Another little generalisation about 이/가

As always, when I come across the odd little gramamar points, I try to note them down to better remember them. Here is another one about the subject marking particle:

When writing a sentence, which in English would contain the word when, it is often more natural to use the subject marking particle 이/가 than using the topic marking particle 은/는.

이/가 is therefore often seen with the pattern -(으)ㄹ 때


제 오빠가 덴마크에서 일했을 때, 사무실은 회사 자전거를 가지고 있었어요 ~ when my brother worked in Denmark, his office had a company bike.


4 thoughts on “Another little generalisation about 이/가

  1. Autonomous Korean

    Right, 이/가 tends to be used in any subordinate clause or relative clause; the topic marker 은/는 is used mainly in the main clause. If subordinate or relative clauses are complex enough though, I think they can have the topic marker. Not quite sure…

    1. koreanlearner Post author

      I’m sorry, but I think you lost me there since I’m not as familiar with linguistics. Could you perhaps add a little bit to what you wrote?
      Do you mean that for main arguments (“as for A situation X applies”) you use 은/는 because that captures the “as for” / it’s the actual topic you are talking about, but whenever you go *beyond* that initial topic (“… but when B is the case, Y applies instead”) you use 이/가 instead to indicate it’s a special case? And then there are the situations when you compare things and should use 은/는 to point out the contrast.
      Or have I misunderstood you?

      1. Autonomous Korean

        Right, the main clause has your main information and can stand on its own; it should contain both topic and comment. A phrase like 제 오빠가 덴마크에서 일했을 때 can’t stand on its own, it gives the situation where the main clause takes place. So it won’t have a topic, so 이/가 is used on the subject of that clause. ㄹ 때 is one example of a subordinate clause; also while=~는 동안, before=~기 전에, after=~ㄴ 후, etc. are all subordinate clauses and should have 이/가…. e.g. 내가 없는 동안 + Main clause, 그녀가 오기 전에 + Main clause, 식사 드신 후 + Main clause.
        Also, in any relative clause, like 내가 어제 마났던 사람(은) 뭐뭐뭐, the subject (내가) of the participle (verb+ㄴ, 는 or ㄹ) can’t possibly be the topic.

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