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.

2 Answers 2


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 Oct 27, 2022 at 16:29

For ㄴ가 I can think of two use cases:

(1) ~인가/는가/한가 봐. Way of saying "what seems to be" or "what's said to be." As in English, it's a way of stating a suggestion/generalization but without saying "I think" in order to either turn the blame away should you be wrong, or maintain civility without saying "I think you should this and that." Equivalent in Korean would be ~하다고/그렇다고 합니다.

Ex 1. 이 식당 맛있는가 봐요/맛있다고 해요. This restaurant's said to be good.

Ex 2. 약 대신 식습관만 고쳐도 병치유가 가능한가 봐요/가능하다고 해요. Said by a doctor to a patient who's prescribing homeopathic solutions rather than western medication.

(2) ~는가? Way to address a question to someone younger/of lower rank by a higher up. It's antiquated in syntax and seldom used other than by those born prior to the 50s.

Ex 1. 잘 지내는가? Doing well?

Ex 2. 나랑 같이 밥 먹을라는가? Wanna grab something to eat?

For ㄹ가/까, I can think of two use cases:

(1) ~할까 봐서. Way of saying "should something happen."

Ex 1. 비가 올까 봐 옷을 미리 거두어 놨어요. I brought in the laundry case it rains.

(2) ~할까? Way of asking "should I/we do something" but without the "I/we."

Ex 1. 밥 먹을까? Should I/we eat?

Ex 2. 그리 할까? Should I/we do that?

  • This does not answer my question. I want to know the etymological analysis of these question markers, but not the way to use them.
    – FSY
    Oct 7, 2022 at 19:47

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