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As the title says, I'm confused about subject/topic markers. So I have a few questions about how they are used.

Q1. Why is 출구는 used for A1, A3-5, but 출구가 is used for A2?

A: (1)“Where should I go to get to the exit 6?” "6번 출구는 어디로 가야하나요?"
or (2)“Where is exit 6?” “6번 출구가 어디인가요?”
or (3)"6번 출구는 어디에요?"
or (4)“6번 출구는 어디죠?”
or (5)“6번 출구는요?”)

B: (1)“You can go that way.” “저쪽으로 가면됩니다”
or (2)“If you go that way, there's exit 6.” “저쪽으로 가면 6번 출구가 있습니다.”
or (3)“That way is exit 6.” "저쪽이 6번 출구예요"
or (4)“That way.” “저쪽이요.”

Q2. Can someone dissect this conversation and tell me why the subject and topic markers are used here (ie. 좋아하는, 과일이,망고는, etc).

A: What is your favorite fruit? (네가 가장) 좋아하는 과일이 뭐야? 
B: Mangoes are my favorite fruit. 망고는 제가 가장 좋아하는 과일이에요 
(or 제가 가장 좋아하는 과일은 망고예요 or 저는 망고를 제일 좋아해요 or 망고요.)

Q3. I was told that when you want to show contrast, use 은/는. And in general, you should use this sentence structure when comparing qualities of the same person/thing: A는 ~인데 B이/가 ~하다. (A = strength, B = weakness) For example..

(1) This camera’s quality is good but the price is too expensive. 
이 카메라는 품질은 확실히 좋은데 가격이 너무 비싸요. 
(2) He is tall but has an ugly face. 그는 키는 큰데 얼굴이 못생겼어.

So if I am saying "I'm a good dancer but a bad singer" or "I'm good at dancing but I'm bad at singing" then why shouldn't I say "나는 춤은 잘 추지만 노래가 잘 못 불러"?

(3) I am good at dancing but bad at singing. 나는 춤은 잘 추지만 노래는 잘 못 불러.
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Q1.

There could be a number of motivations. In A1-5, it is possible to use 가, 는 or no particle at all. 는 is used to give the effect of contrast or comparison. It is like saying "How about exit six then, where would that be?" 는 is (perhaps) used to make the question more polite by making it seem less important. We don't know the exact reason without knowing more about the interaction.

As for why 가 is used in A2... I don't see any particular reason why it needs to be 가. 는 is just as acceptable. 출구가 here specifies the exit, whereas 출구는 enquires more about the exit. The choice of particle depends on speaker intention.

As for A6, 가 isn't used here because of the nature of the question. This question compares exit six with some other location. 가 is used for specification while 는 is used for contrast.

Q2.

First, it should be 망고가 rather than 망고는 because a specific question deserves a specifc answer. 망고는 is like comparing mangoes with some other fruit... Which is unnatural to say based on the question at hand.

Second, 좋아하'는' is modifier 는, not particle 는. Maybe you know this already, but I can't tell from the wording of your question.

Third, 과일'이' is used rather than 과인'은' because it's simply a neutral question. 과일'은' would mean "How about your favourite fruit then?" when you were previously talking about favorite vegetables.

Q3.

There isn't a strict rule here which says 는 or 가 must be used; it's a matter of which is more preferable at the time. 는 is better because 지만 strongly contrasts what comes before and after it, making 가 seem a little odd. In the other sentences, 는데 sets a background and has 'less contrast' than 지만, meaning 가 can more appropriately be used.

There's a lot to know about these particles. Can I link you to videos where I give more detail? [UKG-005], [UKG-002], [UKG-004], [UKG-003]

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  • Thanks for the response. This is definitely helpful. I'm starting to understand better how these particles are used. – rplee Feb 23 at 12:01
  • Q1. 는 is (perhaps) used to make the question more polite by making it seem less important. --> Doesn't 는 emphasize "exit 6" so it makes "exit 6" seem more important? Q3. I was told by a native Korean that 이/가 does not follow the noun 노래 when the verb 부르다 is used because 노래 is used as the object of 부르다. Likewise, you can't use 이/가 after 춤 when the verb 추다 is used because 춤 is used as the object of 추다. Only the object markers or the topic markers can be used in these two cases. Is that correct? If so, doesn't that mean that regardless of the use of 지만 or 는데, 는 must be used after 노래 and 춤? – rplee Feb 23 at 12:07
  • Also.. Q1. As for A6, 가 isn't used here because of the nature of the question. This question compares exit six with some other location. 가 is used for specification while 는 is used for contrast. --> There wasn't an A6, so I'm not sure which sentence you were referring to? – rplee Feb 23 at 12:26
  • 1) Ah, my bad. I somehow said 'A6' when I meant 'A5'... maybe because of the 'exit number'. 2) 'Emphasis' is a thorny word because it can be interpreted in different ways. Plus, both 는 and 가 can give emphasis in their own ways. 는 doesn't make 'exit 6' more or less important -- it makes the question seem less important. 3) Yes, 를 is used with both 춤 and 노래 not 가, I forgot to say that! Other particles can be used with these objects too (는, 도 and 만), depending on the sentence. It isn't restricted to 는. – ultimateKOREAN Feb 23 at 14:24
  • Ah ok, thanks again. – rplee Feb 24 at 7:10
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Please read these examples first and read my long answer given below.

