particles, multi-functioning grammar, fun stuff

i wanted to make an explanation for my dearest fellow learners of korean, about a few things that are both basic but counter-intuitive, fundamental but not covered in any grammar sources well, as a frame of reference.

ill start with that particle 에, everyone obviously knows it refers to a destination, but its actually got sixteen different definitions in the dictionary. ill go though each of them briefly.

-① just referring to a place.
그 식당에 사람 열 명이 있다 theres 10 ppl in that restaurant.
책상 안에 연필을 놓았다 i put a pencil in the desk

-② referring to a time.
오후에 산책하는 걸 좋아한다 i like going on walks in the afternoon
우리 열 시에 가야 한다 we have to go at 10'oclock

-③ referring to a destination
지금 집에 가고 있다 i am going home now

-④ used when something is the cause of the upcoming thing
그의 부모님은 그의 나쁜 성적에 실망했다
his parents were dissapointed by/because of/ his bad grades
강한 바람에 나무가 떨어졌다
the tree fell from/because of/ the strong wind

-⑤ used to show the object influenced by an action
밤에 학교에 가는 것에 반대한다 i am opposed to going to school at night.
병을 재활용하는 것에 찬성한다 im in favor of recycling bottles.

-⑥ used to show what an action is applied to
종이에 꽃을 그렸다 i drew flowers on the paper.
가방에 옷을 넣었다 i put the clothes in the bag

-⑦ used to show what is affected by something
매일 운동하는 건 건강에 좋다 exercising every day is good for ones health

-⑧ used to say something is the tool or method to do something
그는 전자레인지에 물을 끓였다 he boiled water with the microwave
그는 냉장고에 물을 얼렸다 he froze water with the fridge

-⑨ shows something is the environment, or condition something is in
이 소음에 귀가 안 아프니? dont your ears hurt in this obnoxious racket?
추위에 김을 볼 수있다 i can see my breath in the cold

-⑩ shows the preceding thing is a standard
과자는 한 사람에 두 개을 줄 것이다 for the snacks, ill give 2 per person.
대답은 필요한 형식에 어긋난다 the answer doesnt match the required format

-⑪ shows the preceding thing is in comparison
너는 말한 것은 그는 말한 것에 맞지 않는다.
what you said doesnt match what he said.
이번 본 영화는 지난번 본 영화에 비해 지루했다
the movie we watched was boring, relative to the last movie we saw

-⑫ refers to a position or status, can usually be replaced with (으)로
그는 다음 부장님에 뽑혔다 he was picked to be the next boss

-⑬ just refers to a category
이 내용은 중급 문법에 속한다 this content falls under intermediate grammar.
그 성적은 합격 점수에 들었다 the grade is within a passing score

-⑭ marks something as the subject of discussion
우리 배운 것에 대해 이야기하자 lets talk about what we learned
그는 한국어 문법에 관한 책을 샀다 he bought a book relating to korean grammar

-⑮ that something is added to the preceding statement.
you will sometimes see this guy used with the 2nd definition of 까지

오늘 공부에 심부름까지 해야 해서 바쁘다
today, on top of studying, i have to do chores and stuff, so im busy.
이 차에 꿀을 좀 넣어 줘라 please put some honey in this tea

-①⑥ lists several things
그는 가게에 가서 빵에 계란에 시금지에 식료품을 샀다
he went to the store and bought some bread, eggs, and spinach

thats pretty ridiculous, sixteen things. what even was the point in that? well the moral to the story is each particle has a ton of usages. (으)로 has 12, 를/을 has 10, 도 has 6, 에서 has 6, and so on and so forth.
so if you can keep in mind that particle 에 can refer to a place, time, destination, recipient of an action or effect, a category, status, comparison, or addition, and also that it can indicate that something is the standard, condition, tool, method, or cause of something, you are golden.

ill talk about one more particle usage that is counter intuitive briefly, the eight definition of 을/를.

