A SIMPLE GUIDE TO KOREAN VERBS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

by Linda McKenna // November 14 // 0 Comments

Korean verbs are relatively simple to conjugate once you know the verb stems along with the verb endings of the different tenses. 

In this article, we will learn how to determine the stem of a verb and how to add the appropriate endings to make them into past, present, or future tenses. Please note that for the entirety of this article, I will only be addressing the polite form of speech. You should be aware that the casual and formal forms of speech will have different verb endings.

If you find yourself confused about the pronunciations in this article, please refer to my previous article on Korean pronunciation rules.

Korean non-action verbs

Let’s first look at the infinitive forms of four common non-action verbs. Every Korean verb in its infinitive form ends with “다.”

이다

[이다]

To be (is, am, are)

아니다

[아니다]

To be not (is not, am not, are not)

있다

[이따]

To have, to exist

없댜

[업따]

To not have, to not exist

Present tense

First step to conjugating is to find the stem of each verb. The simple way to find the stem is just take away the syllable “다" at the end.

The verb stem for the above verbs are:

  • 이-
  • 아니-
  • 있-
  • 없-

Next, determine the verb ending. The present tense of a verb (polite speech only) will end with one of the following:

  • -아요 (when the last vowel in the verb stem is ㅏ or ㅗ)
  • -어요 (when the last vowel in the verb stem is anything else)

The final step is to add the verb ending to the verb stem as follows:

  • 이 + 어요 = 이어요 (eventually became 이에요 / 예요) = is, am, are
  • 아니 + 어요 = 아니어요 (eventually became 아니에요) = is not, am not, are not
  • 있 + 어요 = 있어요 [이써요] = does exist
  • 없 + 어요 = 없어요 [업써요] = does not exist

* Notice that all of the above four stems get the -어요 ending.

Past tense

The past tense of a verb will end with the following:

  • -았어요 (when the last vowel in the verb stem is ㅏ or ㅗ)
  • -었어요 (when the last vowel in the verb stem is anything else)

As you did with the present tense above, just add the appropriate ending to the verb stem:

  • 이 + 었어요 = 이었어요 [이어써요] = was, were
  • 아니 + 었어요 = 아니었어요 [아니어써요] = was not, were not
  • 있 + 었어요 = 있었어요 [이써써요] = did exist
  • 없 + 었어요 = 없었어요 [업써써요] = did not exist

Future tense

The verb ending of future tense is as follows:

  • ~ㄹ거예요 (when the preceding syllable ends with a vowel)
  • 을거예요 (when the verb stem ends with a consonant)

Add one of the above to the verb stem:

  • 이 + ㄹ거예요 = 일거예요 [일꺼예요] = probably will be
  • 아니 +ㄹ거예요 = 아닐거예요 [아닐꺼예요] = probably will not be
  • 있 + 을거예요 = 있을거예요 [이쓸꺼예요] = probably will exist
  • 없 + 을거예요 = 없을거예요 [업쓸꺼예요] = probably will not exist

As you will notice in the definition, the ending ㄹ/일거예요 does not indicate a definite future.  Rather, it indicates a probable future. 

In the Korean language, this is the most common way to talk about the future. Only the past and the present can be described with certainty. I always found this to be an interesting characteristic of the Korean language. 

Now let’s take a look at the present, past, and future tenses together for better reference:

이다

이-

이에요 / 예요

이었어요

[이어써요]

일거예요

[일꺼예요]

아니다

아니-

아니에요

아니었어요

[아니어써요]

아닐꺼예요

[아닐꺼예요]

있다

[있따]

있-

있어요

[이써요]

있었어요

[이써써요]

있을거예요

[이쓸꺼예요]

없다

[엽따]

없-

없어요

[업써요]

없었어요

[업써써요]

없을거예요

[업쓸꺼예요]

Korean action verbs

Action verbs describe actions that can be done by the subject of the sentence. Let’s conjugate the following verbs using the same steps as above.

Present, past, and future tenses

Using the above information, see if you can determine what the verb stems are:

하다

?

To do

가다

?

To go

오다

?

To come

먹다

?

To eat

Were you able to find the verb stems?
You are correct!! All you need to do is take away “다" to get the verb stems 하-, 가-, 오-, and 먹-.

