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Episode 28: Negative Sentences!

안녕 친구들~!

I’ve had such an incredibly stressful week, having to run around looking for an apartment to rent for next year and doing lots of check-ups are the hospital (don’t worry, I’m perfectly fine, just making sure I’m healthy), that I totally had no time to write this post yesterday. Please forgive me!

As for the topic of today’s lesson, I don’t think I’ve ever properly learned how to form negative sentences and I feel like that is the case for a lot of students out there. It’s one of those grammatical principles that just come up everywhere when you’re learning on your own. So today I wanted to shed some light on how to form different types of negative sentences using ~지 않다, ~지 못하다, and ㄹ/을 수 없다.

~지 않다

As we know, the most important part of a sentence in Korean is a verb (or an adjective) and that is also the part of the sentence that can be modified the most. So, adding ~지 않다 to verbs/adjectives creates a negative sentence. Yes, it’s that simple. Here are some examples of how to add ~지 않다 to a verb/adjective.

가다 --> 가지 않다 (to go --> not to go)

먹다 --> 먹지 않다 (to eat --> not to eat)

춥다 --> 춥지 않다 (to be cold --> to be not cold)

예쁘다 --> 예쁘지 않다 (to be pretty --> to be not pretty)

It doesn’t matter whether the verb is regular or irregular in terms of conjugation, all that we have to do is take away the 다 and add the ~지 않다. You might ask, how do we conjugate the negative verbs/adjectives. Well, the answer is simple: just like any other verb/adjective, because when you look at the negative verbs, ~지 않다 ends on a 다 so it can be conjugated just like any other verb.

학교에 가지 않아요 – I don’t go to school

학교에 가고 있지 않아요 – I’m not going to school

어젯밤에 처녁을 먹지 않았어요 – I didn’t eat dinner last night

내일 운동하지 않을 거예요 – I will not exercise tomorrow

As you can see, ~지 않다 is perfectly capable of being conjugated using the knowledge we already have.

~지 못하다

This negative addition to verbs/adjectives indicates the speaker’s inability to do something and usually this form is very strong. It conjugates the exact same way as ~지 않다, but it means “can’t” rather than “don’t” or “not”.

Q: 볼 수 있어요? – Can you see?

A: 보지 못해요 – I can’t see.

Q: 자전거를 탈 수 있어요?- Can you ride a bicycle?

A: 타지 못해요 – I can’t ride (the bicycle).

~ㄹ/을 수 있다/없다

Interestingly, there are a few different ways to say, “I can’t” in Korean. This is one of them. 수 in Korean means ‘ability’ so this clause can be directly translated as something like “having/not having the ability to _______”

언제 한국에 올 수 있어요? - When can you come to Korea?

매운 것을 먹을 시 있어요? - Can you eat spicy food?

내일 오전 5 시에 일할 수 없어요 - I can't work tomorrow at 5am

조용항 소리를 둗을 수 없어요 - I can't hear quite sounds

~지 못 하다 vs. ~ㄹ/을 수 ㄴ없다

Technically both of these clauses, when added to verbs, mean, “I can’t,” however there is a slight difference in usage. I wouldn’t suggest focusing on the difference at the moment though because Koreans use these interchangeably. If anything, they use ~지 못하다 more often. Think about it as ~지 못하다 = I am unable, and ~수 없다 = I am not capable. Notice the difference?

안 vs. 못

As I mentioned in the video, ~지 않다 and ~지 못하다 can be shortened to 안 and 못. That is usually done for the sake of convenience. The deal with these negative words is even simpler than the negative modifiers. All you've got to do is put 안 or 못 in front of the verb and you are done. Here are a few examples of how to use these guys in a sentence:

오늘 안 먹었어요 vs. 오늘 못 먹었어요 (Today I didn't eat vs. Today I couldn't eat)

안 자요 vs. 못 자요 (I don't sleep vs. I can't sleep)

저는 지하철을 안 탈 거예요 vs. 저는 지하철을 못 탈 거예요 (I don't ride the subway vs. I can't ride the subway)

숙제를 안 했어요 vs. 숙제를 못 했어요 (I didn't do homework vs. I couldn't do homework)

감기 걸려서 노래 안 해요 vs. 감기 걸려서 노래 못 해요 (I didn't sing because I caught a cold vs. I couldn't sing because I caught a cold)


G: 자고 있어요?

B: 아니요, 안 자요.

G: 처음으로 악몽을 꽜어요. 제 집에 올 수 있어요?

B:내일 일찍부터 일이 있어요. 미안해요. 못 가요.

Hope that was helpful! Enjoy your studies :)

Much love,


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