The Korean irregular verbs

Summary: Please look at my The Korean (Ir)regular Verbs.

Almost all languages that have conjugations (verb modifications) also have irregular verbs (Turkish being the only exception I’m aware of). English has verbs like “to write – wrote – written”; French has “écrire – j’écris – j’écrivais – écrit” and there is no shortage of examples from other languages.

Irregular verbs are a burden on language learners, but often there is help. Any self-respecting English dictionary has a list of the 300+ irregular verbs in the back, and for French there is a useful little booklet “Bescherelle La conjugaison pour tous” (“Conjugation for Everybody”), which for less than 7 euro’s explains everything there is to know about the French verb.

No such list or booklet seems to exists for Korean. There may be one in Korean, but with my present level of Korean (just passed my Beginners 2 test), it would be pretty useless to me anyway. There is the Web site Dongsa, which will conjugate any Korean verb for you, but it does not distinguish between regular and irregular, nor does it give any rules. And the rest of my learning material, from the simplest 50-page leaflets to the most solid and extensive 500-page works are all sketchy at best on the subject. I suppose if you’re a person who reads the 50-page leaflets you’re too junior to be interested in irregular verbs, and if you read the 500-page works you’re too senior to worry about them. Me, I’m in between, and confused.

In my The Korean (Ir)regular Verbs I’ve tried  to cover the Korean verb with the same thoroughness as the Bescherelle does for French. I have collected material from all sources available to me, cross-checked and tested in Internet searches. I think it is over 95% complete, but that’s just a guess.

A bit about the irregularity of Korean irregular verbs:

Usually the irregular verbs of a language are a jumble; it’s more or less every verb for itself. English “to write – wrote – written” does not lead to “to bite – bote – bitten”; it may be related to “to ride – rode – ridden” but that is already running  thin.

Not so in Korean. All irregular Korean verbs fall neatly in 6 groups, depending on the last consonant of the stem. So where is the irregularity? Answer: not all verbs that seem to fall into these groups are actually irregular. For example, all irregular verbs in -ㅂ (-p) are irregular in the same way, but not all verbs in -ㅂ are irregular. So when you see a verb in -ㅂ you know it might be irregular, and if it is irregular you know how to conjugate it, but you still don’t now whether it’s irregular or not. This means that for the language learner each group should come with a list of verbs that belong to it and a list of verbs that look as if they belong but don’t. In all learning material I have these lists are sketchy and by example only. I try to provide the complete lists.


The Small Words of Dutch

Most languages, including English, have a number of small words like “also”, “even”, “yet”, etc., which allow the speaker to make the sentence more precise. Dutch has a considerable array of such small words and the effect of them is sometimes less than straightforward. In a grammatical sense these small words are adverbs, and they are comparable to particles in some other languages, for example Japanese.

As a native speaker of Dutch I will in this page try to cover as many of these small adverbs as I can. This page will be primarily for foreigners who already speak Dutch reasonably well and want to improve their command of it, and for those with a general interest in Dutch. And maybe even native Dutch may find here something they hadn’t realized.

I don’t yet have a complete list of these small adverbs, however, nor do I have the time to discuss all of then at once, so this page will be updated (ir-)regularly.

I will start with an especially vicious little word,


None of its meanings are related to the English word “vast”.  As a small adverb in Dutch it has two unrelated meanings, depending on whether it is stressed or not. Unstressed it means “in anticipation of something” and stressed it means that the speaker implies “I suppose this and I’m almost certain of it”. In its unstressed form it comes near the end of the sentence, before the final verb if present; in its stressed form it comes right after the conjugated verb. (Why? See my Making Sense of Dutch Word Order).


1. [de tafel dekken = to lay (set) the table]

(Unstressed) → Wij hebben de tafel al vast gedekt. = We’ve already laid the table (in anticipation of your arrival or of you finishing something else).

(Stressed) → Ze hebben vast de tafel al gedekt. = I expect they have already laid the table.

