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-은/는 is a topic particle that marks the topic in the sentence in order tell us what the sentence is about. -은 is used after the words that ends in a consonant, and -는 is used after the words that ends in a vowel. Add -께서 before -은/는 for honorific expression (e.g. 어머니께서는).
-은/는 is also used to change the topic.
1. 어디 갔었어? 시험은 어땠어?
Where have you been? How was the exam? (Now the topic is the exam)
2. 그 아파트 어때? 가격은 얼마야?
How’s the apartment? How much is it? (Now the topic is the price of the apartment)
3. 이 셔츠 얼마예요? 이 넥타이는요?
How much is this shirt? How about this necktie? (Now the topic is the necktie)
When -은/는 is NOT in the beginning of the sentence, the sentence is used for comparing and contrasting.
1. 연필은 있지만 볼펜은 없어. I have pencils, but I don't have pens.
2. 수지는 얼굴이 예뻐. Susie's face is pretty.
수지가 얼굴은 예뻐. (하지만 성격이 너무 나빠.) Susie's FACE is pretty. (but her personality is really bad.)
3. 그 식당은 음식이 맛있어. The restaurant’s food is delicious.
그 식당이 음식은 맛있어. (하지만 비싸) The restaurant’s FOOD is delicious. (but expensive)
To talk about the past information.
1. 여행은 누구랑 갔어? Who did you travel with?
2. 이 책은 어디에서 찾았어? Where did you find this book?
3. 어제 잠은 몇 시에 잤어? What time did you go to bed yesterday?
When brining up a new topic to the conversation, -이/가 (marking the subject) is used for questioning, and -은/는 (marking the topic) is used for answering the question.
1. 전공이 뭐예요? (major '전공' is the subject of the sentence) What is your major?
전공은 미술이에요. (the topic is changed to a major) (My) major is art.
2. 생일이 언제에요? (birthday '생일' is the subject of the sentence) When is your birthday?
생일은 9월 6일이에요. (the topic is changed to a birthday) My birthday is September 6th.
3. 취미가 뭐예요? (hobby '취미' is the subject of the sentence) What is your hobby?
취미는 기타 치는 거예요. (the topic is changed to a hobby) My hobby is playing a guitar.
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