I am currently learning about counter words in Korean and I was wondering how you would add an adjective to sentences that use these counters. I understand that you would, for example, translate the phrase 'one slice of pizza', to 피자 한 조각. How would you translate 'one small slice of pizza'? Does the adjective go before the noun or before the counter word (or neither)?

Edit: I want to know how you can make sure you are talking about the slice being small, and not the pizza being small. Would 'a small slice of pizza' and 'a slice of a small pizza' translate to the same thing, or are they translated differently?

  • why do you think the adjective would go before the counter word?
    – user17915
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 13:04
  • Ah I see now that my question was a bit unclear, I meant to ask how can you show the difference between 'a small slice of pizza' and 'a slice of a small pizza'. Would they translate to the same thing? I'll edit my post so it makes more sense
    – Emma
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 16:40

4 Answers 4



It is indeed ambiguous, open to multiple possible syntax trees. Syntactic ambiguity is inevitable when there's many modifiers. The best you can do to clarify it is put a comma or rephrase it.

It is the piece, not the whole pizza, that is small:

  • "작은, 피자 한 조각"
  • "작은, 피자 조각 하나"
  • "피자의 작은 조각 하나"

It is the whole pizza, that is small:

  • "작은 피자의 한 조각"
  • "작은 피자의 조각 하나"

Still, it's tricky to get rid of the ambiguity. Avoid such a construction whenever possible.


In Korean adjectives derive from verbs and are considered descriptive verbs. They can be used at the end of a sentence where normal conjugated rules apply

The sky is pretty = 하늘이 예쁘네요

Or they can be used before a noun like when you want to say, "The pretty sky..." It is then you must conjugate the adjective to go before the noun. You do this by taking off the verb stem

예쁘다 and removing the 다.

  • If the verb ends in a vowel you add a ㄴ
  • If it ends in a consonant you add 은
  • If it ends in a ㅂ, erase it and change it to 운

So 예쁘다 becomes 예쁜

The pretty sky = 예쁜 하늘

For your question "One small slice of pizza" translates to = 작은 피자 한 조각

  1. The adjective can go before & after the counter word. Therefore, the source can be translated into the following:

피자의 /작은/ 한 조각
피자의 한 /작은/ 조각

In this case, you should put '의' meaning 'of' in English after 피자. Without it, I as a native Korean think the phrase sounds unnatural

  1. It can be translated into the following as well:

작은 피자 한 조각

But there's a problem that what the adjective modifies is variable by readers.

작은 (피자) 한 조각 = a slice of a small pizza
작은 (피자 한 조각) = a small slice of a pizza.


If the listener can understand 작은 피자 한 조각 would do. If you need to absolutely make sure you can say 작게 자른 피자 한 조각.

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