6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요? (✘)

This is an incorrect sentence because it has to be the same as either "6번 출구는 제가 어디로 가야 하나요?" or "6번 출구는 우리가 어디로 가야 하나요?". This 6번 출구 is kind of isolated from any other word in the sentence. The implicit/omitted subject of 가다 must be a person ("I" or "we") not the exit. You cannot say "6번 출구가 어디로 가야 하나요?", either, because it is not that the exit should go somewhere. You should say

6번 출구는 어디로 가야 나와요?

or

6번 출구는 어디로 가야 있어요?

For these two sentences, you can also use the subject marker 가 (preferably with changing the word order):

어디로 가야 6번 출구가 나와요?

어디로 가야 6번 출구가 있어요?

Why should you change the word order? The reason is simple: The implicit subject (저 or 우리) is connected to 가다 and another subject, 6번 출구, is connected to 나오다 and 있다. The relativeness between words determines the most natural word order in a sentence, although it is not an absolute rule.


6번 출구가 어디인가요?

You can also say

6번 출구는 어디인가요?

but the context will sometimes make you choose one. In the case when your interlocutor told (or is telling) you where other exits are but you wish to know where Exit 6 is, you need to use the latter one, since you are changing the topic. The same logic goes for other sentences:

6번 출구가 어디예요?

6번 출구는 어디예요?


6번 출구가 어디죠?

6번 출구는 어디죠?

Now, you should keep in mind that 어디에요 is a misspelling. Such a mistake is common because for convenience, a lot of people pronounce 예요 as 에요.


6번 출구는요?

You can use this question only when you have heard the locations of other exits. On the other hand, when you use the sentence

6번 출구가요?

you have the intention of confirming what you have heard about the subject Exit 6. For example, when you heard

6번 출구가 저기에 있대.

you can say "6번 출구가요?" then.


(네가 가장) 좋아하는 과일이 뭐야?

This sentence means: "What is the fruit that you like most?" Roughly speaking, 는 of 좋아하는 functions as "that" or "which". This 는 is not a marker that you mentioned but an ending for verbs. 좋아하다 is connected to the (clause) subject 너. 과일 is the (main) subject here.

이 of 과일이 is one of the subject markers. Here, you can use 은 (one of the topic markers) instead.

망고는 제가 가장 좋아하는 과일이에요.

This sounds too awkward because the topic was about "the fruit" not about "mango." No native Koreans will answer the question in this way.

제가 가장 좋아하는 과일은 망고예요.

This sounds much better. The topic is "my favorite fruit." If you use the sentence

저는 (제가) 가장 좋아하는 과일이 망고예요.

instead, it implies either that you wish to know what fruit others like most or that it is your preference not others' because 은/는 are also the markers for implicit or explicit comparison.

저는 망고를 제일 좋아해요.

This is one of the best answers. You are talking about yourself (your favorite fruit), so the topic can be "I" (저). How about the following sentence that uses a subject marker instead?

제가 망고를 제일 좋아해요.

This shows that the one who likes mango most is "I", which means that "I" do not think others like it as much as "I" do. As a side note, there is a sentence translated as "I am the best!":

내가 제일 잘나가!

It implies not you (or not others) but I am the one. In this context, you cannot say

나는 제일 잘나가! (✘)


... you should use this sentence structure when comparing qualities of the same person/thing: A는 ~인데 B이/가 ~하다.

I wonder who told you this. 은/는 can be used in place of 이/가 there.

이 카메라는 품질은 좋은데 가격이 너무 비싸요. (✔)

이 카메라는 품질은 좋은데 가격은 너무 비싸요. (✔)

Using 은/는 is usually better because of the following exception:

나는 춤은 잘 추지만 노래 잘 못 불러. (✘)

나는 춤은 잘 추지만 노래 잘 못 불러. (✔)

나 is the topic (and also the subject here). 은 of 춤은 and 는 of 노래는 are used to compare two abilities (춤 and 노래) that the topic has. I mean these 은 and 는 are the markers for comparison. Why is 노래가 incorrect? 노래 is the object (not the subject) connected to 부르다; 나 is the subject connected to both 추다 and 부르다. The following sentences are also correct:

나는 춤은 잘 추지만 노래 잘 못 불러. (✔)

나는 춤 잘 추지만 노래 잘 못 불러. (✔)

By now, you should have noticed that the target marked by 은 or 는 is various: the subject, the object, ....


