Pronouns

Buckle up. There’s a lot to get through here. Before we start, you need to be aware that there are two different word endings that can mark the subject of a sentence. They are -은/-는 and -이/-가. The first from each pair gets added when the word it’s being added onto ends in a consonant, and the second from each pair is for words that end in a vowel. There is also a word ending that marks the object of a sentence, and that is -을/-를. *Note that when -는 or -를 should be attached, it’s common, especially with pronouns, to just attach ㄴ or ㄹ to the existing last syllable of the word. Click here for a bit more in-depth of a refresher on subject and object marking particles.

You also need to remember that in Korean you speak differently depending on who you’re talking to. There are lots of different ways to refer to these varying levels of respect, but we’ll use the Korean words 반말 (for the more casual language) and 존댓말 (for the formal/honorific form). With very rare exceptions, BTS lyrics are in 반말 and you’ll see almost exclusively those pronouns used, but we’ll look at both in this lesson.

I will only present the pronouns for “I”, “you”, “we”, and “you (plural)”. There are pronouns for he/she/they, but they don’t get used a whole lot in Korean, and especially not in song lyrics, so we won’t open that can of worms.

Remember that in Korean it’s common to drop subject and object marking particles in sentences. That is very much the case with many pronouns. But there are a couple of cases in which the pronoun used without a particle means something different. I will note them below.

반말:

: This means “I” when it’s used as the subject (나는, 난) and “me” when it’s the object (나를, 날). It never gets -가 attached to it.

: This means “I” when it’s used as the subject. The only subject/object marking particle you can attach to it is -가 (내가). You will never see 내는 or 내를. 내 also gets used with no word ending attached to mean “my”. In fact, when you use 내 with no subject/object marking particle, it can only mean “my”. It never means “I” when used in that way.

: This means “you” when it’s used as the subject, similar to 나 above (너는, 넌) and the same when used as the object (너를, 널). It never gets -가 attached to it.

: This means “you” when it’s used as the subject. The only subject/object marking particle you can attach to it is -가 (네가). You will never see 네는 or 네를. 네 also gets used with no word ending attached to mean “your”. In fact, when you use 네 with no subject/object marking particle, it can only mean “your”. It never means “you” when used in that way.

*Eagle eyed readers of Hangul may have noticed that 내 and 네 are pronounced the same. Once upon a time in the Korean language they weren’t, but nowadays the vowels ㅐ and ㅔ have near-identical – if not completely identical – pronunciations. So how do you know if someone is saying 내 or 네? 99.99% of the time, Koreans pronounce it as 니가 (nee-ga) in order to differentiate. Otherwise there’s no way of knowing if the speaker is talking about themself or about the person they’re speaking to. This phonetic spelling is also widely used, not just the pronunciation (although this spelling is technically incorrect).

*Interestingly, in the chorus of Moon Jin pronounces all his 네s as “nay” rather than “nee”. I have no idea why that choice was made. But this brings us to our next pronoun.

우리 : This means “we” and gets used with any subject/object marking particle. 우리는, 우린, 우리가, 우리를, 우릴. Also, you may know that if you want to indicate possession in Korean, you can add -의 (IE: 우리의 = “our”). However, 우리 is commonly used without that particle attached and still takes the meaning of “our”.

너네 : This means plural “you” and is also plural “your”. This is not technically a word on its own, it’s 너 + the particle -네 (the suffix meaning the “family” or “group” the person belongs to).


존댓말:

: This means “I” when it’s used as the subject (저는) and “me” when its used as the object (저를). Similarly to 나, it does not ever get -가 attached to it. It’s also much less common to see 전 and 절 than it is to see 난 and 날, because there’s a certain casualness to abbreviating in that way, and that doesn’t fly when we’re speaking with respect.

: This means “I” when it’s used as the subject. The only subject/object marking particle you can attach to it is -가 (제가). You will never see 제는 or 제를. But 제 can also be used with no word ending attached to mean “my”. In fact, when you use 제 with no subject/object marking particle, it can only mean “my”. It never means “I” when used in that way.

당신 : Technically, this means “you”, but long story short, don’t ever use this word. It can be used by spouses in an affectionate way, and it can be used rudely to tell someone off who bumped into you on the street and didn’t apologize, but it carries a lot of nuance in it that takes non-native speakers years to master. In fact, when speaking with honorifics in Korean, you would typically address someone by their title without saying “you”. Calling someone “teacher”, “student”, “president”, “boss” is the common thing to do. To our native English minds, this makes it sound like you’re speaking about someone instead of to them (“Did student sleep well last night?”) but this is how it’s done. You’ll get used to it.

저희 : This means “we” and gets used with any subject/object marking particle. 저희는, 저희가, 저희를. Note that while 우리 can include the listener as part of the group, 저희 always excludes the listener. For example, if you are talking to someone about 저희 학교 – our school – that means the person you are talking to does not go to that school.


Examples:

Singularity: “나는 잃은 걸까?” ~ “Did I lose myself?” / “Did I lose me?”

FAKE LOVE: “ 위해서라면 슬퍼도 기쁜 척 할 수가 있었어.” ~ “If it was for you, I could pretend to be happy even though I was sad.”

Trivia 轉 : Seesaw: “내가 보다 무거워졌었던 순간” ~ “The moment when I became heavier than you”

Tear: “ 시작과 끝” ~ “You’re my beginning and end.”

forever rain (by RM): “네가 내리면 외롭지 않아” ~ “When you come down I’m not lonely.”

Moon: “ 곁에 있어 줄게.” ~ “I’ll be by your side.”

Airplane pt.2: “야 야 셀럽놀이는 너네가 더 잘해.” ~ “You’re [plural] better at playing celebrity.”

Dionysus: “우리가 떴다 하면 전세계 어디든지 stadium party.” ~ “No matter where in the whole world, when we show up it’s a stadium party.”

친구 (Friends): “우리 교복 차림이 기억나” ~ “I remember our school uniforms.”