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How Korean grammar differs from Japanese: Negation

Hangugeo and Chosonmal, both of which mean 'Korean language,' written in hangul.

Hangugeo and Chosonmal, both of which mean ‘Korean language,’ written in hangul.

Korean grammar and Japanese grammar have a lot in common. They both use SOV word order and lots of particles; distinguish between “noun-adjectives” and “verb-adjectives”; don’t conjugate for plural, gender, or number; and are agglutinative (meaning they form structures by combining discrete parts with distinct meanings). However, Korean grammar is not exactly the same as Japanese grammar. For instance, negation is different.

In Japanese, verbs (and verb-adjectives) are negated by conjugation. (Strictly speaking, this could also be considered suffixation.) A verb nai that means ‘to not exist’ or ‘is not’ is added after a verb stem.


For example:


Verb:                         iku ‘to go’ or ‘[I/you/he/she/it] goes/is going/will go’

Verb stem:                  ik

Negative:                     nai ‘is not; does not exist’

Negated verb:             ikanai ‘to not go’ or ‘doesn’t go/isn’t going,’ etc.

Example:                    kare wa Tokyo ni ikanai ‘He isn’t going to Tokyo [with the rest of us].’


Korean can also conjugate verbs in this way. A verb anta that means ‘to not do’ can be added to the end of a verb. However, in Korean this is not the most colloquial or common way to make it verbs. The most common way to negate verbs is to add an adverb an ‘not’ before the verb.


For example:

Verb:                            gada ‘to go’

Verb stem:                   ga

Negative:                     an

Negated verb:             an + ga + ayo [present tense] = angayo ‘[I/you/he/she/it] doesn’t go’


Alternately, and less commonly:

Negative verb: anta ‘does not do’

Negative stem:            an

Negated verb: gaji + an + ayo = gaji anayo ‘doesn’t go’


NB: The formal form gaji an sumnida is much more natural. Adding anta to conjugate verbs is more formal than using an, but not formal enough for most formal situations, so gaji anayo is rarely heard, according to Lesson 21 of Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK). I’ve been using TTMIK audio lessons to learn Korean.

Japanese and Korean grammar are similar, but not the same. Besides negation, can you think of any other differences?



  1. korean_learner2014 says:

    that’s not right. gaji anayo is more used these days than “gaji an sumnida”.

    • Thanks for the feedback!

      It’s been a long time, but I believe that came from TTMIK Level 1 Lesson 21 podcast. The teachers are native Korean speakers so I’m inclined to believe them, but they could be mistaken.

      Do you mean that people in general are using informal speech more often, or that “가지 않아요” is a more natural expression than “가지 않습니다” for Koreans today?

      A highly scientific Google search shows 517,000 results for 가지 않아요 and 1,240,000 results for 가지 않습니다. However, every URL on the first page of results for the latter is a “learning Korean” site, while most of the results for the former are YouTube videos for Korean kids. I wonder what that says?

      The paucity of results for both of these queries leads me to believe that neither is used often in written Korean.

      For contrast, we get 704,000 results for 가지 않아도 (e.g. 손병휘 – 나란히 가지 않아도), and a whopping 4,480,000 results for the title of Robert Frost’s poem, “가지 않은 길”.

      This leads me to think that it’s verb conjugation at issue here. It seems to me that online written Korean, formal or informal, rarely uses such basic verb conjugations as “-아요”.

      What do you think?

  2. a korean says:

    Also 조선어 is what North Koreans, Chaoxianzu or Joseonjok, and Zainichi refer to Korean as. You are learning South Korean, which is similar to North Korean but have slight deviations for example with loanwords. Also we don’t use that term in South korea cuz that is what the Japanese referred to our languagea. Unless you are learning the North Korean dialect don’t use that word.

Your thoughts?

Kieran Maynard

Kieran Maynard

Writer, translator, researcher, traveler specializing in Japanese and Chinese literature.

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