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I know that both are considered subject particles but when do you use one over the other?

  • IMO too basic for stackoverflow. learnkoreanlanguage.com/Particles.html and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_postpositions – Dima Tisnek Jun 21 '16 at 18:14
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    @Mihai The entire site is about Korean. There's simply no point in a general Korean tag. – Mast Jun 21 '16 at 18:44
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    @qarma I agree it is very basic, but I still think it has it's place here. Maybe we can crowd-source the best, most concise, most easy to understand explanation here. – 파울울 Jun 21 '16 at 19:07
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    I don't think this is a basic question. I am a native speaker, and I often can't explain why 은/는 is used instead of 이/가 at places. – Memming Jun 21 '16 at 19:27
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    This isn't basic at all - both have various different usages, some of which take some explanation. This site absolutely needs a good answer to this IMO. – topo morto Jun 21 '16 at 20:58
9

은/는 mark the "topic" of a sentence, while 이/가 mark a "subject". This alone doesn't really help all that much to know when exactly to use which. For me, it really clicked when I learned longer English translations of the two:

집에 왔어
As for me, I came home.
Talking about me, I came home.

말한 거야.
It is me who said that.

?
Regarding you, what are you doing?

먹은 사과는 맛있었어.
As for the apple that the one who is me ate, it was tasty.

Whenever I am in doubt, I just replace both with these longer equivalents, and it usually works.

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    IMO the last example is different, because it's a dependent sentence. – Dima Tisnek Jun 21 '16 at 20:04
  • @qarma Not 100% sure about that one either, but I wanted to find an example to use both in once sentence to show the difference. Got any better example? – 파울울 Jun 21 '16 at 20:06
4

The 는 and 은 markers are "topic markers" and are used when introducing a new subject. The 가 and 이 markers are "subject markers" and are used when discussing a known topic. The difference can be subtle.

For example, "책은 재미있다" and "책이 재미있다" both translate to "this book is interesting," but the first one implies that a particular book is being discussed (perhaps different from another book that was just previously discussed), whereas the second one is where perhaps an additional statement is being made about the book that is already being discussed.

  • I'm not sure that your second paragraph agrees with my understanding. I'd think "책은 재미있다" could mean the book is interesting in comparison with something else - not a book - that was being discussed, whereas "책이 재미있다" is a plainer way of saying "the book is interesting. I also thought that 이/가 could be used to introduce new things - e.g. 한 남자가 이 마을에 살았다. – "a man lived in this town" - though that may be a slightly different example from yours. Of course I may be wrong so happy for anyone to put me right! – topo morto Jul 23 '16 at 12:42
  • I think "책은 재미있다" could also just mean 'books are interesting' as a general statement...? – topo morto Jul 23 '16 at 16:17

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