I think learners tend to get obsessed with the subject particle, and I'm no different!

This answer mentions that there are 12 or more different meanings to the 이/가 particle, but I don't recall seeing a decent explanation in English of that many different meanings.

Obviously it can be used as a marker for the grammatical subject - the 'doer' of an action.

The previously-linked question deals with its usage on objects (not subjects), and this asks about its use as a copular complement particle.

That brings us up to three meanings... briefly, what are the other 9 (or more)? (I'm not looking for a comprehensive explanation of each... perhaps just one example)

  • It seems generally accepted that there are 3 uses of 이/가. The subject of a sentence, the complement of the verbs 아니다 and 되다 (and likely verbs ending in 되다), and the subject of a verb clause. Going further, since a sentence is a verb clause, we are down to two. I don't feel the complement usage is too much different either. 이/가 really only has one use, in my opinion...to connect or bind a noun (or other nominal) with a Korean verb. If someone can find a single example of 이/가 marking the object of a transitive verb, I will buy them a six-pack.
    – B. Alvn
    Jan 30 '17 at 15:23
  • @B.Alvn surely putting it on the object of a sentence is something different? Though I myself tend to agree with it mostly being simple...
    – topo morto
    Jan 30 '17 at 15:28
  • Surely that is something different, and completely new to me. Do you know of any educational resource that covers this?
    – B. Alvn
    Jan 31 '17 at 12:40
  • 1
    I, also, am going to do some research on this. Let me know if you find out anything, and I will do likewise. :)
    – B. Alvn
    Jan 31 '17 at 13:11
  • 1
    @B.Alvn unfortunately I couldn't find my original source. My pet native Korean confirms that "사과가 먹고 싶어요" is a more exclusive, indicative form of "사과를 먹고 싶어요". Something like "그 쇼가 보고싶어" would apparently work similarly. As per busukxuan's comment on the originally-linked question, perhaps it's something normally used for wishes and desires...?
    – topo morto
    Jan 31 '17 at 22:09

This might be distinct from the three you mention. See the second element in each of the following:

  • 나는 배가 아프다. (Literally, 'I am sick of the abdomen,' but meaning, 'My stomach hurts')
  • 미영이는 마음씨가 곱다. ('Miyoung is of a good disposition.')
  • 그 산골은 숲이 울창하다. ('That mountain valley is thickly wooded.')

I would compare these to:

He is hard of hearing.

Note: I am not suggesting grammar books treat them similarly. I don't know.

I believe people say 배가 is 보어 or a complement, but just giving a name does not amount to analysis. End of the answer proper.

As for saying something had twelve different meanings, that's pretty meaningless unless you are then willing to explain what they are and how you count them.

I could say 'on' has twenty meanings in English. But is a soccer game 'on' in a different sense than air conditioning? Two hundred should be too few if I counted in a certain way.

I just want to add that a native Korean speaker is never in doubt as to which of 은, 는, 이 or 가 is the right one. It's rather like a native English speaker never thinking about whether a, the or no article would sound best. It's only difficult to explain.

I am adding this remark because if you thought, 'I can't explain it, therefore I can't do it,' that would make it look much harder than it is.


Omg... Why do you want to know about the twelve meanings? I mean, why do you need that? I think many Koreans don't know about that. I heven't heard '은/가' has 12 meanings!!! haha.

Unless you are not to be a Korean linguist, I just wanna give you more simple explanation.

  1. 은,는,이,가 are used as a 'maker of the agent' and sometimes we can omit it. Forget about many meanings. Just remember "These are just markers for agent!"

나는 한국어를 공부해. (I'm studying Korean) : Agent is 'me' so we add '는'. we can omit it. 나, 한국어 공부해. It's okay!! Much more casual style.
나가 한국어를 공부해. : It's weird. The same meaning but weird. We don't use '가' after '나'.

내가 살게 (It's on me / I will pay for it.) : Agent is 'me'. We can't omit it. "내 살게" is weird.

수박은 달다. (Water melon is sweet.) : Agent is 'watermelon'. You can't omit it. You can say '수박이 달다' as well.

수박이 정말 크다. (This watermelon is very big.) : Agent is 'watermelon'. You can't omit it.

