Learn Korean - Full Lessons with PDFs Learn Korean Ep. 9: Topic and Subject Markers April 4, 2015January 7, 2021 Billy 8 Comments Click here to download a free PDF of this lesson! This lesson is also available in Spanish here. This lesson is also available in French here.
8 thoughts on “Learn Korean Ep. 9: Topic and Subject Markers”
Good explanation. I saw your book on Amazon.
where can i find the pdf please? i am confused
oh i found it
Hi Billy! Great video you have here. I'm still a little confused as to the differences between the topic and subject marking particle. There's a point in your video where you said that the subject marker is used when answering questions? I'm following a Korean grammar textbook and it tells me the opposite -
"When asking a question in Korean, the question word (e.g., 무엇 “what,”누구 “who”) is usually marked by the subject particle. However, when answering the question, the question word is often marked by the topic particle." (Basic Korean: A Grammar and Workbook)
Not sure if I'm understanding this out of context?
Hey there~ If you check out the PDF version of this lesson, it gives more information about how it works. There isn't a rule that requires either of the markers to be used when asking or answering a question - it's just a guideline for first time learners. The PDF explains this in a bit more detail, and give an example of the same sentence with the Subject Marker and with the Topic Marker to help show the differences.
[Repost in the proper place]
The topic particle is mainly just a subset of subject marker. In general 는 marks old, ongoing, or contextually obvious information. When it's new, (fresh! exciting!) info, it gets the subject particle.
Your source is correct, since a question will often introduce something novel; so it gets the subject marker. The answer contains nothing new, it's just recycling the... wait for it... topic (the subject that the question introduced. Hence you can understand why it's called the 'topic' particle: hey, it's staying on-topic). But syntactically it's just a subject. English has something similar in the definite and indefinite articles:
Yesterday I saw a cat. ('a' marks a new item for discussion. The listener had no idea a shift
was coming. "Hey, now we're talking cats.")
The cat was been chased by a dog. Cat is now old information and gets our, shall we say, 'topic'
particle 'the'. But 'dog' is new, it gets the 'subject' marker 'the'.
The similarity in function also extends to the aforementioned: A-items and THE-items (in the context of the above syntactic slots, as opposed to object, etc. positions) are still both a kind of subject.
Naturally, the English articles have a wider usage than marking old or novel items--and they certainly are not obligatory; in fact they may be proscribed for mass- and abstract nouns--and the Korean markers likewise have wider scope, but this usage will put you roughly in the ballpark about what 는/은 , 가/이 are about.
So that there will be ambiguity or confusion about what I wrote, I will quote directly from the magisterial—if pedagogically brain-damaged —university textbook Elementary Korean 2nd ed. King & Yeon, p. 54-55 (Chapter 5.2):
"When you first mention a subject--when it is new information--you usually attach 이 ~ 가, the subject particle, to it. Thereafter in the same context, if you repeat the subject at all, it has become old information and usually has the particle 은 ~ 는."
"Once a particular subject has been mentioned there is no requirement in Korean to keep referring to it in subsequent sentences; you can just drop it. However, if the subject is mentioned again, then it would be followed by the topic particle (marking the noun as old information), not the subject particle."
Now, the two authors are absolute experts in their field. They are not only authorities on Korean, they are authorities in Korean linguistics. Their explanation is congruent with the general use of new/old information in supra-sentential pragmatics, a branch of linguistics that treats the matter of information as presented in discourse context: many languages have some version of marking, by explicit particles, by position, or by stress, the disjunction between novel information— -ka information, and old, known, obvious... topical—-neun, in other words—information.
*So that there will be NO ambiguity, dang it...