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 상황을 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 상황이 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 커피가 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 씨가 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 씨를 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-Pop이 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-Pop을 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.
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”.