Past Tense of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

Posted: 2010-06-19 / Updated: 2018-02-07

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


In English, you may simply add -ed to change a verb to its past tense. In Korean, it is done by modifying the suffix of the verb. Note that Korean adjectives are verb-like in grammatical constructions, and they conjugate just like verbs.

Past Tense of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

In order to conjugate a Korean verb or adjective to its past tense form, identify the alternate stem of its present tense form, and use 어-conjugation to attach 았다 or 었다 to it.

Exception: Use original stems to conjugate ㄹ-irregular verbs and adjectives.*

You then get the plain past tense form, which is always a regular verb.

Examples (more)

Verbs/AdjectivesDictionary FormMeaningOriginal StemAlternate StemPlain Past Tense FormVowel Contraction
Regular먹다eat먹었다N
하다do했다Y
ㅂ-Irregular춥다cold추우추웠다Y
ㅅ-Irregular낫다better나았다N
ㄷ-Irregular듣다listen들었다N
ㅎ-Irregular그렇다to be so그렇그러그랬다Y
ㄹ-Irregular달다sweet달았다*N
으-Irregular쓰다write썼다Y
르-Irregular고르다choose고르골르골랐다Y

You can now conjugate the plain past tense form to its formal polite form , informal polite form , or informal casual form as described in the each of the rules respectively.

Present TenseVerb / AdjectivePlain Past TenseFormal Polite PastInformal Polite PastInformal Casual Past
먹다V먹었다먹었습니다먹었어요먹었어
하다V했다했습니다했어요했어
춥다A추웠다추웠습니다추웠어요추웠어
낫다A나았다나았습니다나았어요나았어
듣다V들었다들었습니다들었어요들었어
그렇다A그랬다그랬습니다그랬어요그랬어
달다A달았다달았습니다달았어요달았어
쓰다V썼다썼습니다썼어요썼어
고르다V골랐다골랐습니다골랐어요골랐어

Compare the sentences of using the formal polite form and informal polite form of saying the same meanings in past tense:

점심을 먹었습니다.
점심을 먹었어요.
I ate lunch.
음악을 들었습니다.
음악을 들었어요.
I listened to music.
편지를 썼습니다.
편지를 썼어요.
I wrote a letter.

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