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When to use 은/는 and 이/가

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

안녕하세요! Welcome back or welcome to another Korean lesson. I'm Koreanstudyjunkie and today we're talking about the most basic, but also most difficult to use particles in Korean.

When To Use 은/는:

When you want to show a contrast or emphasise a noun, you should use 은/는.

Ex: 저 피자를 좋아하지만 엄마 햄버거를 좋아해요.

I like pizza, but my mom likes hamburgers.

은/는 puts focus on the description. A lot of times you’ll see a descriptive verb or adjective used in the same sentence with this particle. (Ex: pretty, smart, tall)

Ex: 고양이는 귀엽다.

Cats are cute (compared to dogs) or saying that a specific cate is cute (specifically emphasizing THAT CAT is cute)

When there are 2 nouns in 1 sentence, usually 은/는 will be attached to the first noun

Ex: 오늘은 날씨가 좋네요 - the weather is nice today

이/가 is Introduces new information

은/는 is used to mention known


For example, If someone  asks you a question like: 이름이 뭐예요?

You’ll respond with 은/는 since what they are asking for is now known info 제 이름은 ____

Another Example:

(First time mentioning) 내 친구는 한국인이에요 - my friend is Korean

내 친구가 한국에서 태어났어요 - my friend was born in Korea

When To Use 이/가:

이/가 is used to state a plain fact or make broad statements.

You’ll see 이/가 used with descriptive verbs and adjectives too but it has a more general nuance than with 은/는.

Ex: 고양이가 귀엽다.

Cats - in general - are cute.

When it’s a negative sentence with verb ‘to be’ (아닙니다 or 아니에요 i.e. is/am/are + not), you always have to 이/가 with the preceding noun.

Ex: 이것은 책이 아니에요.

This is not a book. (This thing isn’t a book.)

When using 있다/없다 you should always use 이/가 with the noun before it.

Ex: 펜이 있어요?

Do you have a pen?

저는 내일 시간이 없어요.

I don’t have time tomorrow.

When referring to the subject that is to be changed (되다), but this doesn’t mean 은/는 will never be used with 되다. Often you’ll see 이/가 follow 되다 though, when referring to things like

Ex: 의사 되고 싶어요.

I want to be a doctor.

은/는 vs 이/가 Fill In The Blank Quiz:

Best Practices: when doing the quiz below think about the reason behind why it is used by referring back to the rules above. By doing this, you’ll start to memorize the rules and get a grasp on when to use which.

For extra practice you can also translate the sentences below, but the answers are at the very end of the post.

1.) 계획(__) 없어서 집에 있을 거예요.

2.) 롤러코스터(__) 정말 무서워요.

3.) 오늘 역사 시험(__) 있어요?

4.) 그 시험(__) 너무 어려웠어요.

5.) 어머니(__) 간호사고 아버지는 의사다.

6.) 그 선생님(__) 여자(__) 아니에요.

7.) 케이크(__) 디저트예요.

8.) 우리 할머니 요리(__) 더 맛있다.

9.) 중학교 때 친구(__) 되었어요.

10.) 새로운 친구(__) 생겼어요. 그 친구 고향(__) 인천이에요.


Quiz Answers:

계획이 없어서 집에 있을 거예요.

I don’t have plans, so I’ll stay home.

롤러코스터는 정말 무서워요.

The rollercoaster is scary.

오늘 역사 시험이 있어요?

Do you have a history test today?

그 시험은 너무 어려웠어요.

The test was too hard.

어머니는 간호사고 아버지는 의사다.

My mother is a nurse and my father is a doctor.

그 선생님은 여자가 아니에요.

The teacher is not a woman.

케이크가 디저트예요.

Cake is a desert.

우리 할머니 요리는 더 맛있다.

My grandmother’s cooking tastes better.

중학교 때 친구가 되었어요.

We became friends when we were in middle school.

새로운 친구가 생겼어요. 그 친구 고향은 인천이에요.

I made a new friend. The friend’s hometown is Incheon.


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