Verbs - Polite [Present, Past]

Polite Form 

This lesson is about the polite form of verbs, in addition to the informal form which we learned in the previous lesson. Let's go over again the differences between the informal and polite forms.

  • Informal - Generally speaking, the informal form is used among people of the same age or to people who are younger by older people. It is also used by people who are closely related such as such family members and relatives. People who are close friends would use this form depending on the familiarity and acceptability.

  • Polite - The polite form is used when speaking to people who are older than you or of a higher rank than you such as in the company, army and other institutions. However, people generally use the polite form in many social settings regardless of one's age. Initially, it would be best to stick to the polite form when learning Korean, as this would be the predominant form of speaking to people in many social environments. However, if you attend school or other similar institutions where you'd make friends and the environment is more casual, it might be more appropriate to use the informal form.

Note: The words in bold indicate which of the two negatives are more commonly used in each case, i.e. 먹지 않습니다 is more commonly used than 안 먹습니다 in the written form, and 안 먹어요 is more commonly used than 먹지 않아요 in the spoken form.

Polite Written Form
먹지 않습니다
안 먹습니다
먹지 않았습니다
안 먹었습니다

Polite Spoken Form
먹지 않아요
안 먹어요
먹지 않았어요
안 먹었어요

Conjugation Rules

I) Informal Plain Polite Present (Written)

First of all, take 다 off the plain form of verbs, and then:

1. For verbs whose final character has no final consonant, add ㅂ 니다.

  • 하다 → 합니다 = do
  • 가다 → 갑니다 = go
  • 오다 → 옵니다 = come
  • 쓰다 → 씁니다 = write 
  • 말하다 → 말합니다 = speak
  • 바라다 → 바랍니다 = hope 
  • 자라다 → 자랍니다 = grow

    2. For verbs whose final character has a final consonant, add 습니다.

    • 먹다 → 먹습니다 = eat
    • 걷다 → 걷습니다 = walk
    • 듣다 → 듣습니다 = listen
    • 읽다 → 읽습니다 = read
    • 입다 → 입습니다 = wear

    Note: The rule 3 overrides the rule 2.

      3. For verbs whose last character has ㄹ as a final consonant, change it to ㅂ and add 니다.

      • 살다 → 삽니다 = live
      • 놀다 → 놉니다 = play (have fun)
      • 알다 → 압니다 = know
      • 날다 → 납니다 = fly
      • 걸다 → 겁니다 = hang (up)
      • 말다 → 맙니다 = roll (up) 
      • 밀다 → 밉니다 = push

      II) Informal Past Polite Past (Written)

      Take 다 off the informal past form of verbs, and then add 습니다.

      • 했다 → 했습니다 = did
      • 갔다 → 갔습니다 = went
      • 왔다 → 왔습니다 = came
      • 봤다 → 봤습니다 = watched 
      • 먹었다 → 먹었습니다 = ate
      • 달렸다 → 달렸습니다 = ran
      • 만났다 → 만났습니다 = met

        III) InformalPolite (Spoken)

        Just add 요 to the informal spoken forms.

        • 해 → 해요 = do
        • 가 → 가요 = go 
        • 와 → 와요 = come
        • 안해 → 안해요 = not do
        • 안봐 → 안봐요 = not watch
        • 안사 → 안사요 = not buy
        • 안자 → 안자요 = not sleep
        • 먹었어 → 먹었어요 = ate
        • 걸었어 → 걸었어요 = walked
        • 만났어 → 만났어요 = met
        • 안했어 → 안했어요 = didn't do
        • 안갔어 → 안갔어요 = didn't go
        • 안먹었어 → 안먹었어요 = didn't eat
        • 안빌렸어 → 안빌렸어요 = didn't borrow

        A brief revision of the differences between the written and spoken forms

        • 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.


          1. You just saved my life! I am currently studying korean language and with the "not-so-good" explaintion from my teachers it was hell!

            Thank you so much !!

            From france

          2. Hi Luke,
            this grammar guide of your's is excellent thank you very much!
            I'm learning Korean through Rosetta Stone, which quite often leaves me confused. I have a question, but I'm not sure it has to do with polite and casual speaking forms.
            Could you explain the difference between these two sentences?
            - 책을 읽으세요
            - 책을 읽어요
            Thank you very much!^^

            1. Hello, this my first year studying korean... :) this page is so well!!! I really like it. i have eight years old hehehe~

          3. Hi Pippi,

            They're both polite speaking forms.

            책을 읽으세요 means "Please read a book!" or "Please do some reading!" It's like a plead or command.

            책을 읽어요 means "I'm reading" or "I read."

            Hope this helps.

          4. Hi Luke,

            Thanks for your awesome blog, it's really a life saver.

            I recently came across the following phrase:
            얼굴을 예쁘세요

            I know it means 'her face is pretty', but I don't get why they use '세요' conjugation since it's a declarative phrase and not an order.

            Thanks a lot if you have time to answer this one,


          5. Hi Raphael,

            It is probably 얼굴이 예쁘세요 which means literally, "your face is pretty".

            예쁘세요 is a honorific form of 예뻐요.

            It is probably most commonly used by sales person in the department store to customers, especially ladies, lol, to encourage them to buy cosmetics, clothes or jeweleries.

            잘 어울리세요 (어울리다) = fitting (for you, something like clothes suit you well)
            멋있으세요 (멋있다) = good-looking
            예쁘세요 (예쁘다) = pretty
            아름다우세요 (아름답다) = beautiful

          6. "걸었어 → 걸었어요 = walked"
            Maybe 걷었어 / 걷었어요 ?
            Because you wrote before 걸다 means hang up.

            1. 걷다 means "roll up"

              소매를 걷다 = To roll up a sleeve

              소매를 걷었어요 = I rolled a sleeve.

              걸다 means to "hang something" or "ring someone"

              전화를 걸다 = to ring/phone/call someone
              옷을 걸다 = to hang clothes

          7. Hi, Luke.
            Thanks for this amazing blog.
            Really helpful^^
            I want yo ask you something.
            Is that okay for me to use spoken form when I write something ?
            I always use spoken form instead written form to write something on lang-8.

            Thanks before :)

            1. Hi Anonymous,
              Yes, you can use spoken form instead of written form when you write. Actually, we do write in spoken form on facebook for example, :)


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