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.”
To be (is, am, are)
To be not (is not, am not, are not)
To have, to exist
To not have, to not exist
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:
Next, determine the verb ending. The present tense of a verb (polite speech only) will end with one of the following:
The final step is to add the verb ending to the verb stem as follows:
* Notice that all of the above four stems get the -어요 ending.
The past tense of a verb will end with the following:
As you did with the present tense above, just add the appropriate ending to the verb stem:
The verb ending of future tense is as follows:
Add one of the above to the verb stem:
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:
이에요 / 예요
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:
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:
*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:
하고 있어요 [하고 이써요]
가고 있어요 [가고 이써요]
오고 있어요 [오고 이써요]
먹고 있어요 [먹꼬 이써요]
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:
How did you do?
Click to reveal the correct answer
Here are the answers:
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:
Cooking (a dish that has been cooked)
In order to determine the various tenses of these verbs, refer back to the verb “하다”:
Then simply combine them with the nouns as shown below:
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!!