looking at the sentence
그는 유창한 이야기를 목표로 한국어를 공부한다
with the goal of fluent speaking, he studies korean

if you didnt know about good old definition 8, you would probably be wracking your brains trying to figure out why theres two 을/를's in that sentence. when used on a noun before an adverb, typically just 으로 adverbs like that, it marks that noun as the object of the adverb. to put it simple:
유창한 이야기 is the 목표, and hes 공부하다'ing with that 목표(로)

사전을 자료로 어휘를 늘린다
with the dictionary as a reference, i expand my vocabulary

lastly, ill wrap up this long ass post with something that i guess is supposed to be so obvious no source of grammar feels the need to clarify it, yet is probably one of the most important facets of korean grammar: 어/아/여(서)
it is confusing at first because it has three very different key roles.

-① indicates things happened in succession, chronologically one after the other. it means and, but unlike 고 not at the same time, more like "and then"
나는 집에 가서 옷을 갈아입었다 i went home then changed my clothes
그는 가게에 가서 식료품을 샀다 he went to the store and bought groceries
식당에서 점심을 사서 먹었다 he bought lunch at a restaurant and ate it

-② indicates the prior clause is the reason for the latter, the can be translated to so, or because, but either way clause 2 is because clause 1
일찍 잠을 자서 오늘은 졸리지 않다
i went to bed early so today im not tired
점심에 많이 먹어서 지금은 배가 고프지 않다
i ate a lot at lunch so im not hungry now
성적이 좋아서 부모님은 행복하다
my grades are good so my parents are happy

-③ this is the important one says that something is the way or means to do the upcoming stuff.
보기 문장을 써 설명하려고 노력한다 i try to explain, by writing examples
꾸준하게 공부해 점점 배운다 you learn gradually, through steady study
첫가락을 사용해 음식을 먹는다 i eat food, by using chopsticks
우리는 그 뚱뚱하고 작은 개를 일러 돼지라고 말한다
we say pig as a way to refer to that fat little dog

also keep in mind the 서 can be dropped from these things with no real change in meaning, at any time.

okay that concludes this thing. thanks for reading this long post, hopefully some intermediate learners found some of it useful, and some of the beginners here now have a better scope of reference, even if they cant completely grasp all that content.

February 25, 2019


잘했어!!! Dear Korean teacher R2-D2!

February 26, 2019

Thanks for this sort of info and for this particular info. A couple of questions:

1) What dictionary do you use that gives this sort of breakdown with example sentences? The Naver dictionary at
requires me to know many other Korean words just to understand the different meanings of -에.

2) In the 8th meaning of -에 the two example sentences seemingly could be translated using "in" instead of "with", as in "in the microwave" or "in the fridge". Of course you heat water "in" a microwave, and cool it "in" a fridge. Such statements give location information as well as instrumental information. Perhaps there are example sentences where -에 is used in an instrumental sense that cannot be taken as location (the 1st meaning in your list)?

February 26, 2019

i was using this dictionary as a reference, but made those sentences and translations to be more comprehensive.

getting specific on usage 8

i might translate those four sentences as:
유민이 washed the laundry in the washing machine
지수 dried the wet towel in the sunlight
the wife heated up my food in the microwave
first of all, save it on this computer

so you could say on or in or with, but the gist of it is the 에 noun is the tool/method/condition, not the physical space.

February 26, 2019

Thanks! I am glad to finally now have a more useful dictionary.

February 26, 2019

Choice post. I learnt something new.

I also think it doesn't help that English and other languages have their own little idiosyncratic uses of prepositions and adverbs too so when you try to think of how to say something in another language when the word that you're thinking of in English is an exception to some rule of its own... 멘붕. You get "on" the bus, train, tram, plane... but heaven forbid you suggest getting "on" a car and not "in" it. Obviously, you 차를 타다 in Korean.

February 27, 2019

yes, this is true. the many meanings of 들다 is another prime example, i think.
thanks for reading.

February 27, 2019
Learn Korean in just 5 minutes a day. For free.