Korean: A Verb-centric Language

Nikita Punia, Mumbai, Maharashtra

When we talk about a universal language, we immediately think of English in our minds, but for those who feel at home in Korea, even though they’ve never been to the place, Korean is the universal language of their hearts. I have been teaching myself Korean for over two years now and I’ve managed to reach the intermediate level. From my experience with this beautiful language, I can certainly say that it differs a lot from English. 

As the title of this article suggests, I’m going to dive right into the syntactical part of the language. So, imagine you want to ask for some pocket money from your mother, and you’d go “Give me money Mom.” You’d probably be better off adding a please at the beginning of it though. However, a Korean does not follow this structure of placing the words in a sentence. This is because Korean tends to deliver its meaning in terms of the tense of the sentence via the verb – which goes at the end! Woah, that was a lot to digest, wasn’t it?

Let me break it further down. In our example, if you were to now ask for money from your Korean parent, you’d ask for it this way – “Mom money give please.” Yes ‘please’ kind of comes attached to the verb, otherwise, you’d just sound very rude, unlike in English. Alright, so what happened there? Just like in English, the subject came in the first place. So far so good. Then came the object, the money, whereas in English we tend to place the verb in the second position. This is where the difference lies. With Korean write/say everything you have to and place the verb at the end of it all in a sentence. 

Since we made a request/command in our example, the verb came first, but try to form any English sentence in your head and see where the verb goes. More often than not you’ll realise that it finds its home at the second position. Also, I’d like to derail for a moment here to state that Koreans are very sensitive about the way you address someone. See, in English, you have no difference in the conjugation of verbs while trying to speak to a friend or your grandparent. For example, “I want to go with you” can be said to both your friend and an elder. But lo and behold, this is far from the accepted norms and level of respect that you need to give while speaking to people of different ages in Korean. For someone the same age as you or younger to you, you don’t have to worry much about giving the appropriate amount of respect, but you definitely need to be careful while conjugating your verbs in a conversation with an elder or someone with a higher rank or seniority.

Alright, but if the verb goes at the end how come it’s verb-centric and not anything but verb centric? Well, let me raise a small question that I had while I was trying to get hold of the language. What meaning would you derive from the following: 

A) I never badminton.

B) We there.

C) You very well.

D) He it.

If you aren’t someone who possesses clairvoyance, you are just as confused as I was back in the day right now. What is missing in those random wannabe sentences? THE VERB! So, looking at it this way, even English seems like a verb-centric language, but it still doesn’t do what Korean does. Take a look at the above examples, only now the verbs are placed to make sense to a Korean: 

A) I never badminton play 

B) We there were

C) You very well sing

D) It he has

You see how the missing verbs are attached to the end of each sentence. That is what ‘verb centric’ means. In Korean, one builds up an entire sentence and only lets you know the killer during the climax! English does that too but gives up at the very second place. For example, “He has…” Or ” I want to….” are both clauses that can be turned into sentences. Although incomplete, they are grammatically correct. As soon as we place the verb in the sentence, we achieve most of what we want to convey and with English, we achieve it quickly. On the other hand, we have to watch the whole movie to finally see who won the guessing bet in Korean. 

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Moumita Mondal says:

    As a student of KSI , I really can feel how much the korean language is different from English. It has it’s own rules which is quite interesting.It has two types of vowels,consonants and final consonant called 받침.one should definitely know this while learning this beautiful language .For me it’s definitely a lot of fun to study together with my friends . Our Korean teachers also very kind and helpful which makes things easier for us in this language journey. Thank you so much for sharing this with us ♥️

  2. Mamoni says:

    As a Korean language Lerner I know about that and it’s important and the topic particles 은/는, subject particles 이/가 and object particles 을/를 also a important part of that and casual and how to talk with older people in polite way is also very important in the language. But after all its a fun learning❤

  3. Tirna says:

    I am yet to learn the language but it is wonderful to read the article and understand the differences between English and Korean Language. Also translations can never do justice to the original language. Thank you for writing the article.

  4. As a Korean language learner, it is fun to learn the sentence making structure. Although learning different verbs is difficult but interesting as well

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