  1. You may wonder when the markers can be omitted and how we select what to use among 은,는,이,가. It's difficult to explain because we just gage it automatically. It depends on sounds of the end of agent rather than meaning.(look at the first example)
    I remember, when I taught my friend Korean, we found kind of regular rules about it. You would find it.

So I recommend you to study gaging what to use after agent and when we can omit them. In stead of studying the meanings.

  • 1
    I removed a couple of bits of 'signature' information - but you can put them in your profile : korean.stackexchange.com/users/709/ting-choe?tab=profile
    – topo morto
    Jan 23 '17 at 8:27
  • 1
    @topomorto Ty. Did you understand my English?
    – Ting Choe
    Jan 23 '17 at 8:36
  • 1
    Yes, your English is great. Sometimes people will fix up your posts a bit here for you too so you don't have to worry!
    – topo morto
    Jan 23 '17 at 8:41

Since they're the fundamentals of our language, it's hard to explain their usage. It's very hard- so hard that even we don't understand and sometimes make mistakes when using them.

EDIT: This means this is tricky part and we (learners and native speakers alike) have to be careful with particles. 은/는/이/가/을/를 are the basic particles that shape our thoughts through Korean. If we use them wrong, we can't get it straight.

So I'm afraid I am not able to provide all uses of the particle. But here are some (crude) observations:


  • Like the definitive article "the"- marking a word to be just introduced. When we introduce something or someone, we rarely use other particles except with fixed phrases (if we use one at all). So it can be used to introduce something or someone into conversation, or by extension, to name something or someone that's already known.

이 꽃 독이 있습니다. (Introducing; including "describing something")

(회전목마를 가리키며) 이 회전목마 목이 나무로만 만들어졌대. 볼트랑 넛트 빼고. / 헐... (만 meaning 는 and it can be used in replacement. It won't make it unnatural)

이 드라마 거의 완전 아침드라만데 왜 아침드라마 아니냐? / 그러게, 조또 막장이다, 증말. (This is a tricky situation where both particles can be used. I'll get to it)

영수는 이제 "은희"라고 부를 거야. (Naming)

하나 인자 그게 뭐시기여, 니가 준 요 컴(퓨)터가 있지, 얘가 이제 맛이 가가꾸 도통 켜지지를 않어. (Listing, by extension) 둘 니새끼 임마 내 돈 좀 갚어 빨리 좀 제발.

첫째, 트럼프는 미국의 안보 문제를 실제로 해결하지 못하며; 둘째, 러시아와 통해(서) 선거를 조작한 혐의가 있으므로 바람직하게 뽑힌 대통령은 아니다- 라고 말할 수가 있겠습니다. (Listing without "는" requires a comma)

  • Not only it introduces an object (as a "thing", not as opposed to the "subject"), it also reinforces something that we have likely forgotten. Something buried along a long thread of conversation, or something being compared to something else can take this particle for an emphasis.

그런데 가방 어디 있어? / 어 가방... (reinforcement)

그러고 보니, 걔는 어디야?

이 가방 좋고 저 가방 좋은데, 뭘 골라야 할지(가) 모르겠어. (도 meaning almost as same as 는 IMO)

  • A very tricky substitute of "~에 대해서는" used in a comparison.

엄마는 내 엄마면서 왜 얘 좋아하고 왜 나(에 대해서*) 안 좋아해? (They don't mean the same but they just like to be together. Although 에 대해서 cannot be used [because this is comparing], it's almost like it's there.)

  • In a fixed phrase. No need to explain, just need a thick idiom dictionary to master this.

생각하기에, 니가 틀린 맞아.

("내가 생각하기에가" isn't wrong but is dialectic and non-standard. I be' you never ain't say it you square... *Cough cough* -> like this.)


  • Its primary use is to do everything that "은/는" does but with something we do know well for "now." Something's been already introduced and we're actively discussing it. Note the "it," it can't be multiples at once.