Edit:

Details on "6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요?"

"6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요?" is semantically the same as "6번 출구는 제가 어디로 가야 하나요?" or "6번 출구는 우리가 어디로 가야 하나요?". It seems that your friends misread my explanation. The point is not about whether you can omit the subject but about whether the sentence is logically perfect. An incorrect sentence equals another incorrect sentence, which is what I meant with "... it has to be the same as ...".

6번 출구 is a noun phrase. A noun phrase can be used with or without a marker in a sentence as one of components including a subject, object, complement, adnominal phrase, adverbial pharse, and exclamation (When attached to 은/는, it is used mostly as a subject or object). Using 는 in place of another marker right after a noun phrase does not change which component the phrase is.

가야 하다 requires two components: (1) the subject, and (2) either the adverbial or object referring to the destination or direction. The subject is usually marked by 이/가 (although it can be omitted in some cases); the adverbial used with 가다 usually has one of these markers: 에, 에게, 한테, 께, 으로, and 로; the object markers are 을/를. Thus, the general structure of sentences using 가야 하다 is "...이/가 ...에/에게/한테/께/으로/로/을/를 가야 하다." In that sentence, either 저 or 우리 is the subject and 어디 is the destination or direction because you are asking where to go. Therefore, the sentence does not need 6번 출구, which means that the sentence is incorrect. I said 6번 출구 is "kind of isolated" because 6번 출구 is not required by the other words in the same sentence:

In that sentence, can 6번 출구 be a

  • subject? No, no verbs are using 6번 출구.

  • object? No, no verbs are using 6번 출구.

  • complement? No, 되다 and 아니다 are all absent.

  • adnominal phrase? No, an adnominal phrase cannot have 는 right after it.

  • adverbial pharse? No, no verbs are using 6번 출구 and 6번 출구 is not a sentence adverb.

  • exclamation? No, it cannot be there.

From this diagram (generated via this site), you can see that 6번 출구 conflicts with the subject (I used red underlines) and also with the adverbial (I used green underlines):

Diagram for 6번 출구는 제가 어디로 가야 하나요?

Now, do you understand why I said that "6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요?" is incorrect?

Do your friends think it is correct? Then, it may be because they are familiar with sentences such as "저는 어디로 가야 하나요?" ("Where should I go?") which is correct because it has the "human" subject 저 attached to the marker 는. In this case, "저는 제가 어디로 가야 하나요?" is incorrect because the subject is already specified. They may notice the incorrectness of "6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요?" when just replacing 저 in "저는 어디로 가야 하나요?" with 6번 출구. You are not saying "Where should Exit 6 go?", are you?

You said you are getting conflicting information from native Koreans. What is important is that none of us is perfect. Unfortunately, most Koreans are not excellent at (the prescriptive) grammar. In addition, it is quite difficult to consider everything in an actual conversation. I do not think I am an expert, but I believe I think more logically than my friends.

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  • I see. So if a friend asks you: 김밥이 먹고 싶어? Then do you still say, 나는 국수 먹고 싶어 or do you say 나는 국수 먹고 싶어? because there is a contrast between 김밥 and 국수? – rplee Feb 23 at 16:09
  • @rplee I usually say "아니, 나는 국수가 먹고 싶어." because it focuses on me (my appetite) and -고 싶다 is often used with 이/가. If I say 나는 국수는 먹고 싶어, it will imply that I would like to have noodles but hate to have 김밥 ("나는 국수는 먹고 싶어. 그런데 김밥은 먹기 싫어."). – Klmo Feb 23 at 16:26
  • Ah ok, that makes sense. – rplee Feb 24 at 7:11
  • I'm still confused about: 6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요? (✘) I asked two of my Korean friends about whether or not this was correct and they said this: "6번 출구는 제가/우리가 어디로 가야 하나요? is written expression. When you talk to the question to others, you may omit the subject(제가/우리가). Because the other person know who the subject is when you ask." "Of course, you can think of the sentence as omitted because there is no subject, but because the question itself contains the subject in the sentence, the listener can know the subject without having to write it.' – rplee Feb 24 at 7:11
  • I know that native English speakers sometimes say things that are technically incorrect but used so often that everyone knows the meaning anyway ("It ain't nothing special", "irregardless", "statue of limitations" vs "statute of limitations", "I could care less" vs "I couldn't care less", "hone in" vs "home in", "myriad ways" vs "a myriad of ways", etc). Maybe it's the same with Korean. Is this the case here? Is "6번 출구는 어디로 가야 하나요?" technically incorrect but Koreans still sometimes say this anyway? I am getting conflicting information from native Korean speakers, so I am getting confused now – rplee Feb 24 at 7:18

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