Difference between 은/는 and 이/가 

 September 30, 2017

By  TOPIK GUIDE Team

은/는 and 이/가 are probably the most confusing Korean particles (case markers) for Korean language learners.

Even the professors of Korean language find it very difficult to explain the exact difference between these two particles and the way they are used. We will try to simplify things a bit here so that it’s easy for you to understand the difference.

은/는 are called Topic particles while 이/가 are called – Subject Particles. The confusing thing is that topic and subject are sometimes not clearly distinguishable. The person or thing that is the main focus of the sentence is called the topic. The subject of the sentence is not always the topic.

For example,  in the sentence “오늘은 날씨가 좋아요.” subject of the sentence is 날씨 (Weather) while the topic of the sentence is 오늘 (Today).

The subject of a sentence can also be the topic of the sentence and vice versa.

In fact, in most of the situations 은/는 and 이/가 are interchangeable.  ‘이것은 책입니다’ and ‘이것이 책입니다’ are pretty much the same thing.

There are some situations when you are supposed to use any one of these particles but even if you use the wrong one, it’s not that the sentence becomes incomprehensible or something. People will still understand what you want to say. So you don’t need to take too much stress.

Just remember some rule of thumbs about the usage of 은/는 and 이/가 and you will be fine.

은/는 vs 이/가

  1. When it’s a negative sentence with verb ‘to be’ (아닙니다 or 아니에요 i.e. is/am/are + not), you always have to use 이/가 with the preceding noun. Ex: 이것은 책이 아니에요.
  2. If you are using 있다/없다 you should always use 이/가 with the noun before it. Ex: i) 펜이 있어요?  ii) 저는 내일 시간이 없어요.
  3. Generally when there are two nouns in a sentence and a descriptive verb (or adjective) has been used, use 은/는 with the first noun and 이/가 with the second. Ex: 오늘은 날씨가 좋아요. 이 식당은 음식이 맛있어요.
  4. When you want to show contrast or emphasise a noun, you should use 은/는. For example – 품질 좋은데 가격 너무 비싸요. (Quality is good but the price is too expensive.)

Note that we have simplified the rules. There are more complicated rules and explanations but we don’t want to confuse you more. If you follow the rules mentioned above, you should be fine in most of the stituations.

Also Learn Korean Object particles 을 & 를

TOPIK GUIDE Team


We are a team of passionate researchers from Seoul National University specializing in Korean language and linguistics. We are committed to helping international students prepare for the TOPIK test. You can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or YouTube

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    • As far as I can conclude the nouns ending with consonants are being paired with 은/이 and those ending with vowels are 는/가. 은 /는 being topic particles and 이/가 being subject particles. Look at small sentance translations or small poems to get used to it.

  • hello ,i want to ask…
    about the number 4.
    its said there that if we want to emphasise the noun we should use 은/는 which is a topic marking particles,but i saw “이” in the sentence “품질이 좋은데 가격은 너무 비싸요” which is subject marking particles…could you explain why theres “이” after “품질이”… thank you!

    • This is another rule. 종다 is descriptive verb (=adjective), the noun being described should be followed by 이/가.

      Besides, even if in that sentence, an action verb (not adjective) is being used, 이/가 can also be used depending on the context. As said in the article, the noun in the sentence can be a topic/subject/both, depending on the context. But for many situations, they are interchangeable. Just remember the four rules listed in the article and the one I mentioned above at the beginning stage. You will get to know more if you keep learning. Cheers 🙂

  • Quite honestly, this is just one of those things you have to look at many times from many different angles before you can “fully” understand it. Even then you will invariably need to make the odd correction to use them correctly. Particles are a journey of a thousand miles, but beginning with a single step.

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