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Japanese て-form and Action Verbs

In order to make more complex sentences, you need to use verbs or adjectives other than their simplest dictionary form. In English, in general, you add “ly” to change adjectives to adverbs. However, for example, when you change “happy” to “happily,” you need to modify “happy” to “happi” before adding “ly” at the end of the word. Technically this kind of modification is called morphological changes.

In Japanese, a widely used morphological changes is the て-form (te-form). By making a verb or an adjective in its て-form, you are ready to “glue” the word with more unit of meanings.

て-form of Japanese Verbs

If you know how to conjugate Japanese verbs to their plain past form (た-form), you shouldn’t have any problems to conjugate verbs to their て-form, as the conjugation rules are identical.

る-verbs Ending with Replace with Example
→ て 食べる → 食べて
う-verbs Ending with Replace with Example
→ して 出す→ 出して
→ いて 書く→ 書いて
→ いで 泳ぐ→ 泳いで
る, う or つ → って 作る→ 作って
む, ぶ or ぬ → んで 飲む→ 飲んで
Irregular verbs Replace with Example
する → して 勉強する → 勉強して
くる → きて 持ってくる → 持ってきて

Verb+ている and Ongoing Actions

One of the easiest applications of て-form is to represent ongoing actions. You attach いる to the verb in て-form. It is equivalent to gerund (-ing) form in English.


Verb+ている and Resultant State

However, when the verb in use are in motions, such as 行く, 来る, 帰る or 出かける, its ている form does not imply an ongoing action. Instead, it represents a resultant state, meaning that the action is already completed. You may simply consider the て-form as a connector between the motion verb and the verb いる.

田中さんは日本に行っています。
Tanaka-san has gone to Japan.
and he is there now.

In many other cases, the context or the nature of the verb implies that its ている form represents a resultant state.

けっこんしています。
I am married.
Tシャツを着ています。
I am wearing a T-shirt.
Note that the action “wearing” has been completed.
知っていますか?
Do you know?

Verb+ている and Habitual Actions

You may also use ている form to express repeated habitual actions.


Types of Korean Verb and Adjective Conjugation

To study this grammar point, please make sure you understand the following:

Similarities and Differences Between Korean Verbs and Adjectives

Conjugation is to modify of a verb or an adjective in order to fulfil a change in tense or to supplement additional meanings.

All Korean conjugation for verbs and adjectives are under one of the following 3 categories:

  1. 고-type: Original Stem + Suffix
  2. 으-type: Alternate Stem + (으) + Suffix
  3. 어-type: Alternate Stem + 어/아 + Suffix, Vowel Contractions

The basic idea is to identify the word stem and attach a suffix to the stem.

1. 고-type Conjugation

This is named after the basic 하고 conjugation. Original stem is always used, with the following exceptions:
  • For ㄹ-irregular, when the attaching suffix starts with , or (e.g. 는, 네, 습니다), alternate stem is used (i.e. ㄹ is dropped).
  • For ㅎ-irregular, use alternate stem when the attaching suffix is .

Examples

Plain Form Meaning Stem 1 Stem 2 +고 +습/ㅂ니다 +네 Remarks
하다 do 하고 하습니다 하네
먹다 eat 먹고 먹습니다 먹네
알다 know 알고 압니다 아네 ㄹ-irregular
그렇다 to be so 그렇 그러 그렇고 그렇습니다 그러네 ㅎ-irregular

Note: Original Stem = Stem 1, Alternate Stem = Stem 2.

2. 으-type Conjugation

Use alternate stem and if the stem ends with a consonant, insert after the stem.

However, there are 3 exceptions:

  • For ㅅ-irregular, 으 is always inserted.
  • For ㄹ-irregular, if the suffix starts with 면 or 러, use original stem and do not insert 으.
  • For 르-irregular, use original stem instead.

Examples

Plain Form Meaning Stem 1 Stem 2 + (으)세요 + (으)면 + (으)러 Remarks
하다 do 하세요 하면 하러
먹다 eat 먹으세요 먹으면 먹으러
알다 know 아세요 알면 알러 ㄹ-irregular
짓다 build 지으세요 지으면 지으러 ㅅ-irregular
고르다 choose 고르 고르세요 고르면 고르러 르-irregular

3. 어-type Conjugation

You can consider 어-type conjugation as a 2-step process. First you need to determine whether 아 or 어 should be attached, then you need to do a vowel contraction if necessary.

Use alternate stem as word stem for all 어-type conjugation, except that for ㄹ-irregular, use original stem instead.*

The following rules determine whether to attach 어 or 아 before the suffix:

  1. If the last vowel of the stem is a 오 or 아, attach 아 + suffix.
  2. If the last vowel is 으 and its previous hangul has a 오/아 vowel, attach 아 + suffix.
  3. Otherwise, attach 어 + suffix.
Next, if the stem has no ending consonant, contract the last vowel of the stem and the added 아/어 as shown in the table below. Pay special attention to 하다-related verbs and adjectives, and ㅅ-irregular, as they are the exceptions.*
Case Contraction Example Meaning Stem + 아/어요 Remarks
* 하 +아 → 해 공부하다 study 공부하 + 아요 → 공부해요 하다-related
1 아 +아 → 아 가다 go 가 +아요 → 가요
오 +아 → 와 오다 come 오 +아요 → 와요
돕다 help 도오 +아요 → 도와요 ㅂ-irregular
2 으 +아 → 아 바쁘다 busy 바쁘 +아요 → 바빠요 으-irregular
고르다 choose 골르 +아요 → 골라요 르-irregular
3 우 +어 → 워 배우다 learn 배우 +어요 → 배워요
춥다 cold 추우 +어요 → 추워요 ㅂ-irregular
으 +어 → 어 쓰다 write 쓰 +어요 → 써요 으-irregular
부르다 call 불르 +어요 → 불러요 르-irregular
이 +어 → 여 치다 hit 치 +어요 → 쳐요
어 +어 → 어 or 애 건너다 go over 건너 +어요 → 건너요
그렇다 to be so 그러 +어요 → 그래요 ㅎ-irregular
외 +어 → 왜 되다 become 되 +어요 → 돼요
애 +어 → 애 지내다 spend time 지내 +어요 → 지내요
여 +어 → 여 펴다 unfold 펴 +어요 → 펴요
All No Contraction 먹다 eat 먹 +어요 → 먹어요
듣다 listen 들 +어요 → 들어요 ㄷ-irregular
놀다 play 놀 +아요 → 놀아요 ㄹ-irregular*
낫다 get better 나 +아요 → 나아요 ㅅ-irregular*
Use original stem for ㄹ-irregular, and never do vowel contractions forㅅ-irregular.

