The Special Particle 은/는

Today is: 2017년 6월 22일



안녕! Our last grammar post was a brief introduction to particles and a lesson on the subject case particles. Now, we’ll be learning about the special particle.

The special particle 은/는 marks the noun that it is attached to as the sentence’s topic. It is not a case particle, so it doesn’t indicate the grammatical function of the noun.

Topic Marking

Similar to how 이/가 has two forms, has two: 은 (after consonants) and 는 (after vowels).

  • 수잔 한극 사람이에요. = As for Susan, (she) is a Korean.
    • 수잔 is marked by 은 because ㄴ is a consonant.
  • 데니 미극 사람이에요. = As for Danny, (he) is an American.
    • 데니 is marked by 는 because ㅣ is a vowel

Also, the two sentences are in “topic-comment” structure: a sentence begins w/ a topic (marked by the appropriate particle) followed by the predicate. This is the most basic sentence type in Korean.

Compare and Contrast

When two sentences, marked by topic particles, are used in parallel, the particle 은/는 serves to compare/contrast the two topics.

  • 저스틴 캐나다 사람이에요. = As for Justin, (he) is Canadian.
  • 그렇지만 치에꼬 일본 사람이에요. = However, as for Chieko, (she) is Japanese.

Both Justin and Chieko are the topics of each sentence; since the sentences are used in parallel, the topics are compared and contrasted. (One person is  Canadian while the other is Japanese)

Switching Topics

Koreans use 은/는 when they switch topics (remember that Korean is a context-based language, so if the topic is understood/the topic marker is used one time, there is no need for the noun+은/는 unless the topic changes.)

  • A: 실례합니다. 마지 얼마예요? = Excuse me, how much is this pair of pants?
  • B: . 20,000 원입니다. = Yes, (it) is 20,000 won.
  • A: 그럼, 치마 얼마예요? = Then, as for this skirt, how much is (it)?
  • B: 32,000 원입니다. = Yes, (it) is 32,000 won.
  • A: 청바지요? = How about this pair of jeans?

Interplay between subject and topic particles

When asking a question, the subject in question is usually marked by the subject particle 이/가. But when answering the question, it is marked by the topic particle 은/는.

  • A: 전공 뭐예요? = What is (your) major?
  • B: 전공 한극어예요. = (My) major is Korean (language).

Person B answering “전공이 한극어예요” would make the sentence say “The major is Korean” as opposed to “My major is Korean.”

When person A asks the question, the subject is 전공 and it isn’t the topic yet so 이/가 is used but when person B answers, it becomes the topic so 은/는 can be used.

Appearing at the beginning of the sentence

Any element of the sentence can be the topic by adding 은/는 and placing it at the beginning of the sentence.

  • 오전 9 시에 메리하고 도서관에서 한극어공부해요.
    • = As for John, (he) studies Korean with Mary at the library at 9:00 a.m.
  • 오전 9 시에는 메리하고 도서관에서 한극어공부해요.
    • At 9:00 a.m., John studies Korean with Mary at the library.
  • 메리하고 이 오전 9 시에 도서관에서 한극어공부해요.
    • With Mary, John studies Korean at the library at 9:00 a.m.
  • 도서관에서 이 오전 9 시에 메리하고 한극어공부해요.
    • At the library, John studies Korean with Mary at 9:00 a.m.

This lesson has a lot of information in it but topic particles aren’t as complicated as they seem. After a bit of studying, you (and I) should have then down with no problem! Next Tuesday, we’ll be doing pronouns, so look forward to that!

읽어 주셔서 감사합니다! 안녕!


오늘의 노래:

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