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About the Particle '은/는'

One of the most confusing things in Korean is how to use the particle '은/는'. Native can distinguish unconsciously but it must be hard to do that as learner. I'm going to cover it.

You may better know 은/는 doesn't specify how the preceding noun works in the sentence but makes delicate differences.
In other words, the functions of the clause(subject(이/가), object(을/를), etc) is decided not by this.

Ⅰ. Let's feel the differences with some example dialogues.
e.g. (*: weird)

A "그 학교는 정말 커" : 'That school' is so big.
A* "그 학교가 정말 커"

A: 어제 나는 학교를 갔다. : Yesterday I went to school (merely)

A: 어제 나는 학교는 갔다. : Yesterday I went to 'school'
B: 그럼 잤니? : Then did you sleep?
C: 도서관은 안 가고? : Didn't you go to library?

A: 어제 방이 깨끗했다. : Yesterday the room was neat. (merely)

A: 어제는 방이 깨끗했다. : 'Yesterday' the room was neat.
B: 오늘은 안 그래? : Not today?

A: 어제 방은 깨끗했다. : Yesterday 'the room' was neat.
B: 화장실은 더러웠니? : Was the toilet dirty?

Maybe you got the point. 은/는 can make comparative effect. This particle can be interpreted in various meanings by situation. Written above is just one of them.

Ⅱ. Second difference is the point where the particle wants us to focus on.

A: 철수 어디 있어? Where's 철수?
B: 철수는 학교에 있어요. He is at school.

A: 너는 무슨 책 읽었어? What book did you read?
B: 나는 '어린 왕자'를 읽었어. I read 'The Little Prince'.

A: 누가 내 것을 먹었어? Who ate mine?
B: 그거 영수가 먹었어! 영수 ate it!

A: 이거 너가 그린 그림이야? Is this the picture you draw?
B: 응, 이거 내가 한거야. Yes, It is what I did.
C: 이건 내 동생이 그린 거야. It is what my brother drew. (by roberto727)

Do you remember 이/가 is subjective particle? It means 이/가 makes the noun(or noun clause) subject in the sentence. Compared with 은/는, 이/가 requires us to focus on subject. Then what 은/는 focuses on? 은/는 focuses on the description of the subject.

When I find more details, I will edit it! If there's any questions (including Korean) please leave a comment.
Good luck!

November 22, 2017



you got the important point! XD great!


Great examples. I apprciate your insight.

So, 너는 무슨 책 읽었어? What book did you read?

as opposed to 네가 무슨 책 읽었어? What book did you read?

Is the first a kind of differentiation from someone else, and the 2nd just a point of curiosity?

For your last example could "C:" be 저건 동생이 그린 거야.

It seems that whenever DL uses "a" they are looking for "은/는" eg: A woman buys a man a present. My understanding is that would apply to a generality. But if we had a scenario where we are describing a particular scene inside a shop, A child is searching for just the right toy, a clerk is trying to assist, a woman buys a man a present, which particle would we use?


For the first question, Yes.
I'm very surprised for your new example "C"!
For your last question, I think it is better to use 이/가 when the noun is referred first time.
한 아이가 장난감을 찾고 있고, 어떤 직원이 그를 도우려고 하며, 한 여성이 어떤 남자에게 선물을 사주고 있습니다.
However the following isn't weird.
한 아이는 장난감을 찾고 있고, 어떤 직원은 그를 도우려고 하며, 한 여성은 어떤 남자에게 선물을 사주고 있습니다.

But when the fact that the noun is referred first time and that this sentence is trying to make some description of the subject is collided, I haven't thought about that. Sorry about that :D I'll search about it and add a reply.


Thanks. In my reading this morning (돌아온 진돗개 백구) I was very conscious of your advice, "Second difference is the point where the particle wants us to focus on. " That was a sort of "magical" explanation I had never been made aware of, that really opened my eyes more to that special nuance of the language. For caring enough to share and research 대단히 갑사합니다.


Thanks a lot man!


I just found your blog. What a great idea, (using language-8 to check your own Korean blogs) and thank you for sharing it with the rest of us. I hope I can find the discipline to overcome the 5-month head start. Have you checked out Will's "How to Study Korean". As a fellow scientist, you might enjoy the course, though it is possible a lot of it might be redundant for you. Best of luck in achieving your goal.


Hi roberto727, I noticed you have more than 100000XP. Is it okay if I add you to the 100000XP Hall of Fame?


It has not been a "level playing field". Without immersion, it is now much more difficult to achieve 100,000. It was really not that noteable in my opinion. I follow 57 people with over 100,000. And they all focused on Spanish, so I would guess several hundred would qualify for your "hall" when immersion in other languages is taken into account. 5 of the folks I follow have over 2M, 6 have between 1M and 2M, and 11 of them have between 500K and 1M. Unfortunately, 8 of the 57 apparently no longer use DL, and many of the others have cut way back, which I attribute to Immersion no longer being available. Maybe in your discussion of the "hall" you could put in a plug for replicating some of the aspects of "Immersion", possibly with the stories. I Know there were admin problems, but I would think many of those could be alleviated by charging a significant lingot "admission / participation fee", and by requiring a certain Langage level before allowing a user to modify a translation.

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