When going through my book (fun fun korean 1) I noticed that the structure for using -에 있다 was different from -에 없다 .

Example: The book is on top of the desk = 책이 책상 위에 있어요.

The pencil case does not have a ballpoint pen = 필통에 볼펜이 없어요. (I am not super positive of this translation as the book did not give one)

When 없다 is used I see that the subject is between the 에 and 없다 versus where when 있다 is used the subject is before the 에 있다. I just want to know if this sentence is a special case or if that is always the structure to use when using -에 없다.

2 Answers 2


I'm going to translate the sentences the way the sentence is structured in Korean, so it might not make sense in English at first, but it should help get the point across.

필통에 볼펜이 없어요 = In the pencil case, the ballpoint does not exist

The subject is something that is located in the pencil case (필통에). One might also write 필통에(는) 볼펜이 없어요. So the location of the 에 is in the front as most subjects do.

책은 책상 위에 있어요 = The book is on top of the desk.

The subject is the book (책), noted by the 은 marker. In this case, -에 is simply describing something that is located on the desk (책상 위에), so it's placed next to 책상.

The easiest rule of thumb is that if you're describing a place, put the noun with the 에 in front as the subject. In other cases, 에 would become a location marker.

In both of your examples above, switching around the 에 wouldn't make sense, but consider this example:

근처에 고양이 있다 => Nearby, the cat exists

고양이는 근처에 있다 => The cat exists nearby

Both sentences can be translated to "There's a cat nearby" in English, but from the way each sentence is made, you can perhaps see the different emphasis. Hope this helps.


well, I'm not the master of Korean grammar. So, I will explain it briefly.

있다 is used when something exists and 없다 is used when something DOES NOT exists.

let's look at some sentences. I will modify Korean translation a bit to make it easier to understand. (still, it means same thing and correct)

The book is on top of the desk: 그(since there is THE) 책은 책상 위 있어요. The book is not on top of the desk: 그 책은 책상 위 없어요.

The pencil case does not have a ballpoint pen: 필통 볼펜이 없어요. The pencil case has a ballpoint pen: 필통 볼펜이 있어요.

so basically, is used to indicate the location. and actually for '은','는','이' and '가' I really don't know how to explain it to English speakers, so I'll leave the explanation to another Korean grammar expert.

Hope it helped.

  • I'm more unsure of why the subject is between the location and 없다 versus the sentence that has 있다 where the subject word is before the location and 있다. Thank you for the input though!
    – truiz
    Sep 4, 2023 at 23:52

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