(Unstressed) → Gaan jullie maar vast. = You go ahead (in anticipation of us following).

(Stressed) → Ze zijn vast al weg. = I expect they are already gone.

2. The next pair of sentences is even worse:

[afruimen = to clear the table]

(Unstressed) → Jan en Greet hebben al vast afgeruimd.”” = John and Maggie have already cleared the table (so we can go right ahead with …)

In this sentence both “al” and “vast” are concerned with time, and they are often written as one word: “Jan en Greet hebben alvast afgeruimd.”

(Stressed) → Jan en Greet hebben vast al afgeruimd. = I think J & M may already have cleared the table (so we may be too late to help…)

In this sentence “vast” is concerned with probability (high) and “al” is still concerned with time (“sooner than expected”), and there is no special relationship between the two.

3. The stressed “vast” can easily be combined with negation:

(Stressed) → Dat gelooft vast niemand! = I don’t think anybody will believe that!

(Stressed) → Ze hebben vast nog niks gemerkt. = I’m pretty sure they haven’t noticed anything yet.

But I can’t make a sentence with the unstressed “vast” and a negation.


Korean Language Learning Aids on the Internet

There are zillions of Korean language learning aids on the Internet, but there are two that I especially like: KWOW (Korean Word Of the Week) and Korean Word of the Day. In spite of their similar names they are unrelated, both in origin and in method.

KWOW is an ever-growing list of weekly video clips by Professor Oh, aka Ramona Champion, each 3 to 10 minutes long. Each covers a couple of related words, first in an explanation and then in a short sketch. The explanation is simple, but the sketch is real-world Korean, subtitled in 한글 and in English. For language learners the first 60 episodes are the most relevant.

Korean Word of the Day is a page that refreshes itself every day, redacted by koreanclass101. It takes the word of the day, and uses it in one or two sentences and a few constructions, shown both in 한글 and in transcription. A click on a button gets you the text pronounced by a very clear and very pleasant female voice. There is a calendar allowing you to visit earlier pages.

There are tens of other excellent teaching sites, for example those by BusyAtom. I wish I had the time to do more of them. Ah, well, language learning is a slow process, certainly of a totally alien language like Korean.

Why Korean?

When I had finished my last computer science book (Modern Compiler Design, 2nd Edition (2012)) I had only one project left, a computer project named Teckel. Not wanting to spend all my time programming, I thought I might learn yet another language, in addition to the ones I speak well: Dutch (from birth), German (from growing up in Enschede, on the German border), English (from school and life), and Hebrew (from having lived in Israel). So the question was, what language.

Having seen and partly studied quite a number of languages apart from the above (see f.e. my language summaries) , I thought a good criterion would be “the most exotic language that one can still reasonably learn to proficiency”.

That immediately eliminated languages like Russian and Hindi (Indo-European, so not exotic),Yoruba or Navaho (no way to reach proficiency), and Klingon or Loglan (not reasonable). I don’t think that at my age I’d still be able to learn a tone language, which again eliminated another bunch. Next went languages like Indonesian (too easy), Hungarian (I learned some from a colleague 30 years ago), and Arabic (I know Hebrew (closely related) already).

So in the end I was left with three contenders: Georgian, Korean, and Japanese. Georgian was attractive: it is a well-studied ancient language with a complicated and very interesting synatctic structure, Georgia is an upcoming nation, and the president is married to a Dutch woman (Sandra Roelofs). But it isn’t half as exotic as the other two. The choice between Korean and Japanese was easy: Japanese writing is clumsy and a huge and definitely no fun obstacle, whereas the Koreans have taken the logical step and designed an alphabet that “a clever man can learn in a morning and a stupid man in a week”.

There was another reason. When we visited Israel over the last ten years, we saw that visitors stayed away, except busloads of Koreans. They were the ones that were not afraid, and I liked that.

So now I am studying Korean at the Korean School of Amsterdam, which is actually in Amstelveen. A side effect of this process of elimination is that I am the only one in the class with no relation whatsoever to anything Korean.