이 연필 좀 봐봐. 이 바로 BIC에서 만들었다는 그거잖아. / 뻥치시네. BIC 볼펜회사거덩? (why 는? we can discuss only one thing at a time; here it's the 샤프심 ["mechanical pencil lead"])

이놈의 컴퓨터란 말이여, 터치패드 아예 없어. 이 거의 태블릿이야. (이걸) 사실 이렇게 접을 수도 있어. 와, 어때, 굉장하지? (Transitions like this [은/는 -> 이/가] is very, very common; it's actually one of the typical ways of thinking) / 와아아아아 참 쩐다 하하하... (is a gold reply)

미국애서 온 앤데, 한국어를 하나도 못해. 얘 그래서 굉장히 배우고 싶어갖고 친구들한테 자꾸 알 수 없는 말을 거는데, 정말 귀여워. (Note the transition)

  • Even if something or someone is not introduced verbally, under some conditions where it's virtually gotten into conversation this article can be used.

(손가락으로 가리키며) 얘 그랬어... 내가 그런 게 아니예요. 아니란 말이예요! (pointing fingers at them introduced them into conversation, as though not by words. "내가 그런 게" is a fixed phrase)

(강제로 꿇어앉히며) 얘 바로 그놈입니다. / 옳지, 너로구나!

  • Well, its the only use I know.


Only the tricky ones...

SITUATION 1. Cathy has broken her mother's cell phone. She discovered it and she's as angry as hell. >

MOM: 캐시야, 이거 누구(는/가) 그랬어?

CATHY: 저(는/가/X) 그랬어요.

MOM: 아 이거 참. 이거 정말 비싸단 말이야.

CATHY: 치, 나(는/에 대해서는) 안 사주면서.

MOM: 야, 너는 미안하지도 않아!?

CATHY: 아, 잘못했어요.

MOM: "아"? 너(는/가/X) 장난해?

SITUATION 2. You want to buy a portable computer, so you've gone to a Best Buy store. An employee comes to you and asks what kind of a computer you want.

직원: 혹시 찾고 계신 것(은/이) 계세요?

나: 네; 어 저기, 제가[저는 is okay] 사실 넷북을 찾고 있는데요. 제가 비행기를 오래 타서 배터리가 긴 거, 알아봐야 되거든요.

직원: 아 네, 그러셨구나. 넷북이[은 is okay] 그려면 저쪽으로 가시면 있습니다.

나: 아, 그런데 저(는/제가) 저기를 벌써 가 봤거든요. 저(는/제가) 사실 원래 사고 싶었던 (것은/게) 있었는데 인기가 좋았던지[is a fixed phrase] 다 팔려버렸어요.

직원: 아, 그럼 제가 비슷한 품목(은/이/X) 추천해드릴 수 있습니다. 그 원하셨던 모델명(은/이/X) 뭐였죠?

... (대화가[는 is okay] 길어집니다.)


SITUATION 1. Cathy has broken her mother's cell phone. She discovered it and she's as angry as hell.

! MOM: 캐시야, 이거 누구(는/) 그랬어?

! CATHY: 저(는//X) 그랬어요.

! MOM: 아 이거 참. 이거 정말 비싸단 말이야.

! CATHY: 치, 나(/에 대해서는) 안 사주면서.

! MOM: 야, 너는 미안하지도 않아!?

! CATHY: 아, 잘못했어요.

! MOM: "아"? 너(는/가/X) 장난해?

SIT 2.

! 직원: 혹시 찾고 계신 것(은/) 계세요?

! 나: 네; 어 저기, 제가[저는 is okay] 사실 넷북을 찾고 있는데요. 제가 비행기를 오래 타서 배터리가 긴 거, 알아봐야 되거든요.

! 직원: 아 네, 그러셨구나. 넷북이 그려면 저쪽으로 가시면 있습니다.

! 나: 아, 그런데 저(는/제가) 저기를 벌써 가 봤거든요. 저(/제가) 사실 원래 사고 싶었던 (것은/) 있었는데 인기가 좋았던지[is a fixed phrase] 다 팔려버렸어요. [저는/제가 is also acceptable, as long as you alternate them]

! 직원: 아, 그럼 제가 비슷한 품목(은/이/X) 추천해드릴 수 있습니다. 그 원하셨던 모델명(은//X) 뭐였죠?

! ... (대화가[는 is okay] 길어집니다.)

Ask why if you're curious.


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