F2S: Korean Particles (Subjects, Objects, Topics)

One of the biggest struggles I have had with learning Korean has been using particles correctly. While there are quite a few of them to learn, today I want to talk about the most basic ones. Particles related to Objects (을 / 를), Subjects (이 / 가) and Topics (은 / 는).

Logically, the rules around these are fairly straightforward. Objects are the things you are talking about, such as (제이슨이 불고기 먹어요.) “Jason eats bulgogi.” Subjects are who or what the sentence is specifically about, such as (제이슨 불고기를 먹어요.) “Jason eats bulgogi”. Topics are the general things you are talking about, such as (불고기 맛있어요.)”Bulgogi is delicious.” Seems easy, so why is it so difficult?

At first, I thought it was because of a special rule around subjects, which is you only use 이 / 가 the first time you mention the subject. All the following times you actually use 은 / 는, just like a topic. For example ( 제이슨 불고기를 먹어요. 제이슨 감자를 안 먹어요. ) “Jason eats bulgogi. Jason does not eat potatoes”. That was a bit of an issue, but it wasn’t the core issue.

My second thought was that often, when speaking, you can drop particles, especially the object. This is because, just like English, the written word doesn’t have much context or intonation, so you need to be more specific. That definitely can make things harder, but I spend most of my time writing, not speaking. Therefore it was also not my core issue.

After much thought, I realized that my issue isn’t really with Korean, but just my own mental model of language construction period. When writing, I don’t think at all about whether something is an Object or a Subject or even a Topic as it is automatic, and in English, not often explicit. For example, in English, we could say “Today the weather is good.” Is today the topic or is the weather? For all intents and purposes it doesn’t matter. In Korean it does.

Failure Identified!

The Lesson: Make sure you identify the ACTUAL problem you are having.

Often we fail because we are so focused on the broader problem rather than spending the time to analyze the smaller issues it is comprised of. It is important to occasionally take a step back and look at the problem objectively. Since I discovered what was causing this failure (my lack of thinking about the purpose of the words in a sentence) I have been able to focus on understanding that in both English and Korean. I noticed a rapid improvement in my writing with far fewer mistakes. It’s still not perfect, but I am closer to success.

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