Korean lessons: Lesson 5

Nominal predicates : “–이에요”

Sample Dialogues

By ‘nominal predicate’, we mean a predicate of a sentence that describes the subject by identifying it with another noun: “I am a student.”  For verbs and adjectives, we learned that there are base forms and stems.  We thus get base forms, “가다” for “to go”, and “싸다” for “to be cheap”, etc.  Now, we are facing a new problem.  If there is no such thing as the English verb “to be”, how are we going to say such sentences as “I am a student”?  Many languages lack the verb like “to be,” which can be used both in nominal predicates and adjectival predicates. (“I am a student” and “I am tall”.)  In order to relate two nouns (i.e., the subject and the nominal complement), such languages use so-called ‘copula’.  In Korean, that copula is “-이다”.  “-이다” is of course the base form, which still has to be conjugated to be used in actual sentences.  Hence, “학생이다” (“to be a student”); “구름이다” (“to be clouds”).

True stories of the present-tense suffix -요 and -세요

In Lesson 4, -요 and -세요 were introduced.  It was, however, not exactly everything that we should know about them.

1) Mid-polite suffix -아/어요

Verbs and adjectives that we practiced with for -요 suffix in  Lesson 4 have something in common: they all have the stem ending in vowel ? without any patch’im followed (‘가다’, ‘자다’, ‘싸다’, etc.)  Those whose stems end otherwise, should take either -아요 or -어요.  The last vowel of the stem decides which of the two to take.  Once again, the vowel harmony principle (‘yang with yang; yin with yin’) applies:

If the stem has a yang vowel at the last syllable, use -아요;
If the stem has a yin or neutral vowel at the last syllable,  use -어요.
(For yang/yin/neutral vowels, see Lesson 2.)
to be small
: 작 + -아요 작아요
“It’s small.” or “He/She is small.”?
to come
: 오 + -아요 (오아요) → 와요
“Come!” or “I come” or “He/She comes.”
to be alright
: 괜찮 + -아요 괜찮아요 [괜차나요]
“It’s OK.”
to give
: 주 + -어요 (주어요) → 줘요
“Give (me, etc.)!” or “I give.”
to eat
: 먹 + -어요 먹어요
“Eat!” or “I eat.” or “He/She eats.”
읽다 [익다]
to read
: 읽 + -어요 읽어요 [일거요]
“Read!” or “I read.” or “He/She reads.”

In fact, 가다 → 가요 is a contraction  [가 + -아요 → (가아요) → 가요], so are the others in Lesson 4.

(NB) -하다 verbs and adjectives are rather peculiar.  For them, -여요 is assumed instead of -아요.  This may sound quite overwhelming, but -하다 words are in fact easier.  All the -하다 stems with no exception appear as -해요.

to work
to study
to be nice (person)

2) High-polite suffix -(으)세요

Although not so complicated as -아/어요, this suffix also has its own rules:

If the stem ends without a patch’im, use -세요;
If the stem ends with a patch’im, use -으세요.
가다 : 가 + 세요 가세요
웃다  to laugh : 웃 + 으세요 웃으세요
안녕하다 : 안녕하 + 세요 안녕하세요
괜찮다 : 괜찮 + 으세요 괜찮으세요 [괜차느세요]


Finally, we arrive the detail structure of “안녕하세요. XXX(name)이에요.”  Since personal names are the same as nouns, we use the nominal-predicate copula, -이다.  In order to make it into a real sentence, we need to add either -아요 or -어요 in place of the base-form making -다 after -이-.  For 이 is a neutral vowel, -어요 is added.  -이어요 had gone through a certain phonological change in modern Seoul speakers’ speech, and ended in -이에요.

오영균 이다 →오영균 이 + -어요 → 오영균이에요 “I am Oh Young Kyun.”


학생: 학생이에요 “I am / You are a student” or “He/She is a student”

기차: 기차이에요 “It’s a train.”

There are two forms to spell this -이에요: -예요 and -이에요.  As far as we are concerned, just -이에요 suffice.

1. Using the following words, make sentences with -아/어요 and -(으)세요 conjugation.  Please give at least one possible translation for each sentence.  Also, mark each word whether it is a verb (V) or an adjective (A).


좋다 “to be good” (A) 좋아요. “It is good.”
좋아요 ? “Is it good?”
좋으세요. “He/She is good.”
좋으세요? “Is he/she good?”
일하다 “to work” (V) 일해요. “I work.”
일해요? “Do you work?”
일하세요. “He/she works.”
일하세요? “Is he/she working?”


(to see)
싫다 [실타]
(to be hated)
(to wear, put on)
(to be small)
(to buy)
(to be expensive)
(to read)
(to be OK)
(to be comfortable)
(to be cold)
많다 [만타]
(to be many/much)
(to laugh)
건강하다 [겅강하다]
(to be healthy)
(to study)

2. Using the following nouns, make dialogues. (And translate them.)


오리: A-오리이에요? B- 네, 오리이에요.
a duck     Is that a duck?      Yes, it is a duck.


나무 (tree); 아기 (baby) 모자 (hat)
바지 (pants) 나비 (butterfly) 차 (car)
바나나 (banana) 별 (star) 곰 (bear)

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