Many Ways to Say NOT in Korean


This is the fourth part of our many-ways-to-say series and this note, we’re going to take a look at all possible ways to construct negative sentences in Korean. We have previously learned about the adverb  which is placed before all kinds of verb. In fact, we can think of it as the exact equivalent of ‘not’ in English.

나는 고기를  먹어.
I do not eat meat.

나는  슬퍼.
I am not sad.

In the case of some 하다 verbs like 공부하다 and 샤워하다 goes in between the noun and 하다, thereby splitting them as in 공부를  했어 (I did not study) and 샤워  했어 (I did not take a shower). However, we do not say 행복을  했어 (I wasn’t happy).

Another equal way to negate a sentence is the connective  않다. It is attached to both active and state verbs. Let’s use the same sentences above.

나는 고기를 먹지 않아.
나는 슬프지 않아.

Next on the list is  which is only used with active verbs. We also have the ending – 못하다 which is used with active verbs and some state verbs. They mean ‘cannot’.

 옥수수를  먹어.
I cannot eat corn.

 돼지고기를 먹지 못해.
I cannot eat pork.

물이 맑지 못해.
The water us not clear.

아니다 is the opposite of 이다 and it means ‘to be not’ as in ‘I am not a kid’, ‘You are not the boss,’ etc. It is only used with nouns and it normally follows the pattern ‘N1-/ N2-/ 아니다’. N1 is the subject and N2 is the description.

나는 범인이 아니다.
I am not the suspect.

이게 가위가 아니야.
These are not scissors.

없다 like 아니다 is neither an adverb nor a verb-ending. It is a verb on its own and it is the opposite of 있다 (to have). You can use it in sentences like ‘I have no money’, ‘ I don’t have any money’, or ‘There is no money’.

나는  밖에 없어.
I have no except you.
You are the only one I have.

우리 학교에 외국인들이 없어.
There are no foreigners in our school.

And last but not the least is 말다. It can be positioned in the middle of the sentence or at the end as a verb-ending.  When placed in the middle, it either precedes a noun or an active verb.


내일 말고 모래.
Not tomorrow, but the day after that.

어디 가지 말고 여기 있어.
Do not go anywhere, stay here.

많이 먹지 마십시오/말아라.
Don’t eat a lot.