How to Say IS, ARE, AM in Korean

In this lesson, we are going to learn how to construct a simple SVC sentence in Korean. SVC stands for subject-verb-complement which is a normal word order in English. A subject is what the sentence is all about and a verb is an action word. A complement is a noun or an adjective (but not limited to them) that describes the subject. Here are two examples: (1) Yuko is a girl and (2) Sakura is beautiful. The word girl and beautiful are complements. The verb is is the linking verb. A linking verb links the subject and the complement and the be-verb is the most common example.

I am smart. (adjective)
She is nice. (adjective)
They are soldiers. (noun)

The be verb in English has three forms in present tense as we see in the above examples. Its equivalent in Korean is 이다, but they are not totally similar. Here are two differences between 이다 and be-verb.

1 이다 has more forms in present tense and they are used based on the speech level and not on subject-verb agreement.

2 이다 is only used with nouns, not adjectives. It is attached to the noun without a space.

That is why S-V-C in Korean is S-C-V and most of the time just C-V because the subject can be omitted when it is clear from the context. Moreover, only the last sentence (They are soldiers) is applicable as it has the only noun-complement among them. The rest are adjectives. Let's conjugate 이다 in different levels of speech.

POLITE 이에요 or 예요
CASUAL 이야 or 야

이에요 and 이야 are used when the noun ends in a consonant. 예요 and 야 are used when the noun ends in a vowel. 입니다 is used regardless of the final sound. Let's construct Korean sentences using 이다.

저는 한국인입니다.
I am Korean.

우리 오빠는 선수예요.
My brother is an athlete.

(They) are college students.

The words Korean, athlete, and college students are nouns. In the second example, the subject is not mentioned and it is possible in certain situations.