Korean Lesson 1 – ‘What is this?’


iExperienceKorea’s Board of Directors is made up of some foreigners who have been teaching in Korea for 8 to ten years. Although most of us are not fluent in Korean, we have been working with the language, and with teaching English here for a long time. Maybe we can offer some assistance to other people who are interested in learning a bit about how to use the Korean Language.

The Approach

First of all, when taking a formal class in Korean here, understand that the standard operating procedure is to flood you with vocabulary words until your head explodes and you get brain spaghetti all over the ceiling. We don’t want to do that here.

Our goal is to give you a helpful phrase that you can start to use right away. It is like a grammar pattern that you can get used to, and then switch out different words as you learn them. So the mental burden is mostly on learning the sentence pattern, and once that burden is lightened by familiarity, you can add more word variants at your own pace.

In this approach, of course we will try to explain some of the peculiarities of the language as we go along, but again, the focus is on getting you out of a lesson armed with a phrase you can use right away.

This first lesson will explain how to say, “What is this?” or “What is that?”. In Korean, the order of the grammar is different. It will be like this: “This what is?” or “That what is?”

The Three Main Words

Here are the three main words we have to use:

  1.  거 – Guh – This or That noun. (we use a prefix to indicate if we want to use ‘this’ or ‘that’)
  2.  무엇 – Moouh – What (so far we have Guh Moouh – This what…)
  3.  에요 – Aeyoh – is (all together we have Guh Moouh Aeyoh)

But now, we have to talk about two prefixes, and one suffix before we can use these main words correctly.

Noun Prefixes for THIS or THAT

The first word (거 – Guh) can mean either “This noun” or “That noun”, and we have to use a prefix to determine which one we want to use. Here they are:

  1.  이 –  Ee (Ee means THIS noun, close to me)
  2.  그 –  Goo (Goo means THAT noun, over there)

Let’s practice that before we talk about the suffixes.

  1.  이거 무어 에요EeGuh Moouh Aeyoh – This what is?
  2.  그거 무어 에요GooGuh Moouh Aeyoh – That what is?

Noun Suffixes – Four Variants

Finally, we need to use suffixes after each noun or pronoun in Korean. Here we have two pronouns (this/that and what), so we need a suffix after each of them.

Noun suffixes have 4 different variants. One variant set is when you use the noun for the first time, or when you are not using it for the first time. The second variant is when the noun ends with a vowel, or when it ends with a consonant. Here are all four variants.

  1.  First mention of noun (이-Ee or 가 – Ga / use Ee if the noun ends with a consonant, and use Ga if the noun ends with a vowel.)
  2.  Subsequent mention (은 – uhn or 는 – nuhn / use uhn if the noun ends with a consonant, and use nuhn if the noun ends with a vowel.)

Fortunately for us, both Guh and Moouh end with a consonant, and this is the first time we mention both nouns. That means we can use the Ee suffix for both nouns, like this

Guh – Ee (but you have to put a little ‘s’ sound between, so it looks more like this – ‘GuhshEe’). Let’s practice it together:

  1.  EeGushEe 이것이(This noun)
  2.  GooGuhshEe 그것이 (That noun)

The word “what” has the same suffix, so let’s practice it:

  1.  MooushEe 무엇이 (what / you have to stick the ‘s’ sound in here too.)

Putting It All Together

Now, we have all the pieces we need to wrap up the lesson. Let’s practice using THIS and THAT. Then we will be done.

  1.  EeGushEe MooushEe Aeyoh. (What is this? – This what is?)
    2.    GooGushEe MooushEe Aeyoh. (What is that? – That what is?)

Here they are in Korean:

  1.  이것이 무엇이에요?
  2.  그것이 무엇이에요?

In the next lesson, we will talk about how to answer this question to identify simple nouns. And that is why this phrase will be so useful to you. You can ask the question by practicing this lesson, and you can answer it by practicing the next lesson.

SIDEBAR: (Maybe you noticed that both prefixes for THIS and THAT are similar to both noun suffixes when you use either a vowel or a noun. This could be confusing, or it could be convenient, depending on how you look at it. Don't worry about it now. Using the suffixes will become more comfortable starting in the next lesson.)


  • By Jeff Rogers.

Lesson 2

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