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The case particle ‘-의’

The case particle 의 indicates the possessor and possession relationship between two nouns, as in 제임스 방 “Jame’s room.” The first noun is typically the possessor (since it is attached by the particle), and the second noun is the possession. The case particle 의 is a one-form particle. It is the same regardless of whether it attaches to a noun that ends in a vowel or a consonant, as in 수잔 가방 “Susan’s bag” and 토니 지갑 “Tony’s wallet.”

The first person possessive pronoun 내 (plain form) and 제 (humble form) are combinations of the first person pronouns and the particle:

  • 나 “I (plain)” + 의 = 내 “my (plain)”
  • 저 “I (humble)” + 의 = 제 “my (humble)”
  • 그것은 나의 (내) 운동화예요. “As for that, (it) is my sneaker.”
  • 토마스는 저의 (제) 친구입니다. “As for Thomas, (he) is my friend.”

In a similar manner, the question word 누구의 “whose” is the combination of the question word 누구 “who” and the particle 의, as in 이것은 누구의 편지예요? “As for this, whose letter is (this)?”

As seen above, the function of the particle 의 resembles that of the English suffix -‘s. However, there is one clear difference in their usages. English allows the possessor +’s construction, as in “Steven’s” or “Andy’s.”However, Korean does not allow the possessor noun ending with the particle. Consequently, a sentence like 그 컴퓨터는 스티브의예요 “As for that computer, (it) is Steven’s” is unacceptable. For this purpose, a bound noun 것 “thing” typically appears after the particle, as in 그 컴퓨터는 스티브의 것이에요 “As for that computer, (it) is Steven’s (thing).”

In colloquial and informal usages, the particle 의 can be often omitted. For instance, 수잔 가방 can be used instead of 수잔의 가방 “Susan’s bag” and 스티브 것 (or 스티브 거 for a more colloquial usage) can be used instead of 스티브의 것 “Steven’s (thing).”

In summary, there are three ways to express a possessor-possession relationship in Korean:

  1. noun 의 noun, as in 데니엘의 지갑 “Daniel’s wallet.”
  2. noun noun, as in 데니엘 지갑 “Daniel wallet.”
  3. noun 것 (or 거), as in 데니엘 거 “Daniel thing.”

This post is a part of “Basic Korean: A grammar and workbook”, Andrew Sangpil Byon.

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