Particle: The Topic Particle 은 / 는
Like Japanese, Korean uses particles to make sense of the words in a sentence. The first Korean particle we are going to discuss is the topic particle 은 / 는. Like many Korean grammar points, it is important to look at the word you are attaching it to before you slap it on that word.
Batchim, No Batchim
A few fundamental principles govern Korean grammar. It is essential that all Korean language learners master these fundamentals as soon as possible. Today we have the pleasure of meeting one of those fundamental principles. This principle is best named: batchim or no batchim.
The “Batchim, no batchim” principle is simple. If the word ends in a batchim you need to use option A, if it ends in no batchim, thus a vowel, you need to use option B. Generally option A is either a single letter or a syllable that starts with a vowel. Option B either creates a syllable out of the single letter or the syllable starts with a consonant.
Some particles follow this “Batchim, no Batchim”-principle. The topic particle 은 / 는 is one of them. If the word to which we are attaching the particle ends in a batchim we will use 은; if not we need to use 는. It is really that simple.
The Topic and 은 / 는
As with the Japanese topic particle は, the Korean topic particle is used to designate the topic, not the subject. While the subject oftentimes is the topic; sometimes they are two different things. Please be aware of this complexity in Korean.
However, the particle 은 / 는 can be used for other things than designating the topic. Another lesser use of 은 / 는 is to refer to “old information in a conversation. This means we are mentioning something that was said before during the conversation. This happens often when that ‘old information’ had a different function before being the topic/subject of a sentence.
Another use of 은 / 는 is to highlight contrast or a comparison. In this case 은 / 는 can actually replace other particles such as the subject particle or the direct object particle. It is pretty useful to stress some important information.