있다 and 없다

You’ll see these two a lot. They are opposites of each other. 있다 means to exist / to be found and 없다 means to not exist / not be found. But they manifest mainly in 3 different ways. Let’s take them one by one.

Note: 있다 and 없다 are also used as part of several other, longer grammatical constructions that carry different meanings. I’ll address those in separate lessons.


With -이 / -가

이 and 가 are subject marking particles. Click here for a refresher on them. 이 gets added to words that end in a consonant, and 가 gets added to words that end in a vowel.

When 있다 is used together with 이 or 가, the meaning is “to have”. In the same way, -이/-가 없다 means “to not have”.

Examples:

The Truth Untold:
갈 곳이 있긴 한지 ~ “Do you have somewhere to go?”
Original noun: 곳 – a place

Begin:
형들이 있어 ~ “I have my brothers.”
Original noun: 형 – the word used my males to refer to their older brother or a guy older than them that they are close with

Lost:
단 한 번에 길을 찾는 법이 없어 ~ “They don’t have a way to find the path on their first try.”
Original noun: 법 – a way, a method of doing something

I Need U:
내겐 그럴 용기가 없어. ~ “I don’t have the courage to do that.”
Original noun: 용기 – courage

Remember that sometimes the particle -이/-가 can be replaced with other particles. So then how do you know what the sentence means? Guess my answer. That’s right. Context.

Example:

Moon:
난 이름조차 없었어. ~ “I didn’t even have a name.”
-이 has been replaced with -조차 (meaning “even”/”not even”) here. But the meaning of 없다 remains the same.
Original noun: 이름 – a name


With 에 or 에서

-에 있다 means “to be at a location” and -에 없다 means “to not be at a location”. Using -에서 instead changes the meaning to “to be/not be inside a location.”

Examples:

forever rain (by RM):
너라도 내 곁에 있어줘. ~ “At least you, please be by my side.”
Original noun: 곁 – the spot at one’s side

Born Singer:
언제나 멀기만 했었던 신기루가 눈 앞에 있어. ~ “The mirage that was always just off in the distance is before my eyes.”
Original noun: 앞 – the front of something, the spot right in front of something


Used without an “owner” or location

This one is a little less common. Here 있다 means “to exist” or “to be a thing” and 없다 means “to not exist” or for there to be “no such thing”. If no sentence subject exists (or is implied) to indicate that the meaning of 있다 is “this subject has X” or that the meaning of 없다 is “this subject does not have X”, and the particle -에 or -에서 is not in the sentence either, the meaning of 있다 / 없다 means that there is no X, there’s no such thing as X.

Examples:

moonchild (by RM):
자유를 말하는 순간 자유는 없어. ~ “The moment you talk about freedom, there is no freedom.”
Original noun: 자유 – freedom

Winter Flower (RM collab with Younha):
영원이 있다면 ~ “if forever exists” / “if there’s such a thing as forever.”
Original noun: 영원 – eternity, forever


있다 and 없다 grammar Korean