Subject & Object Marking Particles

THE BIG THREE

No, I’m not talking about K-Pop agencies. I’m talking about the 3 particles that you’ll see most often in a Korean sentence. I never include these in my “Vocab & Grammar” sections because the usage of a couple of them is too complicated to get into in a single line.

First, a smidge of grammar review:

The “subject” in a sentence is the noun doing the action. Every sentence and every clause needs a subject.

The “object” in a sentence is the noun having the action done to it. Not every sentence or clause needs an object.

Examples:

MIC Drop: “Did you see my bag?”
Subject: “you”. Object: “bag”.

Inner Child: “We gon’ change.”
Subject: “we”. No object.

So here’s the high level on the 3 subject/object marking particles in Korean.


-은 or -는

How to attach it:

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a consonant, use 은.

Example: 게임 (game) + 은 = 게임은

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a vowel, use 는.

Example: 그림자 (shadow) + 는 = 그림자는

What it does:

This particle marks the subject in a clause or sentence. But it’s not always as simple as that. It is also often used to create a nuance of comparison.

Example:

In the chorus of Interlude: Shadow we find the line: 이제는 두려워, meaning “Now I’m scared.” 이제 means “now”. Notice it has 는 attached. This has the effect of emphasizing that at some other time I was not scared, but NOW I’m scared.

Unless you are trying to make a direct comparison between two things in a single sentence and you do so by attaching this particle to each of them, this particle should only appear once in a sentence. If the sentence has multiple clauses, this can be used on the independent clause only, not on the dependent ones.


-이 or -가

How to attach it:

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a consonant, use 이.

Example: 게임 (game) + 이 = 게임이

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a vowel, use 가.

Example: 그림자 (shadow) + 가 = 그림자가

What it does:

This particle also marks the subject in a clause or sentence, but this one is pretty straightforward, no extra nuances or meanings woven in. The art lies in knowing when to use this particle, and when to use -은/-는.

Here’s one main rule: In a sentence with multiple clauses, this is the only one that can be used in dependent clauses, while this one OR the other one can be used in the independent clause.

Example: “Because the weather is cold, I have to wear my jacket.”

“Because the weather is cold” is a dependent clause (because it doesn’t form a sentence on it’s own). Therefore, the subject of this clause – weather – can only have 이 or 가 attached to it.

“I have to wear my jacket.” is the independent clause. The subject of this clause – I – can have 이/가 attached to it or 은/는, depending on what meaning you’re trying to create.


-을 or -를

How to attach it:

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a consonant, use 을.

Example: 게임 (game) + 을 = 게임을

When attaching this particle to a word that ends in a vowel, use 를.

Example: 그림자 (shadow) + 를 = 그림자를

What it does:

This particle marks the object of a clause or sentence. It can be used multiple times in a sentence.

Example: “I love this song, so I added it to my playlist.”

Dependent clause: “so I added it to my playlist”. Object: “playlist”

Independent clause: “I love this song”. Object: “song”

Both get 을 or 를 added.

Additional notes:

  1. In everyday speech, and of course in lyrics, these particles are often completely omitted.
  2. When attaching 는 or 를 to a noun that ends in a vowel, they’re often shortened to ㄴ and ㄹ respectively, and just slapped onto the existing final syllable.
    • Example: 나 means “I”. It should turn into 나는 or 나를, but is often spoken and written as 난 or 날.
  3. If there are other particles that need to get attached to the subject or object of a sentence (like -고, -도, etc.) they don’t get added on behind the subject or object marker, they replace it.