L2-G: There exist-doesn’t exist

In this article we will look at the usage of ending ~있다/없다.

In its literal meaning, 있다 means to exist and 없다 means doesn’t exist.

When added to polite ending ~아/어요:

  • 있다 + 어요  = 있어요.  [the vowel in 있 is ‘ㅣ’ thus 어요 is added]
  • 없다 + 어요  = 없어요.  [the vowel in 없 is “ㅓ” thus 어요 is added]

How it works:

If A ask you whether do you have a pen, and you  say, yes, I have a pen. You can use this form, in which, literally you’ll be saying “pen exist”. A will ask using this form, with a rising tone on the 요, and to answer that you have a pen you’ll use the same phrase but with a falling tone.  [Note: in korean, the reference of I, you, us, he, she is often ignored when the person that you are talking about is obvious]

             펜 = pen      polite form of 있다 = 있어요.

        Conversation would be:

                        A:   펜 있어요?  [rising tone] Do (you) have a pen?

                    you:   네, 펜 있어요.  Yes,  I have a pen.

Say if you don’t have a pen, you can use 없다 form in which literally, you’ll be saying “pen doesn’t exist”.

         polite form of 없다 = 없어요.

          Conversation would be:

                     A: 펜 있어요?   Do you have a pen?

                  you: 펜 없어요.  I don’t have a pen.


You were to knock on your friend’s apartment door and someone else answered the door. You want to ask him whether your friend, Minji 민지 is home.

Assuming that the person is a kid (this is the casual form of asking, please do not use this phrase when speaking about someone you have to give respect to):

        You’ll say:  민지 있어요?  Is Minji in?  [Lit: Minji exist (now)]

Same goes with conversation on the phone.

Now, some little things to note: the honorific of 있어요 when referring to persons is 계세요. So if you want to say it in honorific form (perhaps Minji is your senior).

       You’ll say: 민지 씨 계세요?  Is Minji at home (honorific)


If you would like to ask a person whether she has time (especially those for coffee date :-p) you can use this form.

            time = 시간   

Assuming that person is quite close to you:

         You’ll say: 시간(이)  있어요?  Do you have time?

However, if you want to put in more honorific form, the honorific form for 있다 for things (as oppose to person) is 있으세요. [remember the polite form in Lesson 1?  있다 ends with a consonant so 으세요 is added]

         You’ll say: 시간(이) 있으세요? Do you have time?

 Now now before you get caught in the answer, remember what i said in Lesson1. Never lift yourself. 

 She will give you the answer 시간 있어요  or 있어요 (the topic 시간 can be omitted if its obvious and that the topic has been clearly established). NEVER will she answer 있으세요 (because that way, she’s lifting herself which is wrong. she should humble herself).


More examples. Very useful phrase. How do you say ‘its tasty’ or ‘its not tasty’ ? In korean, this form is used, literally mean, “taste exist” and “taste don’t exist”.

           taste = 맛

    Tasty: 맛있어요.   (Lit: taste exist)

    Not tasty: 맛없어요 (Lit: taste don’t exist)

pretty cool right?

NOTE: Let’s contrast 있다/없다 with 이에요/예요/아니예요.

You may be confused a little then about the ending 이에요/예요/아니예요 (is X, is not X) and 있다/없다 (exist/doesn’t exist). Let’s do it with an example:

(a)  If I say 책이에요.  I’m saying (this) IS a book.

(b)  If I say 책 있어요.  I have a book / There is a book.    

In (a) I’m pointing to this particular thing and informing the person that ‘it is a book’. However in (b) I’m saying that the book exist meaning ‘I have a book’ not particularly referring to any book.

more examples :   민지예요.  I am Minji

                                민지 있어요.  Minji is in. [lit: Minji exist (here)]

Taking things a little further:

Try yourself:

1) Answer the following questions in korean by using 있다 and 없다.

  • Do you have a book? 책 있어요?
  • Do you have a korean dictionary? 한국어 사전이 있어요?
  • Do you have a roomate? 롬메이트 있어요?
  • Do you have exams? 시험이 있어요?

2) Make some sentences of what you have in your room and what you don’t.



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