이/가 and 을/를 confusion

Even though I’ve gradually come to consider myself an experienced Korean learner, I often find that I mess up even the simplest of things. Last week I met with my new language partner for the first time, and as he corrected a short essay that I had written I realized that there is one point in particular where I need to be extra careful: Making mistakes with 이/가 and 을/를. Of course I understand in full which is which, but you can’t just assume that what works as an object in English also works as an object in Korean. For instance I had written this:

…이 상황 어떻게 변할까? (How to change this situation?) since I thought of the situation as being an object, which we need to change. Well, think again! In Korean, the situation changes rather than being changed which makes

…이 상황 어떻게 변할까? the correct sentence structure. There are a lot of such pitfalls for Western speakers when learning Korean. Let’s look at a couple of sample sentences:

나는 지금 커피 필요하다 (I need coffee now) Note how coffee is a subject instead of an object as it would be in English. 필요하다 is technically an adjective meaning “to be necessary” although it is widely considered a verb by myself and others. Therefore the sentence literally reads: As for me, coffee is necessary now.

나는 유진 씨 부럽다 (I’m envious of Yoojin). When thinking in English, I would want Yoojin to be the object, since she’s the one that I’m envious of. However, 부럽다 is an adjective, which means “to be enviable or worth envying”. If I absolutely have to make Yoojin the object I can instead say:

나는 유진 씨 부러워한다 which pretty much has the same meaning as the previous sentence.

It’s works in the same way as the difference between 좋다 and 좋아하다, which you may find a lesson about here. Just one thing you should keep in mind: When you talk about someone other than yourself, you will have to  use 좋아하다 in order to avoid the confusion of having two subjects in one sentence. This means that for yourself you can safely say:

나는 K-Pop 좋다 (I like K-pop, lit. As for me K-pop is good) While for others, you’ll have to use the object form:

언니는 K-Pop 좋아한다 (My sister likes K-pop)

While the meaning should be klear to most Korean native speakers even if we confuse the object/subject it can cost you many points in the TOPIK 쓰기 part to get these concepts messed up. I therefore hope that these examples may be helpful to other Korean learners out there struggling with the same problems.

주의

On a final note, I’d like to address the word 주의, which may be seen on signs like the one above this posts. In such cases it usually means “caution/warning”. However, when used together with a noun, 주의 conveys a nuance similar to the English “-ism”. Confused? Let’s look at a few examples:

완벽주의 – perfectionism, 자본주의 – capitalism, 사회주의 – socialism,  채식주의 – vegetarianism,  실용주의 – pragmatism, 극단주의 – extremism, 집단주의 – collectivism, 개인주의 – individualism.

Just add 적 after any of the words, and you get a meaning similar to “-istic” as in 완벽주의적 – perfectionistic. If you instead add 자 (one of the Hanjas meaning person) as e.g. 완벽주의자 it means “a perfectionist”.

8 Comments »

  1. Hello~
    Watching your interview on YouTube some time ago, I was so impressed that I have read all of your posts here. And I could not help marveling at your progress of learning Korean. Really marvelous, especially considering the huge difference between Korean and the languages that U previously acquired. But I guess your language partner made a mistake, It looks quite trivial though. If U don’t mind , I’d like to correct the error. Plz notify me if U feel embarrassed for being corrected or U think my correction is wrong. Then I will delete this comment.

    I think the correct translations of (How to change this situation?) is (이 상황을 어떻게 변화시킬까?) and
    (…이 상황이 어떻게 변할까?) is ( How will this situation change? or What will this situation turn into? I’m not sure which is more suitable) and there r some difference between the above 2 sentences .
    As U may know ( plz don’t think I’m patronizing or showing off my Korean, It’s my mother tongue, So it would be very silly for me to brag about my Korean)
    명사(noun)+시키다(접미사, suffix) turns into 사(역)동사 (a causative verb).
    e.g. 오염(pollution)+시키다=contaminate.

    I would be happy if this could be a bit helpful.

    Like

    • Wow! Thank you so much for this comment. I don’t mind being corrected at all. This is how I learn. And thank you also for your kind words and for reading my blog. This is truly motivating me to study even harder! 정말 감사합니다~~

      Like

      • U r welcome. It was my pleasure.
        I forgot to mention something quite important and made some mistakes on the above comment. But there seems to be no way to modify it. So I post a new comment. I should have been more careful.

        1. 이 상황을 어떻게 변할까? (How to change this situation?) .
        The reason 상황 is not the object of 변하다 is that the verb 변하다 is intransitive(자동사). So it cannot have 상황 as an object(목적어). A corresponding transitive verb(타동사) is 바꾸다. So U can say “이 상황을 어떻게 바꿀까? (more colloquial than 변화시킬까?). And U said “How to change this situation?” instead of “How shall we change this situation?” So U seem to have emphasized the measures or method of changing the situation( I’m not sure). If so, I think U ‘d better say ” 이 상황을 어떻게 바꿀/변화시킬 수 있을까?( literal translation: How shall we able to change this situation?, ‘This translation is not for U but for the beginners’) or “어떻게 하면 이 상황이 변할까?’ (I cannot translate this into English word-for-word , Probably “When what action we take, will this situation change?”. This looks quite awkward. Could U help me?)

        2. 사(역)동사=causative verb ?
        I think Korean 사역동사s are very different from the English causative verbs( let ,have get, make). I translated 사동사 into causative verb according to Daum on-line dictionary, So I might have made the readers confused. I think 사동사 a bit similar to English ‘causative verb’ + verb. For example, 강을 오염시키다( have the river polluted –> pollute the river) 공부시키다( get someone to study). Parenthetically, the rule on the Korean 피동사(used to make passive voice) and 사동사 are very complicated compared with those of English and Japanese. And in Korean, passive voices(수동태) are not used so often, So I think it is better to memorize word by word than studying how to make those.

        Like

      • Wow! Thank you so much for your very thorough explanation! I learned a lot from it, and I am sure my readers will as well. You are really good at explaining the Korean language. Are you a Korean teacher? Thanks so much once again for explaining it all so well. I should probably write a blog post on 사동사, 피동사, 자동사, and 타동사 soon.

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  2. It was my pleasure. and thank U for your compliment. I’m not a teacher. Probably correction is my hobby. I suspect I should have been a proofreader 😉 . So few chance to correct, Oh My !. I will willingly correct or answer any question on Korean for anybody here, If it is within my knowledge So I’ll be able to practice my English writing that I started just a while ago.

    Like

  3. Probably I made a mistake again. The fact that I started to practice English writing just some time ago does not mean I started studying English at that time. I”m quite interested in Languages, But as U said, Learning a language is a very hard work. So I just read books that I like in English quite a lot. But I rarely practiced to write in English. Leaving 5 or 6 comments on YouTube and the comments here are all. That’s it. So it is very hard for me to write in English. Very frequently I cannot recall the words that I possibly have seen several hundred times while reading books. So I’m not a language savant.

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    • I think that your English writing skills are brilliant! I know how far English is from Korean so I’m very impressed at your writing. I hope you will comment on my blog often~~

      Like

      • Oh! Thank U for your kind words. A compliment from a marvelous language learner must mean a lot for me. But to be honest, I think I have to attribute most of your compliment to Daum dictionary. 😉 Anyway Thanks a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

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