If it sends chills down your spine to learn verbs in a language where the very word for verb (동사) also means death by cold (no kidding!), then take comfort. Korean verbs are actually not that bad. Not nearly as bad as death by cold, at least. The good news: you don’t have to change the verb endings (conjugate the verbs) depending on who does the action. The, er… other news: there are lots of endings, sometimes called “patterns” that change the verb’s mood and meaning and you’ll have to learn them. Cheer up, chum. The other good news is that you can start using verbs right away as soon as you know just one conjugation: the present tense polite form.
You may have noticed a lot of Korean words ending with -다. Well, most of these are verbs. The -다 ending has been called the “dictionary” verb form since it’s the form that verbs take in the dictionary. However, verbs usually have to be changed from this form to use them. Changing the verb is called conjugation and there’s one important thing to remember about Korean verb conjugation:
The verb ending agrees with the subject to or about whom you’re talking, NOT the subject doing the action.
In many European languages, we conjugate verbs based on who or what’s doing the action. For example, the English verbs eat and be change depending on the subject: “I eat,” vs. “she eats” and “I am,” vs. “we are”. In Korean, however, you don’t have to think about who’s doing the action. Instead, Korean speakers think about the person they’re addressing or the person about whom they’re talking. Basically, verbs change based only on the formality required for the situation. For example, if you’re talking to a close friend then all your verbs will be in the informal whereas if you’re talking to or about your boss you’ll use the formal. But Korean has several other levels of formality in between: informal, polite, honorific polite, and formal.
First, learn how to make informal verb endings
Next, learn how to make polite verb endings
Next, learn how to make honorific polite verb endings
Last, learn how to make formal verb endings
For quickies, use this Korean online verb conjugator