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I have just studied Korean for a short time. I am having problem with the sentence below.

당신은 이름이 뭐예요? = What is your name?

My friend told me that there are two subjects in that sentence (당신 marked by 은 and 이름 marked by 이). I am confused now. Should it have only one subject, your name?

Also which is the Korean equivalent word of "your" in that sentence?

  • What's your name? 당신의 이름이 뭐에요? This is more appropriate in Korean – Josh Feb 28 '17 at 20:50
  • I'd say that whether there are two 'subjects' or one here depends on exactly what your definition of 'subject' is - IMO it's not generally a very well-defined word (at least as far as English grammar is concerned, but I'm interested in what Korean speakers think...) – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 28 '17 at 21:05
  • 'Your' is not found in the sentence, it's omitted because it's obvious. – MujjinGun Mar 1 '17 at 0:39
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There are different ways to analyse the grammar, but one common way employed is to say that this sentence has a Topic - Comment structure.

In a topic - comment sentence, the topic does not necessarily need to be an argument of the verb (it can, but doesn't need to). What it does is to establish the context of the sentence. Then the comment is a syntactically correct sentence with a predicate, what makes sense in the context that the topic provides.

In Korean, the topic of the sentence is marked with the ending -는. Now, in Korean it is possible for that topic to also be an argument of the verb - to be a subject or object, for instance - and in fact, in most cases, the topic is also the subject - but it does not have to be. It can be, in a sense, syntactically independent. As some answers explain it, in school grammar the topic is considered the subject of the comment, which in its whole is called a predicate. I think this is perhaps a way of analysing it so that the topic is not independent; either analysis works well.

So in the sentence 당신은 이름이 뭐예요?, the comment is just 이름이 뭐예요?, meaning "what is the name?" This doesn't make sense on it's own, without any context - but the topic of the sentence, 당신은, provides the context. We are talking about "you" (당신), and so the question 이름이 뭬예요? provides context - not merely "what is the name", but "for you, what is the name?" - that is, "what is your name?"

We can see other examples of where the topic - comment structure is used with an independent topic:

철수는 머리가 좋지 않다 (Literally: Cheolsu, head isn't good; which means "Charles isn't too smart"). The context (Cheolsu) makes the comment (head isn't good) make sense.

나는 비행기 타는 것이 무섭다 (Literally: I, riding a plane is scary; which means "I'm afraid of flying in a plane".

영희는 계산이 빠르다 (Literally "Yeonghee, calculation is quick"; which means "Yeonghee is good at numbers/calculation".

S 사업은 문제가 많다 (Literally "S Company, problems are many"; which means "S Company has many problems".

  • Thanks a lot, gaeguri. It makes perfect sense now. I also have just known this and asked in comment while you are typing. – anhnha Mar 1 '17 at 2:32
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    In school grammar, 당신은 is not analyzed as the subject of 뭐예요. 당신은 is the subject of the predicate clause "이름이 뭐예요". – MujjinGun Mar 1 '17 at 2:47
  • @MujjinGun: OK, I understand that now. Then subject - predicate is a way of syntactically linking topic and comment, I guess. It makes sense, though I like the topic-comment terminology better. – gaeguri Mar 1 '17 at 3:22
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This is how the sentence is explained in Korean school grammar:

  • 당신은 (이름이 뭐예요)

이름이 뭐예요 forms a single predicate clause, and the subject of the predicate clause is taken by 당신은. That means there are two (nested) clauses in this sentence,

  1. 이름이 뭐예요

  2. 당신은 (이름이 뭐예요)

Then the clauses get to avoid the two-subject dilemma, since technically, the only subjects in each of the clauses are 이름이 and 당신은.

This works for all sentences which have seemingly two subjects; except the case where 되다/아니다 are predicates.

  • 내가 선생님이 되었다.

This is not analyzed as two clauses. Rather, 내가 is the subject of 되었다, and 선생님이 is the complement of 되었다. 되다/아니다 are exceptions because they always require two sentence elements, i.e. 선생님이 되었다 does not make sense.

  • Thanks a lot! Also as my comment to jick's answer. Do you think there is any difference between topic marker and subject marker? I asked that because I have just read 은 is called topic marker. One more question. Do you think 당신의 이름이 뭐에요? is better than the original sentence? – anhnha Mar 1 '17 at 2:30
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    @anhnha In school grammar, the "topic marker" is called an auxiliary particle(보조사) and it's definitely different from the subject marker. It's different from case markers because it can also be attached to non-nouns, like adverbs. In my opinion, analyzing 는 as a topic marker is easier to understand, but has some problems, because a "topic" is a not a sentence element. Also 당신의 이름이 뭐예요 is not better than the original. Actually both sound unnatural, 성함이 어떻게 되세요 is the best translation as jick said. – MujjinGun Mar 1 '17 at 2:45
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I don't know how modern grammarians interpret similar sentences, but when I learned Korean grammar in middle school, they were called 서술절 ("verb clauses"). It is not found in English or (I think) many other languages: basically you have a whole clause with its own subject and verb, and then the clause itself acts like a verb for the outer subject. For example:

(The part in [...] acts like a verb for the subject outside of it.)

성층권은 [온도가 낮다]. The stratosphere has low temperature.

Literally: The stratosphere [the temperature is low].

지수는 [배가 아팠다]. Jisoo had a stomachache.

Literally: Jisoo [the stomach was hurting].

[사람들이 그렇게 많던] 광장이 이제 고요하다. The plaza, which had so many people, is now silent.

Literally: The plaza which [people were many] is now silent.

You can even have multiple layers:

철수는 [표정이 [변화가 없다]]. Chulsoo doesn't change his face much (i.e., he has a "poker face").

  • BTW, if you are a novice it is OK, but "당신은 이름이 뭐예요?" may sound a bit impolite (since you're apparently talking to a stranger!). As a rule of thumb, try not to use the word "당신": unlike "you", there are very few situations where the word "당신" is appropriate, and simply dropping it is usually better. (Yeah, I know it would be difficult. It's often difficult for us Koreans. Sorry about that.)

    A better expression might be "이름이 어떻게 되세요?" or "성함이 어떻게 되세요?"

  • Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I have just known that 은 is called topic marker. So maybe it is different with subject marker. Topic and subject are two different concepts. Do you think so? – anhnha Mar 1 '17 at 2:26
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    Topic and subject are orthogonal concepts: even though you can't attach topic and subject markers together, a word (or phrase) can be a topic and subject at the same time. Commonly, the outermost subject gets the topic marker. So, even though it only has a topic marker, it is also a subject at the same time. You can see it by turning the whole sentence into a subordinate clause: e.g., "성층권 온도가 낮다는 사실" (the fact that the stratosphere has low temperature). – jick Mar 1 '17 at 18:15

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