It that Korean sentences must end with

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is a well-known fact that learning a second language is a difficult feat; aside
from having to learn a new phonological system and build a new lexicon, foreign
language students also have the task of understanding a new grammar. While for
some students, this new grammar may not be very different from that of their
native language, that is not the case for English and Korean speakers. In order
to understand the extent to which the grammars of English and Korean may affect
the learning of one language by a native speaker of the other, the following
essay will inspect aspects of the word order and sentence structure, tense and
conjugation, and the use of articles and particles in each language. Given that
the differences between the grammars of the English and Korean languages are
pronounced, they merit an investigation into how such differences may affect
the experiences of students of one language background learning the other.


Order and Sentence Structure

the most evident difference in the grammars of English and Korean is the
difference in word order. While English takes an SVO (Subject Verb Object)
order, Korean operates under an SOV (Subject Object Verb) order. This
difference is a cause for difficulty in the comprehension of longer, more
complex sentence constructions, particularly amongst native English speakers as
it creates a violation of the End-Weight Principle. In order to aid linguistic
processing, information heavy clauses, such as long and complex nominal
phrases, are left until the end of a sentence. For instance:

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The panellists discuss with host Melissa Harris-Perry the
political ramifications of President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex
marriage. (Kim, 2016, p. 155)

c.f. The
panellists discuss the political ramifications of President Obama’s
announcement that he supports same-sex marriage with host Melissa

due to the fact that Korean sentences must end with a verb, ‘heavy’ nominal phrases
cannot be moved to a sentence-final position; thus, native English speakers who
are learning Korean as a second language may have difficulties in
comprehension. Take
for example the following sentence from a news article:

2015? ?? ?? ??? ?? ??? ??? ? ???? ?? ??? ?? ???? ?? ????? ??? ? ?? ?? ??? ?? ???? ???? ??????. (Kim, 2017)

Former President
Obama who personally signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, through a special
address, asserted that the solution to climate change is not only through the
Agreement but rather depends on us all.

The underlined portion in the Korean sentence above
indicates a nominal clause, which is evidently in a sentence-initial position.
This construction of complex nominal phrases is not uncommon in either
language; however, for a second language learner who is accustomed to hearing
significant information at the end of a sentence, introducing a sentence with a
heavy nominal phrase can be jarring and is significantly more difficult to
process than one that complies with the End-Weight Principle.

Another issue with sentence structure has to do with the
fact that it is common for Korean sentences to consist only of a verb, as
speakers tend to drop the subject. This phenomenon can be a source of
difficulty for Korean speakers whose second language is English as unlike
Korean, English sentences always require an item in the subject position. As a
result, Korean students may struggle with sentence constructions beginning with
the expletive it, resulting in
sentences such as:

*Is raining all the time in
*Was John who ate the apple. (Finney, 2005)

Ultimately, differences in word order and sentence structure
can result in both Korean-speaking and English-speaking students struggling
with the comprehension and production of their respective second language


Tense and Conjugation

Another grammatical variation between English and Korean,
lies in that Korean is an agglutinative language. As such, the Korean language
utilises an extensive array of verb endings to communicate and create
distinctions between various moods, tenses and social relations between speaker
and listener. Adversely, the English language prefers the use of auxiliaries to
communicate additional information in many cases. This can be observed in the
following table which compiles several English sentences and their Korean

Can I go

?? ?? ???

I can go

?? ? ? ???.

I may go tomorrow.

?? ??? ???.

I shall go

?? ? ???.

Shall we
go tomorrow?

?? ????


Evidently, there is a variety of modal auxiliaries in
English for students to choose from, with some words taking on several
different usages. Likewise, Korean-speaking students have a variety of verb
endings which can reflect similar, but not exact, meanings. It is thus
unsurprising that many Korean students may face difficulties when faced with
the task of correctly constructing English verb phrases (Swan
& Smith, 2014). Additionally, Korean verbs do not conform to
conjugative rules pertaining to subject-verb agreement, i.e. verbs in Korean do
not agree with the subject’s number or person. This may be a cause for errors
such as “*He like apples,” where the verb must be conjugated for the third
person singular present tense (‘likes’). To demonstrate this difference, the
table below shows a comparison of the verb forms for the verb ‘jump’ in Korean
and English.






1st person singular



Will Jump

2nd person singular

3rd person singular



1st person singular



? ???

2nd person singular

3rd person singular


Observably, there is no change in the Korean form that
creates agreement with the subject, unlike the case of the third person
singular in the English present tense. Furthermore, coming from a grammatical
background where time reference is conducted in largely simple past, present or
future tenses, Korean students may also exhibit problems in selecting an
appropriate tense from the various possibilities in English e.g. past simple,
past perfect, present perfect continuous, future continuous, etc.


and Particles

Yet another impactful distinction between English and Korean
is that English makes use of articles. While Korean does not explicitly express
definiteness through the use of articles, speakers can use demonstratives to
indicate proximity to the interlocutors in a manner that can distinguish
between specific and general reference. In fact, Kang (2013), in reference to
the function of the demonstrative ‘?’, asserts that “NPs
combining with ku obligatorily give
rise to definite interpretations, where spatio-temporal interpretation does not
exist,” and gives the following sentence as an example:

            ?                  ???         ??         ??.
            ku/this/that chair-NOM room-LOC be-DECL

            ‘The chair
is in the room’

However, it goes without saying that this method of
indicative definiteness is markedly different from English, and as a result
many students will confuse the use of the English articles ‘a’, ‘an’, and
‘the’, resulting in errors such as “*I bought new car this week.” As can also be
seen in the example given by Kang, there are a variety of postpositional particles
attached to the nouns, which provide information such as case and thematic role.
For English-speaking students, establishing a clear understanding of how to
properly use these particles can be a daunting task. As previously mentioned,
Korean takes on an SOV structure; however, sentences are not strictly bound to
that structure, due to particles indicating thematic roles that in English,
would only be assigned in specific positions within the sentence. Consequently,
thematic roles such as those of topic (?/?) and subject (?/?) are often confused by
English-speaking learners of Korean.


In light of the above, it is evident that there are a
variety of differences between the English and Korean grammars. These
differences from one’s native language can become hurdles for learners and can
lead to students producing errors; however, with an understanding of these
differences the reasons for those errors can also be understood.


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