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Korean Sentence types
February 9, 2022

Like sentences in any language generally have four types of sentences. Korean also has Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative and Propositive sentences.

The only difference is these four types are influenced by the speech styles. 

Speech styles could be a new and interesting topic for someone not familiar with East asian or Southeast asian culture of using honorific speech levels.

It's a different set of sentence endings or words allotted for specific people. 

These speech styles can be divided into three main types. 

  1. Formal polite
  2. Informal polite
  3. Informal plain

By the names you could guess the usage. 

The formal polite style ~ (스)ㅂ니다 is used more and formal or public situations including the military, news, reporting presentations, meeting and lectures. Mainly for addressing huge gatherings or people you don't know personally. 

The informal polite style ~아/어요 is used most in daily life. Compared to the formal polite style, informal polite style is softer and less formal and therefore it is used mainly among family members, friends, shopkeepers and other close acquaintances.

The three speech levels have different forms for each of the four sentence types Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative and Propositive.

The informal polite style uses the same form for all four types.

The sentence types and the style are determined by the situations and sentence intonation. 

For this reason the informal polite style is less complicated than the formal polite style. 

As for the informal plain style ~아/어 it is mainly used among friends by superiors towards persons of lower rank and among family members. 

How to recognise if the sentence is Formal or informal sentence types ? 

You can recognise it by simply looking at the sentence endings. 

By the sentence ending ~(스)ㅂ니다 , 아/어요 or 아/어.

It is absolutely compulsory for you to grasp the difference as soon as possible. Because most of the time from here on you'll be framing sentences based on the speech levels.

That makes it obvious to not use formal polite speech style with your younger sibling or friends of your age. 

Also never use informal plain style with any stranger on the street. 

It is considered rude to use the informal plain style with somebody one does not know personally or with whom one is not very close that we examine the formal polite and informal polite styles only.

Even though the chances for you come across situations to use Formal polite  ~(스)ㅂ니다 is far less than using 아/어요 or 아/어 informal plain style. But this will take a fair amount of your time to figure out conjugation if ignored at first  Especially if your main goal is to appear for the TOPIK exam or to get a job in any Korean company. 

Then probably learning Formal polite speech will be much better from the very beginning. 

Now let's dive into the four different sentence types : 

(1) Declarative Sentence

Declarative sentences are used when explaining something or responding to a question.

Formal Polite Style :

Declarative formal polite sentences are made by adding -(스)ㅂ니다 to the word stem 

1) 저는 학교에 갑니다.

I go to school.

2) 저는 빵을 먹습니다.

I eat bread. 

Informal Polite Style :

Declarative informal ite sentences are made by adding -아/어요 to the word stem.

1) 저는 학교에 가요

I go to school.

2) 저는 빵을 먹어요.

I eat bread. 

(2) Interrogative Sentences

Interrogative sentences are used when asking a question. 

Formal Polite Style :

Interrogative formal polite sentences are made by adding ~(스)ㅂ니까? to the word stem. 

1) 학교에 갑니까?

Do you go to school ? 

2) 빵을 먹습니까?

Do you eat bread ? 

Informal Polite Style :

Interrogative informal polite  sentences are made by adding -아/어요? to the word stem.

Because they have the same form as declarative sentences, they are made interrogative by being spoken with a rising intonation at the end of the sentence (and also by adding a question mark to the written form).

1) 학교에 가요?

Do you go to school ? 

2) 빵을 먹어요?

Do you eat bread ? 

(3) Imperative sentences

Imperative sentences are used when making a demand or giving advice.

Formal polite style :

Imperative formal polite sentences are made by adding ~(으)십시오 to the word stem. 

1) 책을 읽으십시오.

Please read the book.

2) 음식 먹어십시오.

Please eat the food. 

Formal polite style :

Imperative formal polite sentences are made by adding ~아/어요 to the word stem. 

1) 책을 읽어요.

Please read the book.

2) 음식 먹어요.

Please eat the food. 

However using ~(으)세요 in place of 아/어요 is considered a more polite expression. 

1) 책을 읽으세요.

Please read the book.

2) 음식 먹으세요.

Please eat the food. 

(4) Propositive sentences

Propositive sentences are used when making a suggestion or agreeing with someone else's suggestion. 

Formal polite sentences :

Propositive formal polite sentences are made by adding ~(으)ㅂ시다 to the word stem. 

~(으)ㅂ시다 can we used when the person being spoken to is younger or the same age as the speaker. 

Not be used when speaking to a superior or elder person.

1) 12시에 만납시다.

Let's meet at 12 O'clock.

2) 여기에서 저녁을 먹읍시다.

Let's have dinner here. 

Informal polite style :

Opposite of informal polite sentences are made by adding ~아/어요. 

1) 12시에 만나요.

Let's meet at 12 O'clock.

2) 여기에서 저녁을 먹어요.

Let's have dinner here. 

The following table summarises below using the verb 가다

If you can't wrap your head around the concept of Hangul, the Korean writing system.

Please check this link. Here !! 

Learn Korean from Scratch - Level 1A

If you’re able to read and write Korean alphabets. You might wanna check :

Korean Grammar Crash Course (TOPIK Level 1 & 2)

One of the characteristics of Korean verbs and adjectives is that they both are conjugated according to tense, speech level, passive and causative forms, and speech styles.

You might wanna check :

Conjugation of Korean Verbs and Adjectives

To understand TOPIK Test structure, application process, Levels and Passing scores etc. check these pages:

  1. TOPIK – The Complete Guide & 2. TOPIK Levels and Passing Marks. You can also Practice Online with TOPIK GUIDE Mock Tests.

If you are going to take the TOPIK Test for the first time, or if you want to give your score a boost so that you can pass a higher level, we would strongly advise you to get the Complete Guide to TOPIK – Self-Study Package. It is a digital study package that has everything you need to get a great score in the TOPIK test – all the past TOPIK papers with answer sheets, grammar and vocabulary study material, video tutorials explaining the test structure, strategies to solve them and much more. You can check out more details about this study package HERE.

Learning Korean can be tricky, especially when the goal of your learning is conversation. If you’ve ever attempted to speak Korean but were unable to, then hopefully you’ll find this post helpful.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or suggestions. Comment down below.

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