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N-은/는 vs 이/가 = 'topic marker' vs 'subject marker' in Korean

L1.07 N은/는 vs 이/가 = topic marker vs subject marker

은/는 and 이/가 are one of the most frequently used particles in Korean, however they are also most confusing particles for nearly all Korean learners. Let’s learn how to distinguish these particles.

은/는 is named as a topic marker, while 이/가 is called subject marker.
- 은 and 이 is used after the character ends with a consonant (E.g. 사람은, 꽃이 )
- 는 and 가 is used after the character ends with a vowel  (E.g. 나는, 비가 )

Can you distinguish the difference between 은/는 and 이/가 in these examples?

안녕하세요. 저는 안나예요.
Hello, I am Anna.
형은 키가 커요. 동생은 키가 작아요.
My older brother is tall. My younger brother is short.
토니 씨는 운동을 잘해요. 그렇지만 공부는 못해요.
Tony is good at sports, but studying is not his strength.

날씨가 좋아요.
The weather is nice.
옛날에 공주가 있었어요.
A long time ago, there was a princess
저기 토니 씨가 와요.
There’s Tony coming.

Let’s learn how they are different:

1. 이/가 vs 은/는 in Korean = ‘a/an’ vs ‘the’ in English
이/가 is used to express new information in a sentence = ‘a/an’
은/는 is used to express something mentioned earlier (or old information) = ‘the’

옛날에 한 남자가 살았어요. 그 남자는 아이들이 두 명 있었어요.
Once upon a time, there lived a man. He had 2 sons.

저기 토니 씨가 와요.
There’s Tony coming.

작년에 파리에 갔었어요. 파리는 정말 아름다웠어요.
I went to Paris last year. Paris was really beautiful.

지난 주에 일본어 시험이 있었어요. 이 시험은 너무 어려웠어요
Last week, I have a Japanese language test. That test was very difficult.

2. 이/가 is used for general/specific statement and 은/는 is used for contrast or comparing.

마크 씨는 왔는데, 앤디 씨는 안 왔어.
Mark came, but Andy didn't come.

저는 축구는 좋아해요. 그렇지만 야구는 좋아하지 않아요.
I like soccer. However I don't care for baseball.

서울에는 눈이 왔어요. 그렇지만 부산에는 눈이 오지 않았어요.
Snow fell in Seoul. However, it didn't fall in Busan.

사람들은 많았는데, 제가 찾던 사람은 없었어요.
There were many people, but the person I wanted to find wasn't there.

사람들이 많았는데, 그렇게 혼잡하지 않았어요.
There were many people, but it was not that crowded.

마크 씨가 왔다. 다들 준비해.
Mark came. Get ready, everyone.

아기가 예뻐요. 
The baby is pretty.

3. 이/가 focuses on subject and 은/는 focuses on description

누가 음식을 준비할 거예요?
- 민아 씨가 음식을 준비할 거예요.
Who's going to prepare the food?
- Mina will prepare the food. (Meaning Mina will do that work, not anyone else)

누가 안 왔어요?
- 마크 씨가 안 왔어요.
Who hasn't arrived?
-  Mark hasn't arrived.

오늘이 며칠이에요? 
What date is today?

민아 씨는 지금 뭐해요?
- (민아 씨는) 지금 음식을 준비하고 있어요.
What is Mina doing now?
- Mina is cooking now.

4. 이/가 can be used for showing subject and 은/는 is used for showing emphasis or introducing a noun (mostly for person).

안녕하세요. 저는 안나예요.
Hello, I am Anna.

우리 한국어 선생님 남자예요. 
My Korean teacher is a male.

한국에는 여름에 날씨가 더워요?
In Korean, Is it hot in summer? (Emphasizing in Korean)

여기부터는 내가 할게요.
From now on, I will do it. (Emphasizing from now on)

지금부터가 진짜 시작해요.
From now is the real beginning.

고향이 어디예요?
- 제주도가 제 고향이에요.
Where is you hometown?
-Jeju island is my hometown.

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