Skipping Subject Markers

One interesting feature of Korean language is that you can sometimes skip subject markers. If you do it well, you sound like native speakers. However, if you don't do well, you sound like a foreigner. In this episode, we'll learn when you should skip and should not skip subject markers.

When answering questions about people

In English, when we're asked about someone, we use pronouns like I, you, it, he, she a lot to answer. But in many cases in Korean, we simply remove them.

A: 너 어제 뭐 했어?
B: 집에서 책 봤어.
A: What did you do yesterday?
B: I read some books at home.

A: 민수는 학교에 있니?
B: 아니, 집에 있어.
Is 민수 in school?
No, he's at home.

A: 가영 씨가 어제 일본 가셨죠?
B: 네, 어제 가셨어요.
A: 가영 went to Japan yesterday, right?
B: Yes, she went there yesterday.

In these cases, you can remove the subject because it's obvious. However, you can add subjects without subject markers like these:

나 집에서 책 봤어.
아니, 민수 집에 있어.
네, 가영 씨 어제 가셨어요.

When you add 이/가 after these, it sounds really awkward.

However, when you're asked about who did it or what is the best, then you must use 이 or 가 for your subject.

A: 이 가방 누가 준 거야?
B: 윤호가 줬어.
A: Who gave you this bag?
B: 윤호 did.

A: 어떤 책이 제일 재밌었어?
B: 저기 위에 있는 까만 책이 최고였어.
A: Which book was most interesting?
B: The black book up there was the best.

When used in typical order

You can also remove them in simple sentences used in typical order.

너 나 찾았니?
Were you looking for me?

우리 애 학원 갔어요.
My kid is in 학원(private institute).

However, you shouldn't do this when the sentence becomes ambiguous.

친구 선물을 줬어요.
-> 친구가 선물을 줬어요. A friend gave me a present.
-> 친구에게 선물을 줬어요. I gave my friend a present.

윤아 전화했어요.
-> 윤아가 전화했어요. 윤아 gave me a call.
-> 윤아에게 전화했어요. I called 윤아.

Like these, you should use 이 or 가 when the sentence becomes ambiguous.

Modified subjects

If something modifies the subject, you cannot usually remove the subject markers.

그런 겁쟁이가 어떻게 그걸 하겠어?
How can a coward like him do something like that?

전교 1등하는 애가 그건 왜 틀렸어?
Why did you get it wrong when your grade is the no.1 in your school?

But when you simply modify your subject with 이(this) or 그(that), you can usually remove the markers.

그 책 너무 재미 없어서 몇 페이지 보다가 덮었어.
That book was so boring that I closed it after reading a few pages.

이 음식 맛있다.
This food is great!

Comparison.

When you're comparing things, you must use 이 and 가.

동생이 나보다 공부를 잘 해.
My younger sister is better at studying than me.

군대가 집보다 편하다고?
Did you say army is more comfortable than your own home?

연희가 제일 잘 했어.
연희 was the best.