From this page on, it is assumed you can read Hangul, the Korean alphabet. If not, please look through lessons one and two and then return here.
Korean verbs are extremely important. Verbs in Korean sentences are the most important part of the sentence. In fact, it is the only part you need for the sentence to be complete. Korean, unlike English, does not mention the subject of the sentence if it can be assumed from context. For example, in English, one might ask "Are you hungry?" In Korean, if someone could just ask "Hungry?" and people knew who they were referring to, then it is perfectly fine to leave off the "you." You may hear this in English as well, but it is not considered grammatically correct. It is considered grammatically correct in Korean!
So, to sum up that paragraph, the verb is the only needed part in a Korean sentence. Everything else is extra.
Now I know you are eager to start learning verbs and looking them up in the dictionaries, but we must cover one important piece of grammar first. Korean verbs can take many different forms, depending on who you are talking to. Korean still has social status literally integrated into the language itself. The verb "to be" when speaking to an older person or teacher will be slightly different than "to be" when speaking to your best friend. Most Korean verbs have the same root, regardless of who you are talking to, but you will change the ending of the verb depending on who you are speaking with.
먹다 is the dictionary form of the verb "to eat." The dictionary form consists of the verb root, 먹 in this example, and the 다 ending. Go ahead, look up a few of your favorite verbs
or even better, grab yourself a copy of Declan's Korean Flashcards (contains over 3600 words with audio, arranged in vocabulary sets) to start building a strong foundation of Korean verbs. You will see all forms they list end in 다. If you remove the 다 ending, you will be left with the verb root. The verb root of 먹다 is 먹. The verb root by itself has no meaning. You must remove the 다 ending and replace it with a different ending depending on what you want to say and who you want to say it to.
In my mind, I see three different, very distinct endings for speaking and writing. Formal , Polite , and Casual .
For now, we will focus on the two most common styles of verbs you will use, polite and casual. As you can see above, there are also two different endings for both polite and casual speech. The way you decide which ending to choose is based on the verb root. If the last vowel in the verb root is ㅗ or ㅏ then you choose the 아요 (polite) or 아 (casual) ending. If the last vowel in the verb root is anything other than ㅗ or ㅏ, then you choose the 어요 (polite) or 어 (casual) ending. Look at the following chart of commonly used verbs and compare the verb root to the ending to get a better understanding of this. I will refer to the Formal ending section next.
Let's look at a couple. 있다 means "to have." 있 is the verb root. The last vowel in 있 is ㅣ. Since this is not ㅗ or ㅏ then we know to choose the 어요/어 endings depending on whether we will need to be polite or if it is casual speech.
없다 (~업다) has a verb root of 없. The final vowel in this root is ㅓ, so we need to choose the 어요/어 endings.
If you look at 좋다, this has a verb root of 좋 with a final vowel of ㅗ. So, since that is ㅗ or ㅏ, it must take the 아요/아 ending. Understand the general pattern?
Irregular Verb Patterns
Now, as you can see in the chart, there will be some situations that do not follow this exactly. 가다 means "to go". If you remove the 다 to get the verb root you are left with 가. Following this pattern, you would add 아요/아 to the verb root, and get something like 가아요. The real way is just 가요. It has been shortened because otherwise we just say two of the same vowel in a row. Since that is a waste of time and breath, it is simply 가요 or 가.
The first one is "To Drink" or 마시다. If we remove the dictionary 다 ending, we are left with 마시. Following normal patterns for the polite form, we would have 마시어요. To make it easier and sound better, the real polite form is 마셔요. Any verb root that ends in ㅣ will naturally take the 어요/어 endings, and we shorten ㅣ+ 어 to ㅕ. Other verb examples that take this pattern are 가르치다 - 가르쳐요, 기다리다 - 기다려요, 치다 - 쳐요.
Next we meet 만나다 (get it?). This one should be easy. We already went over it with 가다. Since the verb root ends in 아, we shorten 만나아요 to 만나요. Also, keep in mind this pattern works with verb roots that end in ㅓ as well.
If it ends in ㅓ it would naturally take the 어요 ending. This would be a double vowel sound so we just shorten it the same way. Other verb examples that take this pattern are 가다 - 가요, 사다 - 사요, 서다 - 서요.