Word Stems of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

To study this grammar point, please make sure you understand the following:

Similarities and Differences Between Korean Verbs and Adjectives

We know a regular verb in English may be modified to its past tense form by adding suffix ed to it, and English adjectives use verb to be (e.g. was) to represent past tense.

In Korean, however, adjectives are verb-like in grammatical constructions, and both verbs and adjectives follow a similar set of rules to conjugate to their modified forms.

Korean verbs and adjectives are mostly regular, meaning that they follow a simple rule to conjugate. For the remaining irregular verbs and adjectives, the good news is, they are not as “irregular” as English verbs. There is one set of conjugation rules for each group of irregular verbs and adjectives.

Word stem is the basic unit to conjugate. Regular verb or adjective only has an original stem for conjugation. Irregular verb or adjective has an additional alternate stem, as explained in the section below.

Original Stems of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

When a Korean verb or adjective is in plain form (the form you can look up from a dictionary), it always ends with .

It is then easy to identify the original stem:

Get the original stem of any verb or adjective by removing the last hangul 다 of the plain form of the word.

Alternate Stems of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

You will need to know what kind of irregular verb/adjective it is, before identifying its alternate stem.

Verbs/Adjectives Alternate Stem Formation from Original Stem
Regular Keep the original stem unchanged
ㅂ-Irregular Drop final consonant ㅂ, add hangul 우**
ㅅ-Irregular Drop final consonant ㅅ
ㄷ-Irregular Replace final consonant ㄷ with ㄹ
ㅎ-Irregular Drop final consonant ㅎ
ㄹ-Irregular Drop final consonant ㄹ
으-Irregular Keep the original stem unchanged
르-Irregular Add ㄹ as an ending consonant to the second to last hangul

** There is an additional alternate stem for 2 ㅂ-irregular words for 어-type conjugation: 돕다 (to help) and 곱다 (to be pretty), by replacing the final consonant ㅂ with hangul 오.

Examples

Verbs/Adjectives Dictionary Form Meaning Original Stem Alternate Stem
Regular 먹다 eat
ㅂ-Irregular 춥다 cold 추우
돕다 help 도우 or 도오
ㅅ-Irregular 낫다 better
ㄷ-Irregular 듣다 listen
ㅎ-Irregular 그렇다 to be so 그렇 그러
ㄹ-Irregular 달다 sweet
으-Irregular 쓰다 write
르-Irregular 고르다 choose 고르 골르

See Formal Polite Form of Verbs and Adjectives for examples of using original stems for conjugation. See Informal Polite Form of Verbs and Adjectives for examples of using alternate stems for conjugation.

There is no definitive rule to identify if a verb/adjective is regular or not. However, by looking at the final consonant of the original stem, you can tell it is not irregular if it does not have the irregular stem ending.

Similarities and Differences Between Korean Verbs and Adjectives

Korean verbs and adjectives are less distinguishable than those in English (e.g. walk vs beautiful), because Korean adjectives are verb-like in grammatical constructions. It does not require a verb to be (e.g. am, are, is) for an adjective to construct a sentence, and an adjective is also always the last item in a predicate or a sentence.

However, it is important to distinguish between verbs and adjectives in Korean, because even both verbs and adjectives follow a similar set of rules to derive their modified forms, the difference in the rules between verbs and adjectives are significant.

In general, you may consider a Korean verb as an action or a process, and a Korean adjective is to describe a state of being.

Common Korean Verbs

Vocabulary List

Here is a list of Korean verbs for beginning learners:

Plain Definitions Formal Polite Informal Polite Remarks
이다 to be 입니다 이에요/예요
있다 to have; to exist 있습니다 있어요
가다 to go 갑니다 가요
만나다 to meet 만납니다 만나요
쓰다 to write 씁니다 써요 으-irregular
듣다 to listen 듣습니다 들어요 ㄷ-irregular
읽다 to read 읽습니다 읽어요
먹다 to eat 먹습니다 먹어요
마시다 to drink 마십니다 마셔요
보다 to see 봅니다 봐요
알다 to know 압니다 알아요 ㄹ-irregular
살다 to live 삽니다 살아요 ㄹ-irregular
부르다 to call 부릅니다 불러요 르-irregular
떠나다 to leave 떠납니다 떠나요
사다 to buy 삽니다 사요
하다 to do 합니다 해요
오다 to come 옵니다 와요
전화하다 to make a phone call 전화합니다 전화해요
만들다 to make 만듭니다 만들어요
보내다 to send 보냅니다 보내요
일하다 to work 일합니다 일해요
공부하다 to study 공부합니다 공부해요
가져오다 to bring 가져옵니다 가져와요
낫다 to get better 낫습니다 나아요 ㅅ-irregular
배우다 to learn 배웁니다 배워요
돕다 to help 돕습니다 도와요 ㅂ-irregular
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