I'm a bit confused over the subject/object particles. Im very early on in learning but I'm just practicing constructing small sentences with the few words I know. I wrote this sentence and then threw the english into Google Translate to see how close I was (I know I shouldnt use it but I dont have any other way to check) so if someone here could help out it would be great!

So, I wrote

고양이가 음식를 아닙니다

I figured this is correct as "cat" is the subject. However the translation actually came out as:

고양이는 음식이 아닙니다.

I now understand the use of "는" instead of "가", as from what I understand, if it is the first time a topic is introduced we use the topic marker instead of the subject marker. That is fine (so i guess what I put isn't technically incorrect but it assumes that we have spoken about this cat before)

What confuses me is why the subject marker is used with "food"? I assumed "food" is the object in this sentence (the verb being "is/to be") but my english grammar isn't that great either as I guess I am learning now!

Thanks for any help!


A cat is not a food. (so, you must not eat a cat, so cruel)

고양이가 음식 아닙니다 (wrong)
고양이 음식 아닙니다 (correct)
고양이 음식 아닙니다 (correct)

'고양이' is a subject so you can use '고양이가' or '고양이는'.

'~을', '~를' are used as the object. But 음식(food) is not an object in this sentence. 음식(food) is a complement like 'He is not a teacher'. So you can't '~을' or '~를' like '음식를'.

  • Haha i don't know many words so that was the first thing I could put together without thinking much. So is there a reason the compliment uses a subject particle at the end? Thanks for your help! – Kamran Rastegar Sep 9 '18 at 6:33
  • He is a teacher. He = a teacher. subject = complement (In your sentence it is negative though) So, we can use subject particle(~는,~가,~은) as complement particle in most case. But the object particle '~을, ~를' is only used as object particle. – Dasik Sep 9 '18 at 6:54

In Korean, there's a distinction between 'to be' and other verbs. Korean Grammar books often refer to 이다 ('to be') as 'the copula', rather than as a verb, because it behaves differently.

You will probably have noticed that to say 'something is something' in Korean, you simply use 이다 as a suffix:

그는 한국사람이다.
He is a Korean.

Here, as Dasik says, '한국사람' isn't an object, but a complement (or 'copular complement').

When you use the negative copula (something is not something), you put 이/가 on the complement. Note that 이/가 is not the subject particle here - -it's serving a different function:

그는 한국사람 아니다
He is not a Korean.

The other form of sentence where you would use 이/가 as the 'copular complement particle' would be when something becomes something:

비가 눈 되다
Rain turns to snow.

  • Right ok, so if i was saying that something IS something, as opposed to isn't, then it wouldnt need any suffix? for example: 고양이는 음식 입니다 – Kamran Rastegar Sep 9 '18 at 6:55
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    @KamranRastegar that's almost right, but in this case you actually use 이다 as the suffix - so your example would be 고양이는 음식입니다, without a space. – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 9 '18 at 7:04
  • ah yes sorry you are right! Thanks for the help. I've learnt something new :P – Kamran Rastegar Sep 9 '18 at 7:05
  • @KamranRastegar No worries! What we just lump together as 'verbs' in English seem to be split up 3 ways in Korean - the copula (to be), action verbs, and descriptive verbs (often called 'adjectives' in Korean). – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 9 '18 at 7:08

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