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Korean Modals

Modals? What are modals?

Modals is a grammatical term that is pretty much unknown
to everyone except grammar teachers.

You know what they are though.

Have you ever wanted to say 'I can go,' 'I should go,' 'I want to go,' 'I need to go,' or 'I may go' ?

If so, you've wanted to know how to use modals! Modals are simply combining verbs such as may, want, need, can and should with another verb.

That is all there is to it! See, modals are not so bad, but everyone uses them in conversation.

Now you can go out, speak Korean, use modals, and communicate well!

Oh, right. You still want to know how to use them in Korean. Well, here we go!

To Want
To Need, To Have To
Can, Be Able To
May, Have Permission
Random Practice

To Want

There are two things to consider when thinking about the verb 'to want'.

  • To want a noun.
  • To want to do something (verb).

Since we are talking about modals, or conditions of verbs, we are going to cover the second one in depth.

To want a noun

Alright. I will mention the first as well! The verb is:

원하다 - To want (a noun).

You use 원하다 when you say something like 'I want an apple.' 사과를 원해요. 'I want a car' 차를 원해요. 'I want a house' 집을 원해요.

To want (to do)

What if you want to say 'I want to go'? Would you say 가다 원해요? At first, you may think so. Unfortunately, we cannot simply take the infinitive for 'to go', 가다, and stick it before 'to want'.

There is another pattern you must use. The verb 'to want' becomes ~고 십다.

Now, take that infinitive, 가다, and drop the 다. This gives you the verb base, or simply 가 in this case. Now all you have to do is add the new verb! 가고 싶다.

When you say it in a sentence, 싶다 will change just like any other verbs. It becomes 싶어요.

Simple enough? Let's just add one more thing...

~고 싶다 is only used when talking in first person (about yourself). This simply means you use ~고 싶다 if you are talking about something you (yourself) want.

If you are talking about something someone else wants to do, the verb is ~고 싶어하다.

엄마는 가고 싶어해요.


가고 싶어요.

가고 싶어해요.

사과를 원해요.

책을 원해요.

책을 읽고 싶어해요.

자고 싶어요.

먹고 싶어요.

엄마가 물을 마시고 싶어해요.

앤나가 먹고 싶어해요.

밥을 원해요.

See Answers


Remember, if you don't already know lots of vocabulary, you can greatly benefit from the Vocabulary E-Zine. It will build your vocabulary gradually yet steadily, giving you great knowledge on Korean words.


Have to, Need to

I have to do homework. Many of you may need to say this statement, even if sometimes you pass up homework for a good time. ;-)

I have to work. This statement may fit you better.

Whether we want to do something or not, sometimes we just do not have a choice! If this is the case....

~야 되다 will come in handy.

Let's stick with the example 'to go' to illustrate this.

가다 - 가야 돼요

You simply drop the 요 from the polite form of the verb and add the ending. Note how 되다 becomes 돼요. 되 + 어요 = 돼요. However, you will still see it written both ways.

A couple more examples should make this pattern clear.

숙제를 해야 돼요. - I have to do homework.
일을 해야 돼요. - I have to work.

Notice how all we did was take the verb to do, 해요, drop the 요, and add the ending? 해야 돼요.

You just need to remember which part of the verb to use. In 'to want' we drop the 다 from the dictionary form and use that (the verb stem). In this case, we drop the from polite form and attach the ending to that (the casual form of the verb).


가야 돼요.

학교에 가야 돼요.

먹어야 돼요.

밥을 먹어야 돼요.

마셔야 돼요.

물을 마셔야 돼요.

See Answers

Can, Be Able To

Moving right along.

If you need to say you can do something, you can go, you can eat, you use the following pattern.

Take the verb stem (drop the from the dictionary form) and add ~(으)ㄹ수 있어요.

Let me explain that a little better.

First, get the verb stem. 가다 - 가. 먹다 - 먹. Now, add the appropriate ending.

If the verb stem ends in a vowel, like 가, all you do is add ㄹ수 있어요.

갈수 있어요 - I can go.

However, if it ends in a consonant, you cannot add another consonant to the verb stem because there is already one there! If this is the case, you add 을수 있어요.

먹을수 있어요. - I can eat.

That's really all there is to it! Just remember the ending is ~(으)ㄹ수 있어요.

Note: Oh, and one more thing! If the verb ends in the consonant ㄹ, you don't have to add either ㄹ or 을. Simply jump to the 수 있어요. Otherwise, the ㄹ becomes redundant.

놀수 있어요.


  • Verb ends in vowel - add ㄹ수 있어요
  • Verb ends in ㄹ - add 수 있어요
  • Verb ends in any other consonant - add 을수 있어요


일을 할수 있어요.

숙제를 할수 있어요.

와인을 마실수 있어요.

술을 마실수 있어요.

배울수 있어요.

See Answers

May, Have Permission

If you have permission to do something, you would use the verb 'may'.

I may go. (I have permission to go).
I may play. (I have permission to play).

This is pretty simple in Korean.

The ending is ~도 되다

You attach the ending to the casual form of the verb (drop the from the polite form).

가도 돼요 - I may go.
놀아도 돼요 - I may play.

Nothing fancy here.

Use the following practice to get used to this pattern.


자도 돼요.

먹어도 돼요.

마셔도 돼요.

와인을 마셔도 돼요.

놀아도 돼요.

See Answers

Some Real Practice

So, you understand them when separated. Do you think you can recognize what they all mean when random?

학교에 가야 돼요.

놀고 싶어요.

새 컴픁처를 원해요.

앤나가 운동하고 싶어해요.

수영할수 있어요.

술을 마셔도 돼요.

읽을수 있어요.

수필을 써야 돼요.

영화를 보고 싶어요.

See Answers

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