Next, we come to 오다 (ok, I will really stop now, I promise!). The verb root is 오. This would naturally take the 아요 ending, making 오아요. Wouldn't it be much easier to combine the ㅗ and the ㅏ into ㅘ? It sure sounds better and smoother. That is exactly what we do. Whenever a verb root ends in ㅗ, it will naturally take the 아요 ending and because all of you will know this lesson, you will naturally combine the ㅗ and the 아요 to 와요. Other verb examples that take this pattern are 갔다오다 - 갔다와요, 나오다 - 나와요.
Next, we have 바쁘다. The verb root is 바쁘. Following normal verb patterns we would figure the polite form would be 바쁘아요. Try and say that. Now, try and say 바빠요. That is the correct way. When a verb root ends in ㅡ, we drop the ㅡ, look at the last vowel in the root that is left (not including the ㅡ) and add the appropriate ending. For this example, the last vowel would be ㅏ. So, when we drop the ㅡ and add the 아요 ending, we get 바빠요. Other verb examples that follow this pattern are 나쁘다 - 나빠요, 예쁘다 - 예뻐요,쓰다 - 써요.
The next verb is 모르다. The verb root is 모르. You might be thinking, that ends in ㅡ so wouldn't it follow the above irregular pattern, and become 모라요? Indeed, it would, except Koreans have decided if a verb root ends in 르 (not just ㅡ), then we will double up the ㄹ by adding a second ㄹ to the end of the syllable before the 르. And then we drop the ㅡ. 몰라요. We added a ㄹ to 모 and got 몰. We dropped the ㅡ and got 라요. Together, we have 몰라요. Other verb examples using this pattern are 자르다 - 잘라요, 부르다 - 불러요, 빠르다 - 빨라요.
The final verb in the verb chart above is 덥다. You should definitely be good with verb roots by now and instantly know it is 덥. Now, with this irregular pattern, you must remember two things. Often, when a verb root ends in ㅂ, you should drop the ㅂ and add 우. After that, you move to the second step. If it ends in 우, when we pick a style such as polite style, it should naturally take the 어요 ending. This is another pattern where we combine two characters to make it smoother. 우 and ㅓ combine into 워. We get 더워요 in the end. Other verb examples that follow this pattern are 어렵다 - 어려워요, 즐겁다 - 즐거워요.
Similar, yes...but not the same. If you want to think of it as the same, then you should just remember to be polite to everyone in Korea or when speaking Korean. Here is the thing, since Korean is still a language with social status still built into the actual language, you must be polite with your speech or you will be considered very rude. You should use the polite style with anyone older than you, above you, new to you. A teacher, a parent, a stranger, pretty much everyone except your closest friends! You may use casual language when speaking to someone younger than yourself, your close friends, and your brothers and sisters. Any other time would be considered rude. So, based on this, choose which to use wisely. If you are talking to an adult and they are using casual verbs, that is because you are younger. This does not mean you should use the same verbs when speaking to them. You should be polite. This means that each of you will add different endings to the verbs.
Now that you can take a verb from the dictionary, find the root, make it into a casual or polite verb, and actually know whether it should be a casual or polite verb, you are ready to actually use some.
Remember how in Korean verbs can be used all alone and the sentence will be grammatically correct? Let's see some examples. If we were to say 먹어요, what exactly are we saying? We know it is a polite way, and it means "to eat" (don't worry if you haven't memorized the verbs yet. You will be sent to the homework page shortly to do some memorization). But do we know what we are saying when we say 먹어요 to someone? Well, it depends :). You could be saying "I'm eating." Or, you could be saying "you're eating". You could be saying "eat." If someone said "What do you want to do?" You could reply 먹어요. In Korean you can use the verbs in a much more general manner than in English. Later we will see how to add words such as "I" or "You" if necessary to clear up the meaning of a sentence.
Another example could be 좋다. This means To Be Good. If someone asks you how is something, you can say 좋아요! Like, "Are my new shoes ok? Do you like them? How are they?" "좋아요!". Or, if you are having a casual conversation about something with your friend, and they say something and in English you would just give the reply "Good!" or something, you can just say 좋아!(remember, it's a conversation with your friend).
This whole concept about the verbs being so general is hard to learn at first. Just try your best! Casual verbs can have even more meanings than other forms! If you say 가 you could be saying I'm going, you're going, someone's going, let's go, are we going?, etc. A lot of Korean is about what can be assumed. If it can be assumed, there is no need to say it in the language. One of the most recommended Korean language products, Rosetta Stone Korean Level 1, makes learning this part a breeze. This wraps up the intro to Korean verbs! It's time for you to memorize a few, and to go back and make sure you know the patterns covered on this page. There will definitely be more to come on verbs later.