In trying to understand Korean, it's all about the endings, I've decided.
Sometimes it seems that the Korean language boils down to: tens of thousands of nouns (seemingly mostly borrowed from Chinese or English), a few hundred verbs, a couple dozen pronouns and fossilized adverbs, and all the rest is endings, endings, endings. Endings.
The endings can change nouns to verbs, verbs to nouns, verbs to adjectives, verbs to adverbs and adnominals, etc., etc. Verb endings convey social status of speaker, listener, subject and object, as well as mood, degrees of certainty, connectivity, causality, tense, etc. Other endings convey noun roles in sentences (subject, object, topic, etc.), the peculiar configurations of counted things (flat, round, mechanical, etc.), and so much more!.
But the problem is, endings are hard to look up. My best resource is the pretty-good index in the book, Korean Grammar for International Learners. But there are so many variations on the endings, that sometimes the index falls short. I have to go guessing and fishing around. A lot of time, endings just stay mysterious.
What's needed is a "Book of Endings" to help learners make sense of it all. Maybe some kind of novel organization on the basis of "hangul order" but from the ends of words? Or a website with the ability to look things up. The online dictionaries sometimes parse endings if you type in whole forms, and will lead you to roots, but they don't let you figure out the endings themselves.
Just over the last few days, here some endings I've run across and tried to make sense of.
-서 subordinating causal connector, meaning "… V so … V"
-면 subordinating conditional connector, meaning "if/when … subV … mainV "
when it is followed by 좋다 as a main verb (좋아요 (pres) / 좋겠어요 (future) / 좋았어요 (past)), it indicates "wish, hope"
-고 coordinating connector ("and"), but also
-고 싶다 "I/you want to …"
-고 싶어하다 "he/she/they want to"
-고 있다 progressive
-ㄴ / -는 the wonderful relativizer of anything (ie. adjective-o-matic — I tend to think of it as a past/present participle, but that's not really how it works)
-ㄹ 것같다 "… looks like…"
-ㄹ까요 propositive "shall we…?" "do you think we should…?"; opinion "do you think that…?"; used also for presenting alternatives
Some other phrases
사람들이 많아요 "there are many people"
바쁜데요 "[I'm sorry] I'm busy" (sorriness conveyed by the -ㄴ데- ending)
My friend Mark said in a recent email that it looked like I was gaining fluency in Korean. No way. So far to go…