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Most dictionaries list Korean verbs under a form, known here as the Dictionary Form, which ends in 다. (Let us call the part before 다 the stem.)

Korean has several styles of speech, for example:

  1. Polite Form. Verbs end in 요.
  2. Intimate Form. The form is the same as for Polite, but knock off the 요. Used in the family or to people you know very well and are not older than you.
  3. Formal Style. Verbs end in 습니다 (ㅂ니다 if the stem ends in a vowel). Used in formal situations such as with people you don’t know, during interviews, on the news, in the army and to teachers or senior people.

These are frequently used forms; we will add others e.g. the Plain Form at a later stage.

Making the forms

You can make the Intimate Form by removing 다 and adding 어 (아 if the last vowel in the stem is ㅗ or ㅜ) if the stem doesn’t already end in 어 (or 아). Once you’ve got the Intimate Form, you can form the Polite Form just by adding 요.

You can make the Formal Style by removing 다 and adding 습니다 (ㅂ니다 if the stem ends in a vowel).

Example: in the dictionary you will find 먹다 “eat”. You can make 먹어 “eat (Intimate Form)”,  먹어요 “eat (Polite Form)” and 먹습니다 “eat (Formal Style)”.

In Korean verbs are so like adjectives, that it makes more sense to speak of Processive verbs and Descriptive verbs. We will stress the small number of differences as they come up.

Processive verb tables

It is recommended that you say these forms out loud, so that they trip off your tongue naturally:

Dictionary Form

-다

Polite Form

-어/아요

Formal Style

-ㅂ니다/습니다

Meaning

Note

ㅂ니다 after a vowel; 습니다 after a consonant.

먹다먹어요먹습니다eat 
받다받아요받습니다receive 
주다

줍니다giveUeo becomes wo in the Polite Form.
읽어요습니다readOnly ㄱ is pronounced in the Dictionary and Formal.
가다갑니다goAa becomes a in the Polite Form.
보내다보내보냅니다sendAea becomes ae in the Polite Form.
오다옵니다comeOa becomes wa in the Polite Form.
놀다놀아요니다play

ㄹ drops out in the Formal Style.

듣다어요니다listenㄷ becomes ㄹ before 어 in some verbs (but not 받다 etc.)
마시다마셔요마십니다drinkIeo becomes yeo in the Polite Form.
쓰다씁니다write; useEueo becomes eo in the Polite Form.
굽다굽습니다grillㅂ becomes w in the Polite Form in some verbs.
부르다불러부릅니다sing르 usually becomes lleo (lla after o or u) in the Polite Form.
하얗다하얗습니다white얗 becomes 얘 in the Polite Form.

Descriptive verb tables

Dictionary FormPolite FormFormal StyleMeaningNote
적다적어요적습니다few 
작다작아요작습니다small 
길다길어요니다longㄹ disappears in the Formal Style.
크다커요니다bigEu is dropped in the Polite Form.
춥다

춥습니다coldIn some verbs ㅂ becomes w in the Polite Form.
하다합니다doHas an irregular Polite Form.
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