Korean lessons: Lesson 4

Base forms and Stems

In a language, we find three basic ways of describing facts: description of action, state, and identity. To describe an action, we use verbs. For example, in English, we say “I eat lunch,” which describes the action (‘eating’) of the subject (‘I’). To describe a state, we use adjectives.  When we say, “I am tall,” it describes the state (‘being tall’) of the subject (‘I’). Describing an identity is relating one thing to another, characterizing the property of the subject. To say “I am a student” is characterizing a property of the subject (‘I’), by identifying the subect as a student.  When we talk about facts that happened in the past, or a something that will happen in the future, the story is not simple. In English, if the your action of eating had happened in the past, you need to use a different form of the verb, i.e., “I ate lunch.” If you used to be quite tall for your age in the past, but it is not the case now, you have to say, “I was tall.”

For similar reasons, we say, “I was a student.”     In order to differentiate the mode of facts, such as tense, we make variation on the predicates–in other words, verbs, adjectives, and noun phrases, etc. This variation is called “conjugation.” Like English, Korean also uses this conjugation of predicates. Therefore, in a verb predicate, for example, we see a part that is constant in all kinds of sentences, and the other part that changes according to the modes of facts. (Think of “push, pushes, pushed, pushing…” in English. “Push” is the constant, where “-es”, “-ed”, and “-ing” are alternating.) The constant part is called the ‘stems’. The conjugation in Korean is made by attaching different suffixes to the stems.

가                        요
stem                 mid-polite suffix
“to go/leave”          (present tense)

“가”, a lexical verb stem, is attached with a mid-polite suffix “요”, making a present-tense predicate. (“-요” has more stories. We will learn them later.) Subjects can be omitted in many simple everyday-conversational sentences, as long as they are obvious by the context. “가요”thus can be used in the sense of “I go,” “you go,” or sometimes, “He goes,” etc.  With an intonation rising at the end (scrollup), it can be a question, “Do you go (Are you leaving?)” or “Shall we go?”, etc. It can even be taken as an imperative sentence, “Go (Leave)!”

A stem is a part of a verb predicate, not a whole word. When we list it in dictionaries, or refer to it as a word–just as when we say “to go” or “to eat” as words–, we add “다” at the end of a stem. Thus,
Stem + 다 = Base Form

가 + 다 = 가다 (Base Form, “to go”)

High-polite  -세요

When addressing a senior (in terms of age or social ranking), a high-polite stle of speech is used. “-세요” is a typical suffix of this style. A simple “How are you?” is made as the following.


“to be well” 

high-polite suffix
(present tense)

“안녕하” is a stem, the base form of which is “안녕하다”.  Apart from the politeness of the style, “-세요” can be used you use “요”, as in “You go (Please leave)” or “Do you go (Are you leaving)?”, “He/She goes”, or “Does he/she go”, etc. However, you may not want to use it when the subject is you, the subject. For the added politeness by “-세-” is for the subject, not the addressee, whereas “-요” is for the addressee, as it is used in the mid-polite style.


Using the given words, make different sentences as seen in the key.

1. [verbs] — 만나다 (to meet), 자다 (to sleep), 사다 (to buy), 타다 (to ride), 파다 (to dig)


가다 (to go): 가요.     가세요.   I/you go.  He/she goes.
가요?    가세요?  Do you go? Does he/she go?
가요!    가세요!  Please go!

2. [adjectives] — 비싸다 (to be expensive), 짜다 (to be salty), 차다 (to be cold)


싸다 (to be cheap) : 싸요.    It’s cheap.
싸요?   Is it cheap?


3. ‘-하다’ verbs and adjectives (adj.)건강하다 (to be healthy)
(verb)공부하다 (to study),  일하다 (to work)


(adj.) 안녕하다 (to be well): 안녕하세요?  Are you well (How are you)?
(verb) 하다 (to do) : 하세요? Do you do (it)?
하세요! Do (it)!

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