Now let’s find the present, past, and future tenses of the above verbs:

하다

하-

해요

(do)

했어요 [해써요]

(did)

할거예요 [할꺼예요]

(will do)

가다

가-

가요

(go)

갔어요 [가써요]

(went)

갈거예요 [갈꺼예요]

(will go)

오다

오-

와요

왔어요 [와써요]

올거예요 [올꺼예요]

먹다

먹-

먹어요 [머거요]

먹었어요 [머어써요]

먹을거예요 [머글꺼예요]

*With the verb 하다 and 가다, if you follow the same pattern, the present tense should be 하아요 and 가아요. Over time, the present tense for those words became 해요 and 가요. While learning, you will encounter other such words that have evolved over time.

Continuous present tense

Since we have covered the past, present, and future tenses, there is one more type of commonly used present tense I should mention. Present continuous refers to the current state of doing the action, like the words going, coming, and eating.

To make a Korean verb into the continuous present tense, you simply add the ending ~고 있어요.

Let’s look at the same four words:

하다

하-

하고 있어요 [하고 이써요]

(doing)

가다

가-

가고 있어요 [가고 이써요]

(going)

오다

오-

오고 있어요 [오고 이써요]

(coming)

먹다

먹-

먹고 있어요 [먹꼬 이써요]

(eating)

You can see that the pattern is pretty straightforward. Notice that the word 있어요 (does exist) is included in the present continuous. Translated literally, it means that whatever action you are describing currently exists. In other words, the action is happening now!

Here are a few more action verbs.  See if you can come up with the verb tenses:

마시다

(to drink)

자다

(to sleep)

놀다

(to play)

읽다

(to read)

How did you do?

Click to reveal the correct answer

It wasn’t too difficult, right? Great job!!

Let’s now look at the verbs used in complete sentences:

어제는 친구하고 놀았어요.

[어제는 칭구하고 노라써요]

Yesterday, I played with a friend.

저는 요즘 소설을 읽고있어요.

[저는 요즘 소서를 일꼬이써요]

These days, I’m reading a novel.

오빠가 맥주를 너무 많이 마셨어요.

[오빠가 맥쭈를 너무 마니 마셔써요]

My brother drank too much beer.

우리남편은 지금 자고 있어요.

[우리남펴는 지금 자고 이써요]

My husband is sleeping right now.

그 편지는 이따 읽을거예요.

[그 편지는 이따 일글꺼예요]

I will read that letter later.

Korean action verbs combining a noun with the verb “do”

The last topic that I want to introduce in this article involves the Korean verb “하다” (do). There are many nouns that are combined with 하다 to become action verbs. 

Listed below are some examples of this combination:

공부

Study

공부하다

To study

생각

Thought(s)

생각하다

To think

일하

Work

일하다

To work

운동

Exercise

운동하다

To exercise

요리

Cooking (a dish that has been cooked)

요리하다

To cook

In order to determine the various tenses of these verbs, refer back to the verb “하다”:

하다

하-

해요

했어요 [해써요]

할거예요 [할꺼예요]

Then simply combine them with the nouns as shown below:

공부하다

공부하-

 공부해요

공부했어요

[공부해써요]

공부할거예요

[공부할꺼예요]

공부하고 있어요

[공부하고 이써요]

생각하다

생각하-

생각해요

[생가캐요]

생각헀어요

[생가캐써요]

생각할거예요

[생가칼꺼예요]

생각하고 있어요

[생가카고 이써요]

일하다

일하-

일해요

[이래요]

일했어요

[이래써요]

일할거예요

[이랄꺼예요]

일하고 있어요

[이라고 이써요]

운동하다

운동하-

운동해요

[운동애요]

운동했어요

[운동애써요]

운동할거예요

[운동알꺼예요]

운동하고 있어요

[운동아고 이써요]

요리하다

요리하-

요리해요

요리했어요

[요리해써요]

요리할거예요

[요리할꺼예요]

요리하고 있어요

[요리하고 이써요]

Conclusion

In this article, I have introduced only a few of the verb endings that exist in the Korean language. There are many more verb endings still to learn, but you are now on your way to mastering the past, present, and future!

As you continue to increase your vocabulary, you should get in the habit of learning the different conjugations of each verb that you add to your list. Eventually, the verb tenses will become second nature to you as you compose your sentences!

REVIEW AND REPEAT DAILY, AND YOU WILL SEE PROGRESS…  화이팅!!

Linda was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. as a teen. She previously taught at a Korean language school. She is a language enthusiast and loves learning about different languages and cultures

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