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I have seen these sentences in my textbook (Korean Made Easy for Beginners):

이 근처에 화장실 있어요?

마크 씨, 동생 있어요?

So, I wonder if we could use the subject marker here:

이 근처에 화장실이 있어요?

마크 씨, 동생이 있어요?

If that's correct, then what is the difference between these and the original ones? Is there any difference in nuance?

Thank you in advance.

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Heads-up: this is a quick partial answer — please accept a more detailed one.


It’s about omitting particles/markers.

  • All of the sentences in your question sound good and natural to me.
  • Grammatically, both are identical.
  • Not this one, but there are some cases where fuller forms are not idiomatic and sounds more awkward. E.g. “너 심부름 가니?” sounds much better than “너 심부름을 가니?”. The exact reasons and rules ⸺ I don’t know.
  • Those without particles/markers are more common and seemingly preferred by native speakers.
  • It is not that you can drop any particles/markers and make sense. The exact rules for what and when you can omit, if any, are complicated. Basically, if omitting a marker doesn’t open it up to misinterpretation of the class (e.g. a subject might be misinterpreted as an object without a subject marker), it’s usually okay to drop.
    • Types of particles you could omit (couldn’t find documented rules though):
      • 주격 조사Agentive particle (subject marker) “이”/“가”
      • 목적격 조사Accusative particle (object marker) “을”/“를”
      • 속격 조사Genitive particle “’s” “의”
      • 향격 조사Lative particle “to” “에”/“로”
      • and possibly more.

A related paper (See the comments.)

Omitting agentive particles (subject markers)

TL; DR: if a subject is specific and always interpreted as a subject (“never misinterpreted as an object”) even without a subject marker, you can drop the marker.

‘너 심부름 가니?/저 개 아주 사납다/OOO의 소설 재미있더라.’와 같이, 대명사나 그 지시 대상이 특정적인, 한정적 표현의 명사가 주어 자리에 올 때 주어가 주격 조사 없이 쓰일 수 있다. When a subject is a pronoun or a specific noun, you can omit the agentive particle (subject marker).

  • 심부름 가니?’ “Are you going on an errand?”
  • 개 아주 사납다.’ “That dog is so aggressive.”
  • ……의 소설 재미있더라.’ “……’s novel was interesting to read.”

하지만 ‘개 아주 사납구나./소설 재미있더라.’와 같이, 주어 자리에 오는 명사가 비한정적일 때에 주격 조사가 쓰이지 않으면 비문(非文)이 된다. If you don’t put an agentive particle (subject marker) on a subject that is not specific, the sentence becomes ungrammatical.

  • ‘개 아주 사납구나.’
  • ‘소설 재미있더라.’

또한 ‘그 여자 무얼 주려고 하는데.’와 같이 주격 조사가 없이 쓰인 체언이 주어 이외의 것(‘그 여자가’ 혹은 ‘그 여자한테’)으로 혼동될 우려가 있을 때는 주어 자리에 오는 체언이 비록 한정적이라도 주격 조사가 쓰여야 한다. If a subject without an agentive particle (subject marker) could be misinterpreted as a non-subject, you have to keep the agentive particle (subject marker), whether the subject is specific or not.

  • The ambiguous sentence ‘그 여자 무얼 주려고 하는데.’ (“The girl; about to give something.”) can be interpreted as:
    1. ‘그 여자(가)[subject “She”] (누구에게)[implied object “to someone”] 무얼 주려고 하는데.’ “She(’s) about to give something (to someone).”
    2. ‘(내가)[implied subject “I”] 그 여자(한테)[object “to her”] 무얼 주려고 하는데.’ “(I’m) about to give something (to) her.”

⸻ Gisim Nam, ‘현대 국어 통사론’ (“The syntax of modern Korean”), published by 태학사 (Taehaksa), in 2001.

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  • Thank you for answering. Unfortunately, my Korean isn't yet good enough to understand this text. (I'm just a beginner and those where sentences I saw in my textbook.) I wonder if you could explain briefly what it says in English? If it's too much trouble, never mind, I will try and ask somewhere else.
    – A.M.
    Jun 23 at 13:10
  • @A.M. Added my translation. The TL; DR part might be what you’re looking for. Jun 23 at 15:26
  • @A.M. Wait, hold on, now that I’ve translated it…, I’m not sure if this can be applied to the sentences in your question. “화장실” and “동생” are not specific; how can I drop the marker and find it better ‽ Sorry, I got confused, too. Jun 23 at 15:43
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    Thank you for putting in the effort to translate the text. It was definitely interesting and useful, but just as you mentioned yourself I'm not sure whether it really addresses my question. Anyway, it seems that you believe the examples I wrote are no different in meaning and nuance with or without the subject marker, right?
    – A.M.
    Jun 24 at 17:50
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    Than you again. That's mostly what I wanted. The reason the subject marker can be omitted is secondary, although I'd also like to know that. Perhaps there's no particular reason, you just omit the subject marker sometimes.... But the reason this got my attention was that generally this textbook doesn't leave out subject markers, but in these two sentences it's left out. So I thought it might have something to do with 있다.
    – A.M.
    Jun 24 at 21:43

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