13. Korean Past Tense

In this lesson, you will learn the most basic uses of Korean past tense.

Korean Past Tense img

Simple Past

Korean past tense actually has a lot of differences than English past tense. But for now, we will focus on its most basic use. It describes what happened in the past just like English past tense does.


저는 오늘 기타쳤어요
I played guitar today


But, Korean past tense doesn’t imply that the current state is different. Of course, it implies the current state can be different but the nuance isn’t strong much and not all the time. It only describes the state at the past moment.


준은 제 친한 친구였어요
Jun was my close friend
=You don’t know if Jun is still his close friend or not

with 하다 verb (do / be + adjective)

In Korean present tense lesson, you’ve learn Korean present tense is the most basic form of all conjugations. Now you need to add past tense conjugation between a verb conjugation and ending.


하다 Conjugation becomes ‘했어요’ or ‘었어요’ or ‘았어요’ with 해요 speech style. It’s very similar to Korean present tense rules except it adds ㅆ 받침,


하다 style 해요 colloquial style
After a noun After a root
다 → 했다 noun + 하 + + 어요
= noun + 했어요
root + + 어요 / +어요
= root + 었어요 / 았어요
Basic form : 하다 noun + verb + Past + ending root + verb + Past + ending
Did + Noun
Did + Stem
Was + Adjective
Did + Noun
Did + Stem
Was + Adjective
Did + Noun
Did + Stem
Was + Adjective


저는 오늘 공부어요
I studied today
= DId (Noun + 했어요)


저는 영화 어요
I watched a movie
= Did (Root + 았어요)


피자 먹어요
I ate pizza / I had pizza
= Did (Root + 었어요)


저는 우울어요
I was depressed
= Was / were  + adjective (Noun + 했어요)

었 makes the past tense

This is a great tip. 었 makes the past tense always. But, it can be different when it’s conjugated with another word. so remember 받침 ㅆ always make the past tense when it’s placed before the ending.

with 이다 verb (be a noun)

이다 verb conjugation makes similar meanings to 하다 verb conjugation but it has 2 more meaning which are ‘be + noun’ and ‘be + location’. However, locative 이다 in past tense is a bit tricky to use more than locative 이다 in the present tense. You will learn about in a higher level.


이다 variations change by the presence of 받침, not the word stem. 이다 becomes ‘이었어요’ or ‘였어요’ with 해요 speech style.


Basic Form (하다 style) 해요 colloquial style
after a noun with 받침 after a noun without 받침
다 → 였다 이 + + 어요
= 이었어요
이 + +어요
= 였어요
Basic form : 이다 Verb + Past + Ending Verb + Past + Ending
Was + Noun
Was + Location
Was + Adjective
DId + Root
Was + Noun
Was + Location
Was + Adjective
DId + Root
Was + Noun
Was + Location
Was + Adjective
DId + Root


저는 예쁜 유니콘이었어요
I was a pretty unicorn
= After a noun with 받침


저는 작곡가였어요
I was a song writer
= After a noun without 받침


그 방법은 윤리적이였어요
That method was ethical
= After an adjective with 받침


저는 양을 반으로 줄였어요
I cut down the amount half
= Did + Root

Pronunciation of 이었어요

이었어요 sounds like 였어요 if you say it fast. It makes speech flows softly. When you pronounce 이었어요, put an accent on 이. It’s same to 이예요 and 예요 in Korean present tense lesson

with 있다 verb (location / possession)

있다 is used to describe location and possession. It needs a locative adverb for describing location. Just like 있다 present tense conjugation, 있다 past conjugation has only one variation. Tense conjugation is always placed between a verb conjugation and ending.


있다 becomes 있었어요 in 해요 speech style. It’s the easiest one also in Korean past tense conjugations.


하다 style 해요 colloquial style
다 → 있었다 + + 어요
= 있었어요
Basic form : 있다 Verb + Past + Ending
Was (location / time)
Had (possession)
Was (location / time)
Had (possession)

준은 1시간 전에 여기 있었어요
Jun was here an hour ago
= Location


저는 어렸을 때 피아노가 있었어요
I had a piano when I was a kid
= Possession

More Natural

Using 있었어요 for location sounds a bit weird somehow. But, it’ll sounds much more natural if you use locative adverbs or temporal adverbs.


준은 있었어요
There was Jun
= It sounds a bit unnatural


준은 거기 있었어요
Jun was there
= It sounds much better. 거기 means ‘there’



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