

        Normally 친구다 is used but in this case, 친구이다 has been used because it sounds more like a narrative, I guess.

        There is no certain rule for this.
        Sometimes 이다 is used instead of 다.

      11. Greetings! Luke

        I'm a little confused! is there any rule to change things from present to past...


        what is the difference of 였어 from 었어... and how do I know which on to use in spoken and written!

        Hope you could help me with this. I'm new to this things!


      12. Oh! I'm sorry...

        I just read your replies for other comments and the answer is there!

        I'm so sorry for posting this!

      13. Hey, animaddict,

        였어 is used with nouns that do not have a final consonant, for example, 사과, 바나나, 의자, etc. However, 이었어 is used with nouns that have a final consonant, for example, 연필, 책상, 호박, 신발, 양말, etc.

        Also, they are both used in spoken Korean. In the case of written Korean, it usually ends with 다, for example, 연필이다. 연필입니다. 연필이었습니다.

      14. I still don't get it when i/ga can be put after a noun. What the difference between i/ga and iya/ya and ida/da?

        1. i이/ga가 are the same thing
          - i이 is used for words with a final consonant
          __ex. yeonpil 연필
          - ga가 is used for words without a final consonant
          __ex. sagwa 사과

          same rules go for iya/ya and ida/da
          - iya and ida are for words with a final consonant
          - ya and da are for words without a final consonant

      15. Thank you for your blog! It is so well-structured and provides a lot of useful information to those who really want to study Korean.

        All the best to you!

      16. thanks! but... what is the diff of i/ga , iya/ya and ida/da?
        are they all in written form?

      17. iya/ya is the spoken form and ida/da is the written form.

        Further explanations are given at the beginning of this post.

      18. hey Luke!
        thanks for this :D
        but i got a question...
        what if those artists when they talk to the camera or their audience., what do they usually use? the written or spoken form? and do they use the informal form or the formal?
        hope you could answer this question.
        Thanks!! ^_^

      19. Hi Alou

        First of all, I'm not quite sure what you mean by the artists but my guess is that you mean the singers and K-pop stars?

        If you mean them, they would use the spoken form the majority of time but they might slot in some spoken forms if they wanted to say something factual or declarative.

        For example,

        안녕하세요. 저희는 소녀시대입니다.
        = Hello (everyone)! We're Girl's Generation!

        입니다 is used rather than 에요 because, in this case, they're declaring who they are. If you watched the programme carefully, they'd always say 'blah blah' and end in 요, which means they're speaking in a polite(formal) form.

        But sometimes it might end in 다, which means they're speaking in the polite written form.

        For example,

        - 안녕하세요. 저희는 소녀시대입니다.
        - 이렇게 와주셔서 감사합니다.
        - 이번에 저희가 새 앨범을 냈는데요.
        - 많이 많이 들어주세요.
        - 올해에는 더더욱 많은 활동을 할 예정이구요.
        - 앞으로도 응원 많이 해주세요.

        - Hello, (everyone). We're Girl's Generation.
        - Thank you for coming.
        - We have released a new album recently.
        - Please listen to it a lot!
        - We're going to be very active this year.
        - Please keep cheering and supporting us, too!

        As you can see, 다 was used in the first two sentences and 요 for the rest. 다 might be used occasionally again but the majority of their speech, they'd use the polite spoken form.

        In many TV shows and programs, people would use the polite spoken form most of the time, interrupted by a few polite written forms. The MC or a host might use the polite written form quite often as he'd make a lot of factual announcements and comments.

        Good question! :D
        I hope this helped with your curiosity.
        Cheers. :)

      20. Great blog my friend, but you made a mistake above: "사과 아니였어 → 사과 아니였어요"

        the past tense marker should be "었" in this case, as indicated by the conjugation chart above. Sorry, the grammar nerd in me caught it.

      21. Well spotted. Thanks.
        It has been corrected. :)

      22. Hey, great blog! I just found it yesterday. It doesn't matter if your are busy and cannot update it, because your old posts are really really educational. I started to learn korean seriously a month ago, and having this resource online to help my with korean is great. Thanks!!

      23. Hey Dabisu,

        I know this is a very late reply, but thanks for your comment!

        All the best with your learning! :)

      24. Thank you Luke! This blog helps me so much :)

      25. what do you mean by positive and negative?

        1. Positive = He is a student.

          Negative = He is not a student.

          What I mean is whether a sentence is positive or negative (which includes "not" in many cases.)

      26. i know its difficult but the lord i serve will see me through it right luke...?

      27. Hi, This is a very helpful blog. Is there a future tense for nouns? Like "It will be an apple" for example.


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