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This Question Came to My Inbox: “How does the written hangul work?”

If you aren’t the one who asked this question, hangul is the Korean alphabet. It works differently than the English alphabet. Initially, it does go from left to right like English, but it is more complicated than that. In English, we put one letter right after another, but they don’t. Their words come in syllable blocks, and there are two levels for their syllable block. There will be two letters on the top and two or sometimes three at the bottom. I will explain how the blocks are put together, the words are put together, and a few basics about how a sentence is put together.

Korean is a very unique language. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On the top, you must have two letters. A word that begins with a consonant has a consonant and the next vowel after it or under it like these: ㄱ (K) ㅣ (ee) would be 기. ㅎ (H) ㅔ (eh) would be 해. ㅍ (p) ㅏ (ah) would be 파. ㄹ (R) ㅓ (eo) would be 러. If the vowel has a “y” before it, that ㅏ(a) becomes ㅑ(ya) and ㅓ(eo) becomes ㅕ(yo). If the vowel is horizontal rather than vertical, it goes below the consonant: ㅎ (H) and ㅜ (oo) become 후. If you want to add a “y” to it, write 휴 (hyoo). Another horizontal letter is ㅡ (u). 흐 is “hu.” If you want an English long “o” sound, it is also under the consonant: 호 (ho), and adding the “y,” it becomes 효.

If the word begins with a vowel, there still must be two places at the top. In this case, you begin with a place holder: ㅇ. ㅇ and ㅏ(ah) become 아. Add ㅗ (oh), and it become 오. Add the “y,” and that become 요 (yo).

After you have the initial level, you can also write letters below this to make a syllable. 이 (ee) at the top, and ㄺ (lk) at the bottom become 읽 (eelk) which means “read.” 한 (han) means “one” or “do” as an adjective. 로 (ro) is a post position particle meaning “using.” 명 (myeong) means “people” when you are counting people. When the ㅇ is used at the bottom, it becomes “ng” instead of just a place holder with no sound like it was at the beginning.

사랑 (sarang) = love (the noun) Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Those were all just one syllables. Many words are two syllables or more. 우리 (oo-ree) is a two syllable word meaning (us or we). 친구 (cheen-goo) is a two syllable word meaning “friend.” 사랑 (sa-rang) is a two syllable word meaning “love” as a noun.

To make 사랑 into a verb, you have to add more syllables. 사랑 한 (sa-rang-han) is an adjective meaning “love” that may come out in English like “loving.” The 한 (han) comes from 하다 (ha-da) which means “to do.” If you add this to nouns, it changes them to a verb, and if you add 한 to the nouns, it makes them an adjective. 사랑 하다 (sa-rang-hada) is the verb, but also 사랑 해요 (sa-rang heyo) is also the verb. 사랑 해요 is less formal, and it is used to say “I love you.” Both pronouns are left out. 사랑 하기 (sa-rang haghee) can mean “loving” or “to love.” You can do all these things with other nouns.

소망 (so-mang) means “hope,” the noun. 소망 하다 (so-mang hada) or 소망 해요 (so-mang heyo) is “hope,” the verb. Remember, that 하다 and 해요 mean the same thing, but 해요 is softer, and 하다 is in the dictionary and written on paper. Another form of this 하다 is 합니다 (hab-nee-da). 합니다 is the more formal form, and it is used when you are speaking to a crowd or to your teacher or parent for respect. 소망 한 (so-mang-han) is the adjective, “hopeful.” 소망 하기 (so-mang-ha-ghee) is the infinitive (to hope) or the gerund (hoping). A gerund can be a noun or an adjective. “Hoping” can also be expressed 소망 하는 것 (so-mang ha-nun- geot) if it is a gerund that is a noun. The 것 (geot) on the end means “thing,” so it turns 소망 into a noun. 소망 하기 (so-mang-ha-ghee) if it is used as a gerund, is usually used as an adjective, either that or you can use 소망 한 (so-mang-han) as the adjective.

The basic sentence patterns say: subject +direct object + verb rather than subject + direct object + verb like in English. The verb always comes last. If you have a prepositional phrase, then you have subject +prepositional phrase+ verb rather than subject + verb + prepositional phrase like we have in English. In English, the direct object always comes before the prepositional phrase, and they do the same in Korean.

하교에 가요 = (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) go to school. (The subject is often left out., so just guess from context.) Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

With the prepositional phrase, our preposition comes first and the object of the preposition comes last, but in Korean, the object comes first, and the preposition comes last in the phrase: “to school” becomes 하교 에 (ha-kyo eh). The 에 (eh) means “to.”

We have “the” and “a” before our nouns. They have so many more! “The” and “a” come before subjects, before direct object, before object of the preposition, and before indirect objects if they are nouns in English, but their parts of speech are almost coded with post position participles. If you have a subject, even if it is a pronoun, it will have one of these after it: 이 (ee), 가 (gah), 은 (un), or는 (nun). If you have a direct object, it will have one of these after it: 를 (lul) or 을 (ul). If you have an object of the preposition that is a person, you will use 에게 (eh-gheh) rather than 에 (eh) which is what you normal use for the preposition
to. It is hard to tell you every little thing you might use.

내가 어기니 일대 살는 집에 갔어요. ( I went to the house that I lived in when I was a child)Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In English, we like to use what is called “relative clauses.” With a relative clause, we use a word like “that,” “which,” “who,” or “what,” and then we write a clause after it that tells about the first part of the sentence. Here is an example of a sentence in English with a relative clause: “I went to the house that I lived in when I was a child.” “that” begins the relative clause that is telling about the house. Everything after “that” is the relative clause. The Koreans would take all of that and use it as an adjective clause before “house”: 내가 어리니 일때살는 집에 깄어요. (Ne gah eoreennee eelddeh salnun jeeb eh kass-eoyo). 내가 어 니 일때 (ne gah eoreenee eel ddeh) means “when I was a child,” and the “when” (때) is at the end of the clause. 살 는 (sal-nun) is “live” made into an adjective for 집 (jib) which means “house.” “That” is completely left out, and the whole relative clause is made into an adjective clause before “house.” I hope this is giving you an idea, at least a little, of how Korean works. The subject “I” is left out. “That” is left out, and the verb “went” (갓어요) is at the very end of the sentence.

Japanese and Korean share the same grammar, but not the same writing system or the same vocabulary. Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

I know the person who asked this question was trying to figure out how to read Korean. I hope this helps you read the Korean you see better. It has completely opposite ideas of how things should be done to English. The letters are not like Japanese letters, and the words aren’t the same, but the grammatical concepts are the same as Japanese. I have heard the Bangla language, Mongolian, and Hungarian have the same gramatical concepts too, but I don’t speak those languages. People I have known who speak them have told me the gramatical concepts are the same. The way the letters are arranged is completely unique to Korean. I don’t know of another alphabet that is arranged the same as Korean.

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