Since for the ending ㄴ가/는가/ㄹ가(ㄹ까), there is an obligatorily incorporated "relativiser-looking" particle (//), I am wondering whether this expression has evolved from a "relative clause-dependent noun" structure. Moreover, I have seen expressions such as 있을까를 생각한다, suggesting there is something "nominal" about this ending as it can be attached to by an overt case marker.

1 Answer 1


As far as I know, (ㄴ/는)가 does not have special etymological connection to relative clause construction (-ㄹ까 and -ㄴ/는가 are different question endings). They are just question endings that are a little more formal and objective sounding (and thus can create a noun clause more easily) than the most colloquial question endings like -아/어?

In Korean, relative clauses are very easily created with the -ㄴ/는 verb endings. Although ㄴ/는 appear in (ㄴ/는)가, it can't be considered to be related to a relative clause since 가 is never used as a noun.

Also note that we don't even use the term "relative clause" much because plain adjectives and relative clauses, unlike English, take the same form. 좋은 직업 ("good job" - plain adj), and 내가 가진 직업 ("the job that I have" - rel. clause) have the same connective form of -(으)ㄴ and come before the noun (the difference is just additional words in front), so there is no need for a special category like "relative clause". Both are just adjective forms - one a single word and the other a clause. Often times even this distinction may be blurred.

There are many question ending forms with a varying degree in their abilities to create a clause. Here are a few common ones.

  • -(느)냐? = likely the "standard", most frequently used question ending in a clause.
    언제 가느냐? (direct question like this is not so common nowadays)
    언제 가느냐(고) 물었다 (noun (or adverb?) clause - very common)
    언제 가느냐는 질문 (adjective clause - very common)

  • -아/어? = colloquial. Usually asks something specific about the person.
    너 언제 가? (direct question - very common)
    This form is not used as a clause much - 냐? handles it as shown above.

  • -ㄴ/느/ㄹ가? = more formal and suitable for non-personal questions.
    평화의 시대는 언제 올 것인가? = literary and directed to people at large.
    평화의 시대는 언제 오느냐는 물음 = simplest and most natural sounding adjective clause form.
    '평화의 시대는 언제 오는가'라는 물음 = direct quoting which is always possible.
    평화의 시대는 언제 오는가, 라는 물음 = literary, and the connection is not as natural as 오느냐는.

  • -ㄹ까? = colloquial, (partially) self-directed question ending.
    You can use it in a noun clause but it is not the most preferred way. E.g. 왜 실패했는지(를)/실패했는가(를) 생각해 보았다 sound more proper than 왜 실패했을까(를) 생각해 보았다.

  • This I think should be accepted as the answer Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 16:29

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