Why are Korean adjectives called “descriptive verbs”?

Why are Korean adjectives called “descriptive verbs”?

In our Korean lessons, we often explain that Korean adjectives are basically all “verbs”. Or to be more precise, they are all “descriptive verbs”. Why is that? How are adjective verbs? Let us give you a brief explanation here.

Look at these English words:

    • big
    • small
    • pretty
    • cheap
    • expensive

They are all “adjectives” because they describe the state of things and can also modify nouns, like “big buildings”, “small children”, “pretty flowers”, “cheap food” and “expensive hotels”. English adjectives can be used after the verb “to be” or before nouns.

    • It is big.
    • That is a big box.

English adjectives don’t change shape whether you put them after a verb or in front of a noun. However, Korean adjectives work in a different way. Depending on where you use them, Korean adjectives will have to change form.

When you want to say that something is big, the Korean word you can use is 크다. That is the dictionary form, which means that 크다 is the “original shape” of the word.

But unlike the English word “big”, you can’t just use the word 크다 everywhere, because Korean sentences work differently.

    • 크다 means “to be big”, including the “to be” part.
    • So you have to “conjugate” the word to be able to use it in a sentence.

If you want to say “It is big.”, you use the present tense conjugation. Learn the basic Korean present tense rules here. It’s not that hard! I promise.

    • 크다(to be big) ➡️ 커요(it is big)

See? It is used in a different form. It is conjugated, just like a verb. You can conjugate 크다 into other tenses and forms, too.

    • Past tense: 컸어요(it was big)
    • Future tense: 클 거예요(it will be big)
    • Conditional: 크면(if it’s big)
    • Negative: 크지 않아요(it’s not big)

And what if you want to use it in front of a noun, like “big hands”? In that case, again, you need to conjugate the word into its “adjective” form, which can be used in front of a noun to modify it.

    • 크다(to be big) ➡️ 큰(big + noun)

So there you go! This is why Korean “adjectives” are called “descriptive verbs”, not just here at Talk To Me In Korean but also by many other Korean teachers. English adjective can be placed inside sentences without changing form, but in order to use Korean “adjectives”, you need to take the dictionary form of the word and conjugate it into its “adjective” form.

Most Korean adjectives basically function like verbs, and to distinguish them from other types of verbs like “to do”, “to eat” and “to go”, we call these adjective-verbs “descriptive verbs”.

We hope this helps and to learn more with our systematic curriculum, simply head over to our Learning Center. Thank you for reading!

And if you want a more detailed explanation, watch